Imposter Syndrome, Bisexuality, Writing Romance, and Me by Heidi Belleau

Many of you have probably heard about imposter syndrome: the idea that, whatever your trade, however successful or practiced you are, you’re secretly a fake, talentless, a hack, and just waiting for someone to figure you out. It’s pretty common among authors. No matter how many books we sell or good reviews we get or gushing readers we meet, it’s never enough to truly believe we are a real author. I’ve heard authors just starting out talking about feeling this way, and I’ve heard bestsellers with a fifty book backlist feeling this way.

I’m no exception.

What complicates matters for me is that these same feelings extend past my career and into my sexuality, too. I’m bi. I’ve known I was attracted to more than one gender since junior high, and upon hearing the word “bisexual” in high school, I started identifying as such. I’ve experienced attraction to women and non-binary people as well as men, fallen head over heels in love with other women, flirted (terribly) with people of all kinds of genders . . . and yet for a brief period in college, I started calling myself straight. Why? Because having never been in a long-term relationship with a woman the way I have been with a man, calling myself bi started to suddenly feel like a lie.

Except it wasn’t, and it isn’t. Bisexuality isn’t something you only get to claim having checked all the right boxes and met the right quotas. It’s a state of being and a community and a full-time unconditional identity. But sometimes it’s hard not to buckle under the pressure. Every LGBT person gets shit from cisgender straight people, gets “Are you sure?” or “Have you tried . . .?” or “You just want attention.”

With bisexuals, even within the queer community, there are gatekeepers: people question our sexual histories, tell us we’re not welcome at Pride, demand we change our orientations to match the gender of our current partner, express mistrust or doubt when we identify ourselves, or just flat-out ignore us when we self-identify as bi. (How many times have I seen articles calling Alan Cumming gay or Anna Paquin straight?) Other bisexuals and pansexuals self-police within our community and play respectability politics, calling us “fake bi” for a host of different reasons. Never dated a girl but had sex with one? Fake bi. Kissed a girl in front of a straight guy, once? Fake bi. Dated a girl but never had sex with her? Fake bi. Been attracted to women, flirted with women, but never gotten past that point? Fake bi. Been with nonbinary people and men but not cis women? Faaaake biiiiiiiiiiiii. Ask any bisexual, they probably have a story. We hear this shit so much, we start to internalize it. It gets to a point where you don’t need a distrustful outsider to interrogate you on your entire sexual history, you do it to yourself without any prompting.

It’s toxic; it eats away at both your sense of self and isolates you from the very communities and support you so desperately need. No wonder the mental health of bisexuals across the board is absolutely abysmal.

I’ve been grappling with these feelings for a decade, have somewhat soothed them by banding together with other bisexual women like me, people who can uplift and validate me when I need it. But I still have days when I wonder if I’m a total fake, pretending to be queer.

Combine the imposter syndrome I feel as an author and the imposter syndrome I feel as a bisexual woman, and you’ve got quite the mess, and for me, it’s about to get even messier.

Because I’m currently writing my first F/F novel, with a bisexual woman in the lead. Up until now, I’ve always written M/M: gay men, bisexual men, cis and trans men. And being a cis woman myself, of course people have doubted my ability to write an authentic story, whether it’s because of my life experiences or just on account of my interfering vagina. Either way, doubt from within or without is part and parcel with writing outside your own experience, and all you can do is research the hell out of a topic, seek the opinion of experts, and accept that sometimes you’re gonna get things wrong no matter how hard you try. And I’ve gotten things wrong. It’s not exactly the best thing for imposter syndrome, screwing up at what you’re doing, but it can be overcome: you accept that everyone (even “real writers”) messes up sometimes, you figure out what went wrong for you this time, then you buck up and fix it for next time.

You’re still a writer, and what’s more, that process and growth is a part of being a writer.

