When China is Unseen: Improving Representation of China in Global Trans Data and Resources

October 16, 2017


Work on trans rights in Asia and the Pacific presents many challenges: language barriers, cultural divides, a large number of currencies and economies, and widely varying access to resources are only a few of these. When it comes to incorporating China into regional work, these barriers present unique challenges for compiling data and information.


The Asia Pacific Transgender Network (APTN) is a regional organisation whose mission is to enable transgender women and men in the Asia and Pacific region to organise and advocate for the improvement of their health, protection of their legal, social and human rights, and enhancement of their social well-being and quality of life.


APTN is an international partner in the collection of information about murders of trans people, and is led by Transgender Europe (TGEU). Our role in this work is to collect data for the Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) research project, which compiles information on homicides committed against trans people worldwide.


Between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2016, TMM reported 2,343 killings of trans and gender-diverse people in 69 countries worldwide. Of these, 208 were reported from Asia and 15 from China specifically. TMM uses a robust methodology, requiring that homicides be documented through news reports, police reports, or other public records.


When we talk with trans and gender diverse people and organisations from China, there is one common piece of feedback: these numbers are much too low. This can be attributed to language and communication issues, but also to the almost completely separate online sphere in which China operates compared with much of the rest of the region. While Chinese trans people connect with one another on WeChat and QQ, these applications remain largely unknown and unused in countries like Thailand, India and Fiji.


What this means is that it can be quite difficult to accurately represent China in regional and international discussions on trans rights, and that significant gaps exist in the data. As Chinese government restrictions on both national and international non-governmental organisations and on international funding tighten, it is more vital than ever to attempt to overcome these barriers and ensure that data, stories, and models from China make it into international spaces.


Funding, however, is not the only issue that this barrier creates. Trans communities around the world are increasingly interconnected, working on issues with global impact and collaborating on messaging, fundraising and research. This collaboration can, in many cases, help to alleviate the feelings of isolation and depression that plague activists, increase feelings of community and belonging, and it can help build spaces for trans people to share our stories with one another, and finding similarities and differences that deepen our understandings of ourselves and the world around us.


Furthermore, as representations of trans people in the media increase, so too do requests for information - from individuals, from trans community members looking for resources, from donors, and from the media. It is a pivotal time in trans activism, indeed a pivotal time to be a trans person, as so much energy is directed towards developing products to improve our health, well-being, and quality of life. These are increasingly international conversations, but Chinese trans people are conspicuously absent from many of these spaces.


During the coming year, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) will revise its Standards of Care and the World Health Organisation (WHO) will revise the International Classification of Diseases. These processes are dependent on a great deal of effort from trans people and communities around the world. The engagement of Chinese trans voices is vital and well overdue. The global trans moment has a lot to learn from Chinese trans activists - both from successes and struggles inside China - as more and more countries seek to institutionalise trans health guidelines, to develop and perfect gender-affirming procedures, and to develop systems for legal gender recognition.


International partnerships bring new ideas and viewpoints, greater accountability, increased sustainability, and improved institutional knowledge to our movement. Accurate and representative data collection and reporting can improve understanding of the lives of Chinese trans and gender diverse people both inside and outside of China, bringing light to the unique experiences and viewpoints of this community and ensuring that no one is left behind. Inclusion of trans voices from China in international discourses on trans issues - both urban and rural, crossing class, ethnicity, and linguistic boundaries - will improve our work at all levels. Moving forward to more effectively engage and represent the needs, challenges, and successes of trans communities in China, it is imperative that we build centralised multi-lingual communication resources, develop mechanisms and funding streams for translation, and creatively utilise platforms for data sharing across Chinese borders.

Cianán B. Russell received their Doctorate from Purdue University. As APTN's Human Rights & Advocacy Officer, they oversee the advocacy framework for APTN, organise regional consultations and capacity building workshops, and collect and disseminate regional information about the state of trans rights in the region.



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