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Abstract

This conceptual framework examines how the evolving literature on authentic leadership and development can be problematized and further clarified by looking at the identity development of trans* and genderqueer students. It begins by examining the components and factors of authentic leadership, and its strengths and weaknesses. As a newly emerging leadership model, and one that is gaining attention within the fields of leadership and higher education, there are opportunities to refine and bolster it to make it applicable and useful for the leadership development of a diversity of student populations from the onset. With that in mind, this paper considers the developmental milestones of trans* individuals, specifically those who identify as genderqueer, and how some of those milestones and experiences, as well as other people’s interpretations of them, might complicate how we define and understand authenticity.

The question posed here is if authentic expression of self and relational transparency are key components of authentic leadership, ones that need to be validated by leaders as well as followers, then how might binarist constructions of gender influence cisgender and gender-conforming followers to reject genderqueer people’s authentic self-expression and thus them as leaders? The conceptual framework offered provides higher education and student affairs administrators a lens through which to support the authentic leadership development of trans* and genderqueer students.

A Note About Language

This article utilizes the terms trans* and cisgender. The asterisk following the term ‘trans’, which is short for ‘transgender’, signifies an understanding that the term is still limited in describing all those that do not conform to an essentialist gender binary system where sex, gender identity, and gender expression align. As ‘trans*’ is not yet widely used in scholarly writing and research, it is used interchangeably with ‘trans’ and ‘transgender’ to mirror the language used in the cited studies and literature. ‘Cisgender’ refers to people who generally experience congruence between their assigned sex at birth and the gender they are expected to identify with by extension.