I’m at a strange point in my life. A transitional point between nameless Grad Student and Colleague, a point where seemingly inherent imposter syndrome collides with a newfound sense of confidence. With an awareness that my superiors might see me as professionally responsible, worthy of trust, capable of getting things done. I am learning to trust this feeling, even as I struggle with it. And I can think of no better anecdote to exemplify this interim state than my recent work with Jearld Moldenhauer.
A self-described “Photographer, Bookseller, [and] Naturalist,” Jearld Moldenhauer was part of the beginnings of many organizations of note in the history of Canadian gay activism in Toronto. A founder of the University of Toronto Homophile Association, Moldenhauer is perhaps best known for his establishment of beloved LGBTQ+ bookshop, Glad Day, operating locations in Toronto and, for a time, in Boston, MA. Preceding his recent move to Morocco, Moldenhauer donated a sizable collection of books to The ArQuives: Canada’s LGBTQ2S+ Archive. The processing of these 2000+ tomes was a matter of some frustration and debate on both sides of the experience, and I entered the project at the start of the summer with the goal of remedying some of this frustration. Over the course of twelve or so hours, over a few weeks, Jearld and I met online to review the 700+ titles from his collection which had been rejected on the basis of their being duplicates of titles in The ArQuives’ holdings.
When my boss, Dr. Elspeth Brown, first suggested that I might take on this project, I leapt at the chance. As a former bookseller, as a Library Sciences student, as a budding queer archivist, and as a bibliophile, the opportunity to dig through a collection of queer books with the owner of my favourite bookshop in the city—not to mention a person of such historical significance in the history of Canadian gay activism—was too good to pass up. And yet, as I began to get involved in the realities of the project, I became increasingly trepidatious. Not only was I stepping into some thorny emotional territory, but I was made starkly aware of how inadequate I felt taking on a large role in a project with such people involved. The stakes felt high. I worried about my abilities, about not being liked or taken seriously. About making an already fragile situation worse.
It’s somewhat demoralizing to reflect on the prevalence of imposter syndrome narratives, especially for graduate students. Friends in other U of T programs have recounted the in-depth, explicit, and proactive messaging on the syndrome that accompanied their graduate orientation week. It’s sad to think that so many of us carry so much doubt about our own abilities, even when they have been proven time and again. Compounding this is how much more prevalent these imposter feelings are for racialized folks, women, and LGBTQ2S+ folks. So much of moving through the world as a non-binary person feels like having to prove to people that I exist. That I’m not lying or making something up.
Although I carried significant doubt within me as I began to work with Jearld, I am pleased to say that I also made great strides in dispelling this doubt. I quickly became caught up in the process and minutiae of book assessment and comparison. I learned so much from Jearld through the short time we worked together; about the texts themselves, about queer publishing history, about the individuals who wrote or were written about in the books we discussed. I emerged from this work still at a strange point in my life and career, but I emerged better able to face it, too. With greater knowledge and greater confidence. The ground on which I stand may still be shaky, but my gratitude for those who gave me this opportunity is anything but.