It is Time
The exact size of China’s transgender population is unknown, but an estimated 0.6 percent of Americans identify as trans, a percentage that in China would equal more than eight million people.
They have long faced societal pressure to deny their identities in a country where homosexuality was officially labelled a “mental illness” until 2001.
A survey by the non-profit Beijing LGBT Center in 2017 found that trans unemployment is three times the national average.
But Chinese transgenders have been quietly asserting themselves in recent years, with advocacy groups forming and doctors reporting increasing gender-reassignment surgeries.
Xu Bin, head of Common Language, a Beijing-based NGO advocating for equal rights for sexual minorities, said trans people were being encouraged by an increasingly open LGBT dialogue in China and successful recent attempts to use the law.
Those include a Beijing court in 2014 ordering a psychological clinic to compensate a gay man for being administered electric shocks in an attempt “cure” his homosexuality, and a transgender man in southwestern China who in 2017 successfully sued a former employer for wrongful termination.
“In the past five years, there have been (LGBT) individuals constantly standing up and using law as a weapon to advocate for equal rights,” Xu said.
Many Chinese trans tell nightmarish stories of physical and emotional abuse by relatives or co-workers, but not Yang. Her family has been supportive of her transition.
Still, she endured the same years-long confusion and soul-searching faced by millions.
“I’m not saying I have not suffered or cried. But after the surgery, I’m still me. I still have the demands of work and life, and I hope to contribute to the development of the country. But not many people can see that aspect of us,” Yang said.
With information and affordable medical services increasingly available, Yang, sporting alternating blue-and-red nail polish, said “it was time” for her to undergo surgery, which she did overseas.
As for public recognition and understanding of transgenders, “any time is the right time,” she said, adding the legal landscape is becoming more favourable.
“(The situation for Chinese trans) is not static, pedantic, rigid. It has been actually progressing slowly,” she said.