Imposter syndrome, according to Wikipedia, is the “concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”” Usually it is a term used in professional contexts, but I can guarantee most, if not all, transgender people experience their own symptoms of imposter syndrome.
The feeling of not truly being the gender they identify with is a struggle that every transgender person must deal with. It begins from the very first moments of questioning one’s gender, and I’m not convinced that it will ever fully go away. I feel like I will always have moments where I question whether I truly count as a woman.
This is particularly true when it comes to women only spaces. It took me 8 months from the point of coming out as transgender to joining my first women only space, and I almost didn’t even do it then.
I feel that there are two types of women’s spaces. There are spaces meant for women, where men are welcomed and encouraged to participate, but take a back seat in the discussions, and then there are spaces meant for women only and men are not allowed. I’d been a member of groups in the former definition of a women’s space before, but it wasn’t for a long time that I started feeling comfortable entering the later.
In August of 2017, Ganymede’s Girls, the competitive Overwatch organization that I am currently a part of, hosted their first D.va Cup. The tournament was advertised as an “all women’s tournament” put on by a “female only” Overwatch group. As a huge Overwatch fan I was immediately interested, but “female only” scared me off.
You never know quite what you are getting into when you see a space advertised as “women only.” Is the space run by TERFs? Do they really mean cis-women only? Am I woman enough yet? Will I ever be woman enough? Am I intruding on a space not meant for me?
The imposter syndrome strikes fast, and isn’t easy to shake.
It wasn’t until one of Ganymede’s Girls members specifically advertised it as “trans-supportive” that I finally considered taking part. Supportive was promising, and relieved a lot of the preliminary fears that popped into my head.
I signed up for the tournament a few hours before it was to begin. I was extremely nervous, and avoided the subject of me being transgender like the plague. I knew it was obvious, as my voice is hard to disguise, especially that early in my transition. I just hoped that no one would call me on it, or question it.
No one did. I was even convinced to join the full Ganymede’s Girls organization after the tournament was over. I joined with little hesitation, but even then I avoided the subject of being transgender.
Eventually, as I became more familiar with the members, and realized that I was far from the only transgender, genderqueer, or gender questioning member. I started to become more open with my identity, though without outright coming out as transgender.
Then it happened. One of the members came right out and asked me and my stomach twisted in knots. She was immediately reprimanded by another member for being presumptuous, and kindly informed that it’s not polite or proper to ask questions like that. It was a surreal experience, and became one of the defining moments that made me fall in love with the organization and the community it was fostering.
Since then I have joined several women only spaces, and each time it’s a similar story. I have yet to have a bad experience, and maybe that’s just because I’m very careful of which spaces I choose to join. I’ve been extremely fortunate.
It’s hard to explain what it is about women only spaces that is so important, because there are so many little things that contribute to the whole. They are a place where the assumption is that you are a woman. Woman is the default. That doesn’t happen elsewhere on the internet, or even in the real world. Male is the default, always, and it sucks. Being in a woman’s only space is reaffirming, and makes the gender dysphoria ease. They are places that you can be yourself, and not feel like you have to uphold the societal expectations of gender in order to do so.
The most important factor in my opinion, is that they help knock down the barriers of entry to typically male dominated spaces, which makes entering one as a transgender woman even more difficult.
I grew up presenting male. I got into video games during the very male-dominated 90s. I got into computers just as the Internet was taking off. As a male, technology was advertised directly to me. I was included by default, and all of the technology groups that I was a part of as a teenager were male dominated. I think my high school computer club had a single female member.
Do I belong in a space meant to allow women, “real women” as my head so often tries to tell me, to break through gender barriers? Does my privilege of having been assigned male at birth mean that I didn’t have the same barriers?
There’s a nuance there, that I feel a lot of transgender people rightfully don’t like to or want to talk about. You can’t have a discussion like that without dancing the line between feminist and TERF, and even in good faith discussions it can be difficult. Privilege is hard to deal with, and just because a transgender woman might have some semblance of privilege in one area, doesn’t make their experiences any more or less valid as women.
It’s extremely hard to get past that feeling of not being woman enough, especially when you are surrounded by so many other women. You just have to remind yourself that you have every right to be there that they do, and jump in and be yourself.