Abstract of Rowan Bell’s paper “Being Your Best Self: Authenticity, Morality, and Gender Norms,” forthcoming in Hypatia:
Trans and gender-nonconforming people sometimes say that certain gender norms are authentic for them. For example, a trans man might say that abiding by norms of masculinity tracks who he really is. Authenticity is sometimes taken to appeal to an essential, pre-social “inner self.” It is also sometimes understood as a moral notion. Authenticity claims about gender norms therefore appear inimical to two key commitments in feminist philosophy: that all gender norms are socially constructed, and that many domains of gender norms are both morally and prudentially bad. I argue that that this apparent tension is illusory. Concordant with existing trans narratives of authenticity, I articulate an existentialist view that understands authenticity as a socially embedded, constructive project undertaken in a non-ideal social world, rather than a reflective uncovering of a pre-given, essential self. I then show that authenticity and morality can come apart; what is authentic for someone need not be either morally good or good for them. I conclude that the authenticity of gender norms does not cut against the feminist commitments that I identify. This conclusion enables a theoretical space that is both respectful of trans experience and critical of dominant gender norms, an important liberatory goal.