Graduate Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research and Creative Work
Some people report that certain features of gender, in particular gender norms, are authentic for them. For example, a trans man might say that masculinity feels authentic for him in a way that femininity does not, or that following masculine norms is important to respecting who he really is. But what does this mean? Feminists have historically argued that gender is socially constructed, rather an essential part of the self. On some views, authenticity requires paring away the influence of social forces in order to get in touch with one’s “true self.” If gender is a social construct, how can gender norms be authentic for someone?
I argue that the “true self” view of authenticity should be rejected. Drawing from the work of Martin Heidegger and Charles Taylor, I argue that authenticity does not require any pre-social features, but rather requires owning up to and standing up for one’s personal traits, ideals, and commitments. On this view, gender norms can be authentic for someone even though they are not in any sense essential or pre-social. A trans man who experiences masculinity as authentic for him, contrary to certain social expectations, is not uncovering a deep, essential part of himself; he is owning up to the parts of himself which are socially coded as masculine. Owning and standing up for that masculinity can be a key part of making himself intelligible in the world in which he lives, even though the masculine-coding itself is socially constructed, not innate.