Sexually ambiguous characters have a long history in Chinese art and literature, but being transgender is still classified as a mental illness in China. US-based NGO Asia Catalyst estimates there are four million transgender people in China. The NGO also suggested that these people face severe discrimination in the society.
People who come out as transgender to their families risk being rejected or forced to marry and have children. Chinese society remains deeply traditional in many respects. A Chinese individual who has undergone a sex change operation has been hiding her new identity and does not want her name or occupation revealed, for fear of the consequences.
At home her son still calls her daddy, at work she dresses in a masculine style, but this Chinese person has a 'little secret', she was born male, but is not any more. She had long identified as a woman, and suffered from depression after starting a family. Finally, she opted to have a surgical sex change.
Transgender issues were given unusual prominence in China in 2014, when the country's most famous sexologist, Li Yinhe, announced she had been living for 17 years with a partner who was born female but identifies as a man.
The Beijing LGBT Center's executive director Xin Ying said, "Many Chinese doctors and psychiatrists know little about how to deal with transgender individuals. Those who have changed their physical appearance face difficulty getting a job, having a medical operation, or even boarding a train, as there is no established legal procedure to change information on Chinese identity cards."
Hong Kong-based transgender activist Joanne Leung urged the audience at the meeting not to lose hope. Leung said, "Before I had sex change surgery, I thought no one would love me and I would be single until I die. But I was wrong."