Imposter Syndrome, Being Femme and Non-binary

Have you heard of imposter syndrome? If you’re an author, you probably have. Wikipedia defines it as “a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.” Authors often believe that they’re not actually a good enough writer to be published, someone obviously made a mistake somewhere along the line, and any minute now they’re going to be exposed as a fraud and kicked out of the author club for good.

What you might not know, is that something very similar often affects transgender people. Not exactly the same, obviously, since being transgender isn’t really an accomplishment, but it’s the idea that while other people with the same experiences or symptoms as you are obviously transgender, and who they say they are, you are obviously faking it. Why? Well, who knows really, but you obviously are.

For instance, for about five minutes yesterday, I became convinced that I’m not actually non-binary because I didn’t identify that way as a child. Never mind that I did actually, I just didn’t have the words for it, my brain will skew my memories in order to try to convince me that I’m not really trans, that I’m just faking it for attention. And I know, anyway, that plenty of trans people didn’t identify as trans as a child. But for those few moments, my brain was desperate to come up with something, anything, to convince me that what I feel isn’t really valid, and that I’m just a fake. This happens to binary and non-binary trans folk alike, but it’s particularly prevalent among NB folks who don’t fit the standard narrative of what a trans person is supposed to be.

The technical definition of a transgender person is “a person who identifies as a gender other than what they were assigned at birth.” That paints a nice, broad stroke of trans people, including non-binary folk, agender, genderfluid etc etc. But the mainstream idea of a trans person is still “a person who rejects the body they were born with/feels trapped in their body, and takes medical steps to transition including hormones and surgery.” This person will also always present in a way which ensures that they pass as the gender they identify as, wearing traditionally masculine/feminine clothing, cutting their hair in an appropriate style, binding breasts or wearing a padded bra, tucking etc.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with people who do identify and present this way. I’m not saying that. But people who don’t follow all those steps, or who don’t feel like they fit into one binary gender or the other, are often thrown under the bus, labelled “transtenders” and told that they’re just faking it for attention. Even on areas of the internet commonly thought of as a safe space for people like me, like tumblr, these attitudes still crop up.

And let’s get this straight. Being part of the trans community is great. You get support, other people who understand you, a community that you can be a part of. But the downside is that you do have to be trans (which for plenty of people, comes with acute dysphoria) in a world where people are constantly laughing you off, calling you a liar, a fake and an abomination. I’m not saying that no one would ever choose to be trans. But it’s not all fun and games. It’s definitely not something that a person would choose just because it sounds like fun.

I should add though, that even if a person does initially start out identifying as trans just because they feel it will help them fit in, or they want to explore their gender identity, that has to be fine as well. The only way to ever come to the realisation that one is trans is to try it on and see if it fits. So everyone should have the opportunity to do so.

So, what with being called out for being fake and a pretender by both myself and others, I sometimes get the desire to prove myself as non-binary. Especially since I am someone who was both assigned female and birth, and presents as largely female.

I did go through a phase where I tried to present as androgynous. I failed hopelessly at it. Why? Two reasons.

1. I’m a 34DD. Let that sink in. Try to hide that under a binder. It doesn’t work. A sports bra flattens them down a bit, but they’re there, and they’re always going to show.

2. I’m a feminine person. I just am. I like pretty earrings and make-up, which is something about me that has nothing to do with my gender identity, but when paired with an afab (assigned female at birth) body, distinctly marks me as female. I didn’t like having to give up being pretty, wearing make-up, wearing clothes and accessories that weren’t all bland muted colours. Because here’s the thing: You don’t realise how incredibly fragile masculinity is until you’ve attempted to fit into it. Especially for someone who is already in danger of being read as female, any hint of femininity destroys the illusion. I had to change the colour of my ipod case because it was too bright of a blue. And at that point I decided fuck it. Why should I force myself to be completely masculine, just so I can be read as androgynous? Why does our androgyny skew so far towards masculine anyway? Why are pants and a watch androgynous, while a skirt and earrings aren’t?

The truth is, you can’t win at being androgynous. Not unless you’re willing to give up your own personal style to fit into society’s incredibly narrow and limited idea of what androgyny is. So fuck it.

Yeah, I wear make-up, and earrings and pretty clothes. You know who else does? Drag queens and lots of gay men who still identify as male. And that’s the real point here: gender identity and gender presentation are two completely different things. I am a non-binary person who presents as female because it fits with my style, and because it’s convenient for me, but that doesn’t change the fact that I am non-binary. Trans people don’t have to dress in a requisite masculine or feminine style in order to be valid in their gender identity.

I go to work every day as a female. I’m read as female, and I introduce myself as a female, and it’s fine. Then I come home and I take off my costume. I go back to being myself. But the breasts won’t come off. I go online and present myself as non-binary, and someone writes that they think non-binary people are just confused and don’t exist. I look at myself in the mirror naked, and see not a man or a woman, but a person who’s body parts just don’t quite fit. And that’s when the dysphoria starts.


As well as being about evil organisations and demons and such, my upcoming book To Summon Nightares also explores transgender themes like dysphoria, and how it relates to relationships and sex. It’s out November 5th, from Less Than Three Press. See blurb and buy links below. Thanks for reading!

To Summon Nightmares

Three years ago, Cohen Brandwein was “Ireland’s Favorite Daughter”, a popular teenage author and internet celebrity. But ever since he came out publicly as trans, the media’s treatment of him has been less than golden, and these days, Cohen is desperate for escape.

When he inherits an old house in the country, Cohen sees it as a perfect opportunity to escape the press and work on his new book. What he doesn’t count on is becoming embroiled in a small town murder mystery and falling for the primary suspect, a man whose reality makes Cohen’s fantasy books seem like child’s play…

Read an Excerpt
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And of course, where would this blog be without pictures of my cat? I did another photoshoot and told her to pose but … well, you know how it is.

IMG_2943Cheers!

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16 thoughts on “Imposter Syndrome, Being Femme and Non-binary

      • I am very sorry I reread your post and feel badly for referring to you in a way that you find distteful.Let me try again, I am still very impressed with your post. it is brilliantly kindly and thoughtfully written.

      • Thank you very much! I apologise, I’m a bit defensive about being misgendered, and I know I may not have been 100% clear in my post. I really appreciate your interest and kind words!

    • Absolutely not, and I’m sorry something I said here suggested that. I understand that trans men have much more privilege than trans women, and that a trans woman dressing as a man out of necessity is not the same thing as a trans man wearing drag for fun. I’m sorry I seem to have conflated the two in my post, I will change that.
      If there’s anything else that I should amend so as not to be insensitive to trans women, please let me know.

  1. Comparing yourself as a person who is fulfilling every gender presentation stereotype expected of a dfab person to gay men who are feminine or in drag- the complete opposite of what they are expected to present as- shows that you don’t understand the criticism. You’re not going to get beat up for being dfab and presenting as a feminine woman and won’t experience any trans based oppression. Acting as if that is the same as masculine women, feminine men, or visibly trans people is appropriative and insulting.

    You can wear whatever you want and like as long as you don’t pretend you’re oppressed for being a dfab feminine person who hasn’t transitioned in any way. The only way that’s actually subversive is when trans men are femme (like gay cis men who are femme- it is going against the grain.)

    • I don’t think I said anywhere in this post that I was being actively oppressed for dressing feminine? I’m just talking about my personal internal experiences.
      Also, you said if trans men are femme then it’s actually subversive. What if that trans man hasn’t been able to medically transition yet? Does that mean he can’t talk about how it’s difficult for him to be read as female just because he likes to dress feminine? That’s my experience except I’m non-binary, not male.

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