But now that I’m writing my first F/F, it’s not that cut and dried. Because what if I get this wrong? Now it’s not just my skills/validity as an author being called into question, it’s the authenticity of my entire sense of self. It’s an inward insecurity and an outward battle that, as a bisexual woman facing biphobia and heteronormativity, I’ve been fighting all my life. If I can’t write a convincing queer woman character, am I still queer? Can I still claim my sexual attraction to women if I write a womp-womp sex scene between two women? If someone finds the central romance of my story between two women unmoving, what does that say about my own romantic feelings toward women? Will this book be the thing that finally reveals me for the faker I’ve been all along? All my insecurities about being “allowed” to consider myself bi are rearing their ugly heads, and I’m not exaggerating in the slightest when I say . . . it’s terrifying.

I’m pushing through it, though, because this story and these characters speak to me, and I think I’m ready to put myself out there. I think I need to put myself out there. But I’m scared to once again be questioned, and to in turn question myself. I’m writing this post in the hopes that: 

  1. It helps people consider their biphobia (unintentional, internalized, or otherwise) and the effect it has on bisexuals. 
  2. Expressing these deeply held feelings leads me to find others who feel the same way, giving me and them the comfort of knowing these feelings are common, another symptom of biphobia, and that no potential or theoretical failure in writing can take our bisexuality away from us.

I can’t understate the significance of hearing, “Your sexuality is valid, you are valid,” or, “I’m bi and I feel that way too.” After a life of feeling like a liar and an outsider, letting doubt and mistrust eat away at my sense of self because I didn’t know any other way, it means the world to now realize that these insecurities are just that, insecurities, and they don’t change who I am. That other bisexuals feel this too, think this too, have heard these same criticisms and cruelties. That in spite of it all, they are who they say they are, I am who I say I am, and that none of us are alone.

So if you’ve ever struggled with imposter syndrome, if writing has ever felt too personal, too close for comfort, like too much of you is exposed to scrutiny. . .

You’re not alone.

I’m here too, shaking in my boots at the thought of writing girls kissing wrong.

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About Heidi Belleau

Heidi Belleau was born and raised in small town New Brunswick, graduated with a degree in history from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, and now lives outside of Edmonton, Alberta, with her tradesman husband and two kids. A proud bisexual woman, her writing reflects everything she loves: diverse casts of queer characters, a sense of history and place, equal parts witty and filthy dialogue, the occasional mythological twist, and most of all, love—in all its weird and wonderful forms. 

About Dead Ringer

dead ringerBrandon Ringer has a dead man’s face. His grandfather, silver-screen heartthrob James Ringer, died tragically at twenty-one, and Brandon looks exactly like him. But that’s where the resemblance ends. Brandon is unknown, unemployed, and up to his ears in bills after inheriting his grandparents’ Hollywood mansion. He refuses to sell it—it’s his last connection to his grandmother—so to raise the cash he needs, he joins a celebrity look-alike escort agency.

Percy Charles is chronically ill, isolated, and lonely. His only company is his meddlesome caregiver and his collection of James Ringer memorabilia. When he finds “Jim Ringer” on Hollywood Doubles’ website, he books an appointment, hoping to meet someone who shares his passion for his idol.

Brandon? Not that person.

But despite their differences, they connect, and Percy’s fanboy love for James shows Brandon a side of his grandfather he never knew. Soon they want time together off the clock, but Percy is losing his battle for independence, and Brandon feels trapped in James’s long shadow. Their struggle to love each other is the stuff of classic Hollywood. Too bad Brandon knows how those stories end.

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14 CommentsLeave a comment

  • This post is so relatable!

    One thing I’ve never worried about while writing sex between men or between men and women is whether it’s sexy enough. I write what I find sexy–humor, dirty talk, attraction giving way to affection. But when writing about two women together, I pull up short. What I think is sexy–is that sexy enough? Will other women find it sexy? And if not–what does that say about me as a bisexual woman? Maybe I’m bad at ladysex! Maybe I don’t have the chops to write a hot lesbian scene!

    Questions I *never* ask myself about writing men become almost paralyzing when writing women.

