Gender Precarity: Gender Identity and the Economy of Authenticity


  • Benjamin Carpenter



In this paper I examine the role of authenticity within contemporary debates about gender identity with an eye to exploring the structure of sex and gender-based oppressions - with particular consideration with the marginalisation of trans subjects. I begin with a return to Butler's Gender Trouble to critically examine her ontology of gender and the suggestion that gender cannot be a matter of authenticity. Though this disagrees with the common schematic of trans identity mobilised within contemporary identity politics, this paper seeks to use this critique to provide a deeper explanation of trans oppression within the context of Butler's heterosexual matrix. The aim of this move is to situate trans struggles as central within philosophical feminist theory - whilst breaking from several of the shortcomings of contemporary identity ontology. These considerations will then be explored alongside Butler's work in Precarious Life, wherein the oppression of trans people will be explored in how these subjects bear a greater burden of authenticity - wherein trans genders are automatically regarded as authentic whereas cis genders remain unquestioned. This contextualises the rhetorical and ontological move adopted by many trans activists whereby they present gender as a matter of absolute and inviolable fact - which is incompatible with Butler's ontology of gender. Using bother of Butler's texts, we can regard this move as the pursuit of an impossible security, a move that serves to obscure the inauthenticity of gender overall. Instead, we are encouraged to embrace in inauthenticity of gender and to refuse to allow ourselves to sink into an economy of authenticity that marginalises trans subjects.