I have written elsewhere about the problem of using terms like authentic, true, and genuine to describe a transsexual’s new self because such terminology casts his/her former self as fake or false. I am, as you probably realize, very interested in keeping all of the good parts of my persona that I have developed over my male life and carrying through into my new female life.
However, I’m not against the word “authentic” at all. You might say I’m very interesting in retaining authenticity, and my use of the word seems perfectly aligned with my goals because it suggests a continuous personality, one that is committed to fine-tuning, self-improvement, and generally being authentic to its nature.
I have been focused on the adjective “authentic” for the past 6 months, but I suddenly find a new word, “legitimate,” has crept into my consciousness and I would like to take this little essay to distinguish between the two terms because I think they tie up some concepts that I have been grappling with in earlier essays.
First, let’s look at authentic.
au·then·tic [aw-then-tik]: not false or copied; genuine; real:
In terms of synonyms, authentic, genuine, real, veritable share the sense of actuality and lack of falsehood or misrepresentation.
From the Greek, autos “self” + hentes “doer, being,” we get the word authentes , or “one acting on one’s own authority,” thus rooting the action firmly within the doer and not with the rest of the world. One who is authentic is being true to herself and is accepting responsibility for that truth about herself. As we move towards being more authentic, then, we are communicating to ourselves (and perhaps others) an effort to align our bodies, actions, dress, and other things with our own sense of self. As Polonius says to Laertes in Hamlet, “to thine own self be true,/And it must follow, as the night the day,/Thou cans’t not be false to any man.”
In previous essays, I have argued that self acceptance makes up only about 50% of transsexual transition, with re-forming one’s social ties comprising the other 50%. I like the term “authentic” and the action of trying to become more authentic as this personal journey to one’s self.
The second part involves legitimacy, I believe, and here’s why. If authenticity is all about the self, even having “self” as a Greek root of the word, then legitimacy is all about the rest of the world because of the root leg-, meaning legal (think “legal” and “legislation” for such words).
le·git·i·mate [adj., n. li-jit-uh-mit; v. li-jit-uh-meyt]
1.according to law; lawful: the property’s legitimate owner.
2.in accordance with established rules, principles, or standards.
—Synonyms 1. legal, licit, sanctioned, valid.
Why look at law, you ask? We’re not talking about laws that congress or city council passes, but rather any set of rules that are created and reinforced. And what’s important about this concept isn’t the law-making process (which queer studies would identify as heteronormativity or perhaps rigid gender binaries), but rather the idea that your legitimacy does not come from within, but must be conferred upon you by others, the keepers and enforcers of these rules and norms.
You may recall a discussion Mary Jo and I had with Sherry Gladstone and John Oleander back in November when we were in Greece for a conference. I had asked Sherry what was required to change one’s identity (she had just finished a graduate class on racial identity), and she said “loyalty.” In my blog post where I tried to process this concept, I took “loyalty” to be equivalent to “commitment.” But having started thinking about legitimacy, I instantly realized that “legitimate” and “loyal” have the same roots that tie both concepts to law:
[Loyal: French, from Old French leial, loial, from Latin lēgālis, legal, from lēx, lēg-, law; see leg- in Indo-European roots.]
My understanding of “loyal,” however, was fairly accurate in that blog post because it involved the transitioner agreeing to adhere to the norms of the desired group, making an argument, in effect, to be allowed into that group eventually, or to be made legitimate by virtue of having followed established rules, principles and standards of that group. I noted that it’s still up to the desired group to confer legitimacy upon the requester, and that power that’s held by others would comprise the other part of a successful transition, something I also wrote about in “Minimalist Sex Change.”
The rules and norms that are most evident in a sex-change would be those around the categories of “woman,” “man,” “feminine,” and “masculine,” since sex and gender are getting changed in a transsexual transition. And I’m aware that I will be asking for legitimacy from society to become a woman by virtue of adhering to the generally accepted norms of “woman” and “feminine.” That request produces plenty of anxiety on its own because a request to belong always implies the possibility of rejection, doesn’t it?
However, I think there are other requests that I’m becoming aware of, and I write about those categories and the difficulties in requesting membership in those groups in the next blog post.
See also: “Valid” and “Authority“