Transgenders 'struggle in the dark'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 June, 2012, 12:00am


Life on the mainland for transgender people can be difficult, as they face intense discrimination and the lack of proper medical assistance, according to experts and advocates.

Daily life for the average transgender person can be like 'struggling in the dark', says Dr Ke Qianting , an associate professor who specialises in gender studies at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou.

'They face immense pressure at work [and] when coming out to parents. And they receive little support [because] dedicated rights groups are rare [on the mainland],' Ke said.

The problem of discrimination has much to do with the country's cultural and political development, according to the professor.

'Modern China was built in an era that encouraged no personalities or diversity,' Ke said. 'People were mostly classified as revolutionists or non-revolutionists, not even as men or women.

'The country has a very low tolerance towards anything sitting outside the mainstream paradigm.'

While there are no reliable statistics on the mainland's transgender population, Acid Chen, a programme co-ordinator at the Aibai Culture and Education Centre - a Beijing-based gay and lesbian advocacy group - estimates that one out of every 100 people are transgender.

In Hong Kong, