Pride is a time of celebration, affirmation, and increased visibility for LGBTQIA+ people, but it can also bring up questions of identity. Some individuals may be feeling that they are not “queer enough” or are not sure if they can consider themselves a part of the LGBTQIA+ community.
This experience is a version of “imposter syndrome,” defined as a feeling that one is a fraud or a fake and may be found out by others. While this is most often applied to academic or career success, for some, this sense of being a fraud or a fake can apply to their sense of identity or belonging in the LGBTQIA+ community or their own sexuality or gender identity.
Many individuals may struggle with labeling their gender or sexuality. Can I be bisexual if I’ve only ever dated the opposite gender? What does it mean to be nonbinary enough? If someone misgenders me, were they actually right? If someone assumes I’m straight, did I get it wrong?
If you are a clinician working with clients who may be grappling with some of these questions, here are a few considerations to keep in mind.
Identity and Language
While we are living in a time of increased openness on a population level, individuals may still be unsure of what their identity means for them and how to bring it up in therapy. They may struggle with finding the language for what they are experiencing or how they are feeling.
As clinicians, it is important that we make space for and name these complicated dynamics for clients who may hesitate to bring them up in therapy.
Intersecting identities may further complicate this feeling of imposter syndrome. Clients may not see themselves reflected in media representations of LGBTQIA+ individuals and communities. They may feel they need to choose between their various facets of identity and have trouble embracing their own intersectionality.
It is important to take a holistic approach to clients’ intersectional identities and allow space for them to embrace their whole selves.
Dating and Relationships
For adults who are beginning the process of coming out as queer or trans, dating may be a particular concern. Clients may wonder how to tell partners they are currently seeing or how to begin dating in light of their identity.
With the rise of popularity of dating apps, clients may also be anxious about which apps to use and who to include in their search criteria. Those who have years of dating or relationship experience may feel like they are starting over. Clients may also feel pressure to start dating quickly in order to validate their sexuality or gender, feeling that they are a “fake” until they’ve had a queer dating or relationship experience.
As a clinician, it is important to ask about dating and relationships and clients’ comfort level with dating as they may hesitate to bring it up without permission to do so.
These are just some of the several ways in which LGBTQIA+ individuals may experience imposter syndrome and struggle with their identity. In addition to the individual therapy support mentioned above, clients can benefit from group support to learn and grow with peers grappling with similar concerns.
As clinicians, we have to reflect on and own our discomfort with the complexity of these dynamics rather than trying to resolve them, which can be aided by consultation. Overall, leading with openness and curiosity can go a long way toward establishing safety and creating space for identity work and exploring the unique experiences of each individual.
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