The Impostor Syndrome and Me – The Feminist Wire

The Impostor Syndrome and Me

I am writing to introduce myself.

And to try to answer the question, “What am I doing here?”

Every time I think up a new essay or story, this question looms in and above the empty Word document.  Whenever I feel like speaking at an event, I wonder what I could possibly add to the conversation.  When I was invited to become a part of the Feminist Wire’s editorial collective, this question became oppressive.  So many people in this collective, and so many of the other folks out there doing the work of reading and writing online, are professional readers and writers and thinkers.  I am not, at least not in the way the neoliberal economy would define me.  I am a scientist.  I have precisely zero degrees in critical theory and feminism and sociology and literature and politics.  I do not have an MFA. I am an academic, I suppose, but my research involves investigating the molecular mechanisms through which proteins function.  In my academic work, I was assigned more Darwin than Derrida.

And yet I am a working class queer white man, and I have always made sense of a world that couldn’t make much sense of me by reading books, by writing things down.

I feel as though I am waiting to be found out, that I somehow made it out of my working class town and into elite academic institutions by mistake, that my writing will be dismissed soon enough because I don’t cite Foucault enough, because I relate everything to my personal experiences.

Even now I am wondering if the title of this piece should read “The Impostor Syndrome and I”?  Is there a style guide I can check?  If I get it wrong, will people dismiss my words?  Even worse, will they laugh at me?  Am I indeed an impostor?  Will I ever get over the anxiety of putting myself out there online?

Thank God I had books. James Baldwin reminded me that it is precisely the act of reading that lets us know that our suffering is just like that of others before us, of others to come.  And Audre Lorde reminded me that my silence won’t save me; it is better to speak.

What am I doing here?  I am here writing because I am from a working class town and went to underserved public schools.  In college, I was behind academically and didn’t understand the social structures that were crafted by rich kids from out east.  It was a quick education in the ways in which race and class and gender and sexuality can cut across a space and suck the air out of those of us from Other backgrounds.  We need another way.

I am here writing about gender because I understand that the best intellectual work is done close to home and on issues that directly affect our lives.  As a queer man, our gendered world is my lived existence.  I never fit the expectations of what it means to be a man.  Patriarchy suffocates me.  I want to be free of it.

I am here writing about race because racism works in the interest of the socioeconomic status quo.  Therefore anti-racist agitation is the revolution.  And, looking back on the town where I grew up, white folks need the revolution too.

The fact that people of color in this country have to do most of the education about racism is racism.  I am here and writing to do some of the lifting and to speak my own truths.  A brilliant writer and friend Tanwi Islam once wrote on her blog, “Reading without writing is like eating without shitting.”  I think it is time to speak, and to commit those words to paper.

I am here and writing because I need this community of friends and co-conspirators, and I am looking forward to learning with you and from you.  If some one is going to figure me out, call my bluff, undo what I think I know, question my authority to speak or otherwise call me an impostor, call me wrong, call me out, I hope it is one of you.  And that it is done with love.

I am here.  I am writing.