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Imposter Syndrome: Bisexuality, Cerebral Palsy and Avoiding Labels

By Izzy Mackeller

A rainbow back ground with the title 'Imposter Syndrome: Bisexuality, Cerebral Palsy and Avoiding Labels by Izzy Mackellar' in an off-colour white text box. In the bottom left corner is a picture of Izzy in blue clothing.

I would never openly say ‘I am disabled’ nor would I openly say ‘I am part of the LGBT+ community’ despite these being two things which have formulated my entire being. Only recently have I noticed how deeply my impostor syndrome runs. I constantly gaslight myself that whilst I am disabled I am not that disabled; I am LGBT but not that LGBT. My internal dialogue flooded with ‘you’ve got to be grateful for what you have’ and ‘others have it worse’. This is impostor syndrome: the fear of being found out as a fraud, the intense feeling of being undeserving of a certain position or category.

The impostor syndrome flows so deeply with these non-visible identities that I change my identity on the daily. I am a dual-national, a ‘slash’ worker (someone who has multiple jobs), bisexual, and have a non-visible disability. As such on Monday I can be Izzy, the British, bisexual student - but on Tuesday I can be Izzy the Kiwi, straight, disabled, journalist. I’m very fortunate to have the luxury in choosing my visible identifying factors. However, it does leave me longing for my ‘authentic’ self.

I simply do not feel comfortable with either the Bisexual or Disabled label. I avoid telling people about either aspect of my identity. My disability which already results in fatigue causes me more in the effort I expend trying to cover it. Similarly, my bisexuality which is already discouraged by my outside environment is further discouraged by my internal homophobia. I am fully aware that embracing both labels will reduce the burden of them. Yet, in my twenty years I haven't quite taken that leap.

For context, I have mild cerebral palsy, or more specifically left-side hemiplegia. This disability is very rare, with only 0.1% of the population having it. I have never met anyone with the same condition as me. Frankly, I hated going to the disability clinics and physio as a child because I never quite fit.

My disability is largely invisible. When it is visible, it is a result of me being too fatigued to control my limp or expend the energy required to move my muscles preventing me from injury. Thus, when it is visible, most just believe I’m ‘clumsy’, ‘had a few drinks’ or ‘unfit’.

The cost of avoiding telling people about my disability are these terms: ‘unco’, ‘clumsy’, ‘accident-prone’, ‘lazy’ even. After a while I genuinely formed these terms as more identifying than my disability.

This was coupled with people who would make incredibly insensitive remarks when they did find out my disability: ‘Oh my god Izzy you’re SO lucky you don’t have to do PE’, ‘I wish I didn’t have to swimming sports like you’, ‘You have it so easy, you don’t have to do this’, the list goes on.

I would quite like to go in a time machine and teach them all a lesson which thirteen year-old Izzy didn’t know how to give.

Hiding my bisexuality also has brought a strange range of comments. Being at an all girls school in the early 2010s did not set me off on the best foot in my journey of sexual exploration. The older girls who were in lesbian relationships were sneered at on the way to classes, they were ‘gross’, ‘minge munchers’, and ‘clearly just can’t pull any boys’.

Fast forward ten years and at university kissing girls is ‘trendy’, ‘clout chasing’ and ‘how you truly capture that boys attention’.

Just as with my disability, neither scenario makes me want to be open about something which has perplexed me my entire life.

Coming to terms with my disability really mirrors coming to terms with my sexuality: it all happened in the dreaded teens. I really stumbled through what to tell, to who, when, and how. Coming out to my best friend aged thirteen ended up with her laughing thinking I was joking and me sobbing for a good five hours. Wanting to join the high school LGBT+ group seemed just as daunting as sitting on the sidelines on Cross Country day and explaining why.

There were a whole plethora of white lies used in this period: “I’m sitting out this PE session because my ‘ankle hurts’” and “I just have a really big ‘friendship crush’ on her” were my two go- tos.

In the rather stereo-typical fashion, university has allowed me to explore both labels. Whilst I still haven’t yet replied to an email from the Disability Services all my friends do know. Although I don’t go around speaking about my bisexuality I once told one of my bosses. Slowly but surely we are getting there.

Luckily for me, but horrendously as a whole: I am not alone. A huge number of bisexual and disabled people struggle with impostor syndrome.

Bisexual erasure from within the LGBT+ community and in the straight world becomes ingrained. Questions typically follow:

  • Am I really just straight and using the same-sex to gain attention?

  • Am I really just gay and facing internalised homophobia?

  • I don’t like women enough to be bisexual

  • I don’t like men enough to be bisexual

As with having a non-visible disability impostor syndrome and the internal monologue follows:

  • You’re using your disability for attention

  • You’re not as disabled as other people

  • You need to be grateful for not being as ill as others

Gaslighting yourself is something which can cause you to question your own reality: it leads to a depletion of self-worth and self-trust. Here are resources to support you if you identify with these thoughts…

(originally published 4/9/20)

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