Chao Xiaomi is one of the first people in China who started publicly talking about identifying as non-binary. In 2016, she took part in a popular entertainment show called Who Can Who Up where she talked about what it means to her to identify as gender fluid. That episode went viral reaching millions of people and turning Xiaomi into somewhat of a public figure. An excellent public speaker, Xiaomi continues to build bridges by attending public events where she advocates for gender diversity. In this interview, WAGIC talks to Xiaomi about her views on popular media, non-binary gender identities, and paving the way as one of the few non-binary activists in the country.
Ausma: Xiaomi, Hi! Can you introduce yourself to us in a few sentences?
Chao Xiaomi: My name is Chao Xiaomi, and I run a vintage clothing shop in Beijing, which also partly supports LGBT activism, particularly activities that raise the visibility of trans communities in China.
A: And why is trans visibility important to you?
CXM: It is important because a lot of people perceive being trans as a kind of disease or mental illness, or they think that some physical pathology causes folks to become trans. But actually, the definition of being trans is broader than that, and not all trans people want to take hormones or undergo surgery to change their bodies. Therefore, I think that visibility is important: it helps people understand that being trans is not only about bodily change, but more about the breakthroughs in personal gender identification as well as the breaking and reshaping of social understandings of gender.
A: And do you think that media influences the way that the public understands gender diversity?
CXM: The media is very loose in the way they create headlines for trans-related articles. They use headlines like “A transexual did this and that” or “A man dressed up as a woman...” and went to do sex work, etc. Reports on trans people are always really superficial.
A: So, in a way, you think that the media has to some extent stigmatised trans communities?
CXM: That’s right. I think that the media has added to the public fear of trans people. It’s created an image that only sex workers, perverts, people with mental health issues or people that are very poor would be trans. In other words, it’s made people think that being trans is not a happy beautiful thing... that trans folks are always hustling at night, and then live off selling their bodies, dress up in ugly women’s clothing and go off to trick unsuspecting men out of their money. Therefore, people think being trans is something shameful. I think that the biggest mistake of the media is that it aids this stigmatisation of trans people. Besides this, on China's entertainment shows, there is one trans woman named Jin Xing. Her existence there definitely has the benefit of raising the level of visibility of trans people, but then she has also strengthened people's misunderstanding that trans people must undergo surgery to live their authentic selves. However, people then have no idea of the possibility that other genders can exist between male and female or beyond male and female.
A: And then I think that this topic of Jin Xing is very interesting... What role, do you think, Jin Xing plays in the wider trans movement?
CXM: Well, Jin Xing is one of the very first celebrities to publicly identify as trans. Actually, she underwent her gender affirming surgery all the way back in the 1980s. There are people who got that surgery before her, but none of them are as famous as her. Additionally, Jin Xing was a talented dancer who was chosen by the state and sent to the USA to study modern dance. In 1990s going abroad was something incredible, because ordinary people could not afford the travel costs and living costs of international travel. And in the case of Jin Xing, the state provided for all her financial expenses. Thus, she did contribute to the visibility of trans people. However, in her view, women should not go out to work, should play the role of supporting their husbands and raising their children, and should follow what men say or submit to men's control. I do not now for sure if that’s something the media have created or if it's her own personal opinion, but she has not talked about gender diversity or the social aspects of gender at all. Jin Xing is not the representative of trans communities, and she even has some negative impact on the understanding of gender diversity.
A: So, you think that Jin Xing bringing more visibility to trans issues has some good sides, but that at the same time, it also reinforced some very traditional ideas of what trans people could be?
CXM: Yes, that’s what I think about Jin Xing. her very binary views of gender have even hurt trans communities. I feel very disappointed that she does not contribute to efforts in spreading ideas of gender diversity. Of course, this might also be that she's limited by media censorship and that what she says is not really what she herself thinks at all. Spreading ideas of gender diversity needs some really really long-term public education investment to be accepted by the public. It going to take a lot of work and a long time.
A: What do you think is the attitude towards gender diverse people in the mainstream media?
