Diagnosis: Queer Imposter Syndrome

by Sophie Hanson

She lives in Manchester where she works as a subtitler for live television and editorial assistant for a charity supporting women/non-binary writers. She enjoys writing, painting and getting obsessive over motorsports. You can follow her on Instagram @radiofireworks.

I first realised — quite literally, in a dream — that I might be into girls when I was 13. Then, at age 29, I came to the same realisation all over again.

Ask any queer person, and they will tell you that you don’t come out once: it happens constantly, to every new person you introduce yourself to, every family member you tell about a relationship that’s getting serious enough to warrant it, every time the doctor asks if you think you might be pregnant, every time you mention a partner and are asked, “What’s his name?”

I am lucky: I live in a country where same-sex marriage is legal, in a family and friendship group where my sexuality is accepted largely unremarked. I was brought up by a mother who is open-minded and taught me from a young age that love doesn’t come with constraints. I saw some homophobic bullying of friends who were out in high school, but rarely experienced it myself. I have plenty of friends and acquaintances who have shown me wonderful examples of queer relationships, and I have always defended the rights of LGBTQIA+ people to have the right to live with the same freedoms and dignities afforded to straight people. Yet for some reason, until recently, I couldn’t seem to allow myself the same level of acceptance I strove to show to others.

While I was not dating or in a relationship, the main way I experienced this mental dissonance was when I was asked to fill in an equal opportunities form: the kind that asks for your gender expression, age bracket, ethnicity and so on. When I reached the ‘sexuality’ section, I would pause. My pen would hover over ‘Bisexual’, then move up to ‘Heterosexual’, then back again. Usually I would end up ticking ‘Prefer not to say’. My heart knew that I wasn’t straight, but I didn’t feel I could own a queer identity either. You haven’t even had a girlfriend, a nasty, sceptical little voice would tell me, conveniently ignoring the fact that I hadn’t really had a proper boyfriend either. It doesn’t count if you just kiss girls when you’re drunk (again, entirely discounting the fact that most of my experience with kissing boys happened while drunk too).

Put simply, I felt like a fake bisexual: like I was declaring an identity I didn’t deserve to lay claim to. I didn’t feel like the gay and bi girls I knew, the ones who went to Pride and cut their hair and wore their queerness proudly. I was too straight-passing, too much of an outsider to a community I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a part of. To be clear, I know this is a reductive way to see the LGBT community and I know not all queer women fit this mould — if someone had insinuated that they did, I would have been rightly furious at them. But for some reason, my own subconscious had somehow decided that this was the only way I could get my True Queer membership card. I had Gay Imposter Syndrome. Shortly after meeting my partner, I drunkenly confessed to a gay colleague that I felt like a fraud because I don’t go to gay clubs; to his credit, he only laughed a bit at my melodrama and promptly took me to Canal Street.

I still don’t know why I found it such a struggle to accept my sexuality. Bisexual people often face prejudice from both ends of the sexual spectrum, and I certainly worried that I would be perceived as a straight woman assimilating queerness for male attention. I also grew up in the shadow of Section 28, the Conservative policy from 1988 (the year before I was born) until 2001 which outlawed the “promotion of homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle”. Although I wasn’t aware of this legislation and its effects as a child, I was not offered any evidence of healthy, thriving LGBT relationships. Growing up, I had nothing to aspire to and no model to work with; the only bisexual women I saw in films and TV were generally portrayed as evil or sluts. However accepting my immediate family and friends may have been, that attitude seeps into your bones. It was so rarely presented to me as a viable option.

Falling in love with someone who was not the opposite sex to me didn’t exactly come as a shock, then, but the rightness of it did. I was not expecting the feeling of peace it would bring me, or the sense of being somewhat comfortable, finally, in a skin that has felt ill-fitting for most of my life.

Coming out is a process, on an internal level as much as anything else. I’m learning to look past the narrow boxes of gender and sexuality I had drawn for myself and others, and to be braver and more accepting. I’m learning that it’s okay to be confused, at any age. I’m learning about how much shame I carry, even if I can’t yet identify where it came from. I’m learning to do the only thing I can do: feel its presence, acknowledge that it’s there, and drown it out with love.


  1. As an openly bisexual woman, I connected with SO much of this. Early on I too struggled with my sexuality. However, there's a feeling of freedom that comes with accepting yourself for who you are!

  2. This was so interesting to me. The part about coming out again to every new person you meet is something I've discussed on several occasions with friends. The internal battle debating which box to tick sounds awful. The freedom that comes at the end sounds amazing though x


  3. I think most of us struggle to accept who we are, no matter what form 'who we are' takes. Those who don't are faking it and deceiving themselves. That's definitely not desirable! Applaud yourself being true to yourself, there isn't a time limit on that.


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