Race Bannon AKA member LoneWolfPig has been an organizer, writer, educator, speaker and activist in the LGBT, leather/kink, polyamory and HIV/STI prevention and treatment realms since 1973. In this article he discusses impostor syndrome in the fetish world.
You walk into a bar. Leaning against a wall is a handsome man dressed in impressive full leather gear, boots to cap. His left-side garb signals he's a top. The flogger on his left hip solidifies that message. Maybe he's a sadist. He's scanning the crowd with a serious demeanor, hunting for his next prey. Clearly, this guy is an experienced kinkster who has been around for a while.
Most of us have seen this type of guy. Let's imagine you've been granted access to what he's thinking.
"I'm glad I just bought this outfit. I finally feel I might belong here, but what if guys have seen me here before and realize the is my first time out in gear."
"I hope my decision to switch signaling to the left works out. Most of my fantasies and experience are of the bottom variety but being new to the community I'm afraid of random hookups. Perhaps doing it as a top will be safer."
"That was a hot play session I did last night after buying all this gear. I pulled off being a serious top I think, but I wonder if he ever felt that I wasn't as experienced as my new look indicated."
"I've been doing kink for a while but now that I have found this community and look the part, I had hoped I would feel confident. I don't. What's it going to take to not feel like an impostor?"
Welcome to reality.
We're all navigating this kink world using a fantasy construct that we make as real as we want, individually and collectively. Even the most serious of kinksters have built their personas, skills and reputations on a foundation of fantasy made into whatever degree of reality works for them (and yes, fantasy can manifest in quite real ways).
Lots of guys abide by the "fake it till you make it" aphorism because that's the only way to do this stuff. You try something, learn a bit, refine your persona and techniques, add to your gear as you can, and hope no one calls you out as an impostor.
I've been around the kink communities for 45+ years. I've talked to countless guys about this. I'm entirely convinced everyone suffers from impostor syndrome, at least occasionally.
Impostor syndrome is a psychological term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. They discovered that despite external evidence to the contrary, some people remain convinced that they don't deserve their reputations or success. People with impostor syndrome doubt themselves.
Of course, this happens in our kink world. How could it not? There is so much to know. It's no wonder guys often feel like an outright impostor.
We're under pressure to learn, conform and adapt to an ever-changing kink landscape. Years ago, a guy could own a few pieces of fetish clothing, know a handful of basic sexual techniques, and walk into any kink gathering and feel confident.
That has been upended by the rapid proliferation of information, connectedness, education, gear options, expanding BDSM options, and the compartmentalizing of our scene into smaller chunks of expertise and socialization – pups, rubber, master/slave, rope riggers, and more.
There is no way anyone can approach entering these realms and always feel 100% confident.
Impostor syndrome doesn't just befall newcomers. For most of us, our sexualities and the associated environments are always changing. We keep needing to learn and adapt if we want to avoid being an anachronism.
Perhaps you're a skilled BDSM dominant with years of experience, and then you date some hot stud into rope bondage of which you know nothing. Blam! You're a newcomer again. Impostor syndrome can happen anytime.
Tops, bottoms and versatiles all experience impostor syndrome. The false notion that tops are supposed to know more than bottoms might lead you to believe it is a top malady, but you would be wrong.
"What if I can't take as much as the top gives?"
"My hole doesn't open as big as this fisting top's other playmates."
"I told that Dom I'm a slave, but I've only subbed a few times and I'm not sure of myself."
Such concerns of bottoms are just as plentiful as of tops. It's part of the modern human condition that we sometimes don't have faith in our abilities including our own erotic narrative.
There are practical ways to alleviate temporary bouts of lack of confidence and they have some scientific backing. Some might fall under the "fake it until you make it" approach that's good advice most of the time in life generally.
Smile. Serious facial expressions might be hot in porn and erotic iconography, but smiles draw men in. It's a bonus that researchers found people who intentionally smile have lower stress indicators than those who don't.
Strike a hot power pose. Researchers found people who adopt a power stance reduced their stress and boosted their testosterone levels.
Dress for success. How we dress and present ourselves matters. In this case, dressing in a hot and sexy way. It's been found that clothing that has symbolic meaning can improve one's overall performance.
Be a copycat. Go ahead and mimic the guys you admire. Research backs up that mimicking someone who displays the qualities and characteristics you want can improve your own outcomes.
Feign deep interest in a guy. Use your eyes, touch and voice. Pay close attention to them. While research in this realm mostly used romantic interest as the yardstick, creating a deep interest in a person was found to make the other person more likely to return the interest.
Fake confidence to get confidence. Those who pretended to have a sense of confidence ended up being assessed by others as more admired and were perceived as more assertive and proactive.
If impostor syndrome makes an appearance in your life, please know you're not alone. We've all been there. There are ways to push through it and enjoy this amazing scene of ours.
Race Bannon has been an organizer, writer, educator, speaker and activist in the LGBT, leather/kink, polyamory and HIV/STI prevention and treatment realms since 1973. He's authored two books, been published extensively, spoken to hundreds of audiences, created the world's largest kink-friendly psychotherapist and medical referral service, was a leader of The DSM Project that led to a beneficial change in the way American psychotherapy views BDSM, founded a groundbreaking alternative sexuality publishing company, been an internet radio sex talk show host, received national and local awards, and appeared in numerous documentaries. He currently also writes for the Bay Area Reporter and on his blog