CXM: The process of advancing gender diversity could actually be compared to trying to catch a crab: the first person who wants to catch a crab needs to be very brave since crabs have big claws, run very fast, live in the water, and you don't really know much about them. Perhaps when you try to catch one you'll get hurt. However, once you’re in the water and you’re trying it out, that’s when you feel that maybe it isn’t so difficult after all. So, I think that a lot of courage is also needed to break the gender binary: there will also certainly be lots of people who are angry at you and will try to humiliate you. But, slowly people will begin to understand that non-binary people simply do exist. And so this resistance from people is just part of the process. We need to spread ideas of gender diversity for the next generation. In the future, we need to spare no effort in working hard in this direction.
A: Thank you, Xiaomi!
(Translated by Yongkang Zhang. Image credit: Xiaomi)
CXM: 我是超小米，目前在北京经营一家服装店。这家服装店在某种意义上是我支持LGBT平权运动的方式, 具体而言它可以提高跨性别人群在中国的能见度。
CXM: 媒体经常会给跨性别人群相关的文章添加非常哗众取宠的标题。Ta们标题都是这种 “变性人怎么怎么样”“某某男子化装成女子”然后做一些性工作什么的。这些报道往往都非常肤浅。
CXM: 没错。我觉得，媒体加剧了人们对跨性别的恐惧感。人们会认为只有性工作者，异装癖，精神有疾病的人，或者经济非常困难的人才会成为跨性别。换句话说，这导致了大家觉得跨性别都是一种非常不光彩的事情。Ta们做的都是夜里面的交易， 靠出卖自己的身体，然后打扮得人不人鬼不鬼地去骗一些男客人的钱。因此人们常常觉得跨性别是非常羞耻的。 我觉得媒体最大的错误就是助长了社会对跨性别人群的污名化。除此之外中国的娱乐节目上也有一位男跨女明星金星老师。她的存在当然对提高跨性别人群的能见度是有好处的，但是也是加深了人们对跨性别一定要用手术改变自己的性状的误解。但是ta们完全不知道男与女之间，或者男与女之外还有其它性别存在的可能。
CXM: 金星是中国最早公开跨性别身份的明星之一。早在1980年代，她就进行了性别重置手术。在她之前还有别人做过这个手术，但是都没有她这样的高调。除此之外，金星是国家选出来的舞蹈人才，公派去美国学习现代舞。 在1990年的时候能够出国是一件非常了不得的事情，因为普通老百姓绝对不可能负担得起去国外的路费以及生活费。金星几乎所有在海外的经费都是国家提供的。总而言之，她在跨性别能见度上确是提到了一些作用。但是在她的观念中，女人就不应该出来工作， 女人就应该相夫教子，女人就应该听男人的支配，或者服从男人的控制。 我不知道这是媒体打造的还是她本人个人观点，但是她从未提及性别多元化或 社会性别方面的话题。金星老师不是跨性别人群的代表人物。她甚至对性别多元化的认识有一定负面影响。
CXM: 是的，我对金星老师就是这样的一个态度。她非常二元的性别观念甚至在一定程度上伤害了跨性别人群。我很遗憾她没能为普及性别多元化作出贡献。当然她也有可能 是受到宣传她的媒体的一些限制，甚至说出了并不符合她个人本意的话。 总而言之，普及多元性别观念还需要长期公众教育投入，任重而道远。
CXM: 推进性别多元化的过程其实被比作抓螃蟹：第一个抓螃蟹的人一定需要很多勇气：因为螃蟹的爪子很大，螃蟹跑得很快，螃蟹在水里的，ni对它不是很了解。Ni去抓这个螃蟹的时候可能会受伤，但是当ni站在水中开始尝试的那一刻开始也会觉得也并没有多难了。所以说打破男女二元性别的时候也是要很多勇气的，也肯定有很多不理解的人骂ni，污辱ni 。但是慢慢地ta们会发现非二元性别的人是存在的。所以说这些阻力也是过程的一部分。我们需要向下一代传播性别多元的观念, 这是接下来我们需要全力以赴努力的方向。