China’s Young and Fast-Growing Trans Movements

February 28, 2018


As I have said on many occasions, 2016 was the true starting point for Chinese trans movements. Because many trans people stood up publicly to raise our voices in different ways for trans people that year, many trans-led organisations were founded and many trans issues were raised in public and legal settings. None of this had ever happened before.


In January, Chao Xiaomi, a gender-fluid trans person, appeared on one of the China’s most popular online programs, Who Can Who Up 奇葩来了, and called attention to the experiences of gender fluid people. In October, Xinlei Wang, an out trans woman, made it to the stage of a popular model talent show, I, Supermodel 爱上超模.


In March, Mr. C, a trans man from Guiyang in Guizhou Province, brought his employers to court for discriminating against him on the basis of his trans identity. This was the first trans employment discrimination suit in China. In July 2017, the court declared that the company infringed on Mr. C’s equal right to employment. In February 2018, the court declared that one’s gender identity and gender expression come under the protection of general personality rights, and that employers should not treat workers differently in the employment process because of gender identity and gender expression.


In May, two friends and I founded Trans Center in Guangzhou, the first national trans-led NGO in China to have both an office and paid staff. We do campus education, community service, research and reports, domestic and international advocacy, communities education, capacity building, public education, international communication and community activism. At the moment the main issues we work on are anti-domestic violence, medical treatment and health issues.


In November, a trans woman named Xue Xiaolin set up a trans shelter in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province. In December, Trans Center cooperated with several other organisations to hold the first trans summit in China, which gathered about 24 trans NGO representatives, activists, and community members.


In October, Vice released a trans documentary Out of Place: Transgender Stories From Asia, which included appearances from Chao Xiaomi and Mr. C. In December, the online program Be Wild co-operated with Xinlei Wang and released a trans documentary called Gender In Bias Out featuring both me and another trans activist named Xue Xiaolin. Gender In Bias Out has become the most influential trans documentary in China and almost all trans people in China have watched it. On Tencent’s video website alone the documentary has been watched 5,437,000 times.


In December 2016, we held the first trans summit in China with several other NGOs and also completed a report entitled Voices from Trans Communities in China. The report was based on the summit and two communities consultations in September and November, 2017. In July 2017, Trans Center participated in the IASSCS 2017 at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand as a forum guest. There, we introduced both how we organised the first trans summit in China and our follow-up report.


In January 2017, Trans Center employed our first full-time staff member. In May 2017 Trans Center set up an office and established an anti-domestic violence group. We created a hotline, online application form, Wechat account and QQ account so that communities who experience domestic violence can seek our help through these channels. From May to November 2017, we received different kinds of requests for help 69 times, 52 of which were about domestic violence. When we receive calls for help, we identify the nature and severity of the caller’s situation, provide relevant knowledge and advice, offer resources information on local mass organisations and social workers, and also bring our callers into conversation with lawyers. In August, Trans Center went to San Francisco to learn from the experiences of many anti-violence NGOs and shelters there.


In October 2017, at the invitation of a famous and powerful feminist NGO called 为平Equality in Beijing, we initiated a nation wide survey on the situation of trans domestic violence in China. Based on the data from this survey, six more interviews and the service work of Trans Center, we wrote a report entitled The Actual Situations about the Usage of Anti-Domestic Violence Law among Trans Communities and the Recommendations for Improvement to Anti-Domestic Violence Law from Trans Communities. 为平 Equality added details from our report to their progress report on the first 20 months of the implementation of China's anti-domestic violence law. After this report, Trans Center was also invited to speak about domestic violence against trans people at the UN Women workshop in Beijing in November 2017


Although we didn’t have enough time to fully complete our survey on account of needing to submit everything in time for the progress report, we received 155 questionnaires, among which 113 were valid. The completed questionnaires came from 21 provincial-level administrative regions across China, which is about two-thirds of the whole country. The specific cities not only cover first-tier cities but also second and third-tier cities and smaller ones. The registered permanent residence of the questionnaire includes both urban and rural accounts. Most cases of the survey happened within 1 year, 45% happened within 1 month.


According to the survey, 83% of the abusers in domestic violence against trans people were parents. For those who experience domestic violence, 30% were under or at the age of 18, while 50% were aged between 19 and 27. We also put forward our recommendations regarding the anti-domestic law in our report. For example, we advised that the law should define the disregard and suppression of gender identity of family members as cases of domestic violence.


Besides this report, we also participated in completing a report concerning changing gender markers on diplomas with Guangzhou Gender and Sexuality Education Center. In China, even when you have changed the gender marker on your ID card and residence booklet (hukou户口), you still cannot change the gender marker on your diploma. We were also the strategic partner for another report, 2017 Chinese Transgender Population General Survey Report, which was made by Beijing LGBT Center and the Department of Sociology, Peking University. This report examined the general situation of trans communities in China. The survey for this report received 5677 questionnaires, among which 2060 were valid. It was the largest trans report done to date in China. Trans Center was also invited to speak about this report and our trans issues more broadly at a round table discussion in the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.


In December 2017, Trans Center participated in ILGA Asia 2017 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We spoke as a forum guest on ILGA Asia and introduced the experience of trans movements in China. There, Trans Center also befriended trans activists from Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, etc.


In January 2018, at the invitation of the biggest LBT NGO in China, Common Language,UNDP, UNESCO, UN Women, and Trans Center participated in a seminar in Beijing on the elimination of gender-based violence through legal and policy advocacy. The seminar gathered more than 100 delegates from UN agencies, embassies and consulates, government agencies, academic and scientific institutions, NGOs and communities. As a guest of the main forum for the seminar, Trans Center introduced issues about domestic violence against trans people and put forward recommendations for the anti-domestic violence law according to our previous reports and the service work of Trans Center.


In fact, from 2017 to 2018, we developed a much deeper understanding of and a more refined approach to trans issues. There are more new trans activists standing up and more new trans groups, like Trans Talks in Shanghai and Trans Youth in Wuhan, being established.


In 2018, Trans Center changed the Chinese name from 'Transgender Center' 跨性别中心 to 'Trans Center' 跨儿中心. This is because the words '跨性别' actually means “transgender” in Chinese, and '跨儿' is the new word created by Trans Talks to refer to 'trans'. Trans Center changed its Chinese name to 跨儿中心 and also call on people to use '跨儿' more and more in the future in order to emphasise the broad spectrum of identities within the trans movements. When we say '跨儿', we mean all the people whose gender identity and/or gender expression is/are different from what the binary gender norm assign to them. Many community members accepted this word quickly, because ‘trans’ 跨儿 is cuter in Chinese and less pathological than ‘transgender’ 跨性别.


As I said, trans movements in China are young and fast growing, but it’s still early days. Let’s continue to watch and take action.  

HC Zhuo is executive director at Trans Center, a trans-led, feminist national advocacy organisation in Guangzhou, China.



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