As you signal by making it the subhead, the theme of your article is summed up in this quote:
"The ways in which the decision to identify as trans and transition mirrors an authentic journey of self-discovery makes it harder to question."
Although doubt is clearly central, another facet of the theme concerns the "authentic journey of self-discovery" and, more specifically, the concept of authenticity. In this strand of analysis, I think you identify the fundamental crux of the transgender controversy. The TRA arguments, again and again, boil down to the claim that every individual has the "right to live authentically." Obviously, this argument depends on the hypothesis of a gendered essence. That idea is essentially a version of mind-body dualism, as Helen Joyce points out in Trans. It's difficult to briefly encapsulate the voluminous rebuttals in what is still (for some) a live philosophical debate, so I won't try to do so. Suffice it to say that dualism and biology are very unhappy bedmates. But there's another way to counter the TRA concern over authenticity and I think you're pointing to it here.
"All the while you tell yourself you're questioning everything, that you didn't stack the deck first."
The history of purported pathways to enlightenment, salvation, or self-knowledge is littered with claims that seem, in retrospect, so tenuous as to venture into the realm of the absurd. Anyone who genuinely cares about the path of self-discovery knows that *self-deception* is the terrain through which that path must be forged. How can anyone possibly find a solid footing when so much of the terrain is delusion and chimera?
I believe the only ultimately dependable arbiter is the evidence provided by one's own physical experience. Most essentially, that's the witness of the body. What is the reality I can know, as a physical body in a particular physical environment? Many meditation techniques start with the breath or with positioning oneself in a prescribed posture. Vipassana emphasizes experiencing one's sensations exactly as they are, without editorializing. This idea was also central to gestalt therapy and many other therapeutic approaches pioneered in the human potential movement of the 60s and 70s. That was the era that saw the emergence of the social norm of authenticity as a primary goal of the well-lived life.
"Authenticity" is a two-edged sword. The only way we can assess anything (including our own experiences) as "authentic" is by *authenticating* whatever it is. If it's a counterfeit, we cannot know that without some standard of genuineness by which we can assess it. As a result, many claims of authenticity can be dismissed on the grounds that they are self-referential. For example, I'm an authentic woman, because I feel like a woman; I feel like a woman because I have an inner paradigm of womanhood, which I know is an authentic arbiter because it matches my feelings. The circularity would be comical if it were not also the real-world basis of most gender ideology. But I digress.
The responsibility of authentication must include a trustworthy account of epistemic authority. For example, I might appeal to my inner sense of "the holy spirit," but that actually gets cashed out by reference to reliance on an infallible scripture as the revealed "word of god." In turn, I know that's true because I'm told so by people in positions of authority, such as pastors or popes. One's trusted sources of epistemic authority must be explicitly identified and validated. Otherwise, any claim of authenticity is intrinsically self-referential, as it rests on one's intuition, which can always be wrong.
This brings me to the nub of this thematic strand that strikes me as so important. You write
"The idea of 'internalized transphobia' is particularly insidious: your questions and doubts become something you have an ethical responsibility to overcome because internalized transphobia doesn't just hurt you and isn't just a sign of being trans—it hurts other trans people."
What is 'internalized transphobia'? In my opinion, it's the voice of sanity. Somewhere inside (almost) all of us, we have the ability to smell out BS. Our bodies tell us that something stinks here. But the outside voices say, "No, no, that's just your internalized transphobia!" So, we dutifully suppress that voice of sanity and go along with the mass delusion.
If that were all of it, I would still be relying on what is ultimately a subjective criterion, namely what I'm calling the voice of sanity. But there's another element that substantiates my trust in my voice of sanity. That is the definition of "authentic," along with some social facts and elementary reasoning. The TRA claims of authenticity aim at the conclusion that an authentic life is only possible when one "identifies" as one's "true gender." For "transgender" people, that "true gender" is at odds with their sex, which they say was "assigned" at birth. Here's the rub. Even if one's sex is somehow inconsistent with some ineffable, essential "gendered self" (a claim which I think is unprovable and absurd), it remains true that it is one's sex. And the whole transgender enterprise is premised on the idea that one can change gender, even though one cannot change one's sex (as "assigned" at birth).
That means the basic TRA claim requires that, to be "authentic," one must reject the physical reality of the body one was born as. When contrasted with the alternative option of embracing the many realities of the body one was born as, the former approach is obviously the less "authentic" of the two paths.
Of course, nothing will convince people who have already committed to the absurdities required by their favored religious dogma. This argument will not likely persuade anyone who was not already inclined to accept its conclusions. But personally, I find it valuable to undergird my philosophical commitments with reasoning that stands up to my own most rigorous attempts to show them up as inauthentic.
And thank you for all your comments on these posts. Conversation in the comments has been the best part of Substack so far.