    Thank you, Heidi, for writing this. For letting me know I’m not alone. :)

    • OMG and your comment is relatable too! It’s so strange how these not-writing-related insecurities translate into writing insecurities and vice-versa. I always worry I’m not doing a good job writing M/M, because of course I am, but it’s never been as paralyzing and terrifying as this! This post came out of finally asking myself why my fear was so much more pronounced, why I was putting off writing F/F even though I had plenty of novel ideas.

    • Unless, of course, we are several hundred snakes in a trenchcoat.

      Which I am not. (conspicuous hissing noise from belly)

      On a serious note, though, thanks :)

  • Not alone at all Heidi. When I liked a girl in HS, I was suddenly a lesbian. But when I started going out with a boy (who later became my husband) the reaction was “oh good you are straight and want to have a normal family” and I hated that reaction. I am still bi/pan and always will be. <3
    Also girl you are a great writer go out there and own that f/f!!

    • I’ve been told to “stop calling myself bi” and “stop coming out” since I got married because once you’re in a long term relationship with the “opposite” sex, that means proclaiming your queerness is now just talking about your sex life??? Like the only time you can be bi is when you’re single and looking? I guess?

      No, it’s still a part of me, even though I’m monogamous, it’s still my identity, it still matters not just to my attraction and to my past, but to my very sense of self and how I see the world. I hate that people try to take that away from us!

  • Gosh, after 35 years in my career, the Imposter Syndrome still creeps in. I’m two years from retirement, and still can’t shake that feeling that somehow I’ve been pulling one over on my entire profession all this time.

    But here’s the real point: two of the most important men in my life have been bisexual: my father, and my husband. My father locked his bisexuality away in the “it was just a phase” compartment. For his generation, the only good thing about bisexuality was the possibility that you could marry a woman and be normal. Just like my father did, erasing his bisexuality until his younger son (me) came out to him 40 years ago. He acknowledged his bisexuality to me in the hopes that I’d be able to do what he did. As he learned, my life was not a phase to be gotten over.

    My husband had girlfirends, until he had a boyfriend; and after that until he met me. He’s never buried his bisexuality, but since he’s lived his whole adult life with another man, I guess he’s sort of lost track of it, at least publicly. Maybe he’s done that partly for me, assuming that his interest in women would threaten me. Maybe he did it just because of the world we lived in, a world of gay activism and proving to the straight world that we deserved recognition and respect as a couple. In a world where being gay was consistently percieved as a (bad) choice, bisexuality just muddied the waters, because we were not dealing with rational enemies.

    Today, in spite of the Imposter Syndrome and its continued negative impact on bisexual and non-binary people, we have places like this where we can talk about it; and writers like you who can write about it. History has been against us for so long; now we can claim our truth and teach ourselves to not be afraid of it.

  • Excellent post. And yes, I can completely relate. Writing my first lesbian/bi novel, I was terrified of being considered a fake. It never happened, and we’ll make sure it doesn’t happen to you 😉

  • Oh, wow. I’m sorry you have to go through all that biphobic/bi erasure crap. I’ve never had to dealt with it, myself, so I can’t really know how it feels, but I’ve seen it second-hand when my wife deals with it (though the next lesbian who asks me how I can “stand” to be with someone who’s had sex with men is probably getting kicked in the ass).

    I definitely relate to imposter syndrome, though. I’m a playwright and a prose fiction writer, so not only am I dealing with imposter syndrome in two different fields, but for just *doing* it. Every time someone tells me it’s cool that I can do both, I say, “Eh, I’m really just a dabbler with a short attention span.” Even though when *someone else* works in multiple forms (Anna Michael Frayn being prime example), I totally think it’s cool. Yuck.

    And (not to compound your worries) here’s my secret worry about writing f/f: that if I write a bad sex scene, people will think I’m bad at sex! I never worry about that when I’m writing m/m, because people will think, “Well, she’s not a guy, and she’s never been with a guy, so of course she wouldn’t get that exactly right.” But if I can’t write f/f scenes well, what does that say about me as a sexual being? Wow! Talk about hobbling myself before I’m even out of the gate!

    (This is one of the reasons I love writing stage plays; I can just say “sex ensues,” and it’s up to the actors and directors to make it seem realistic.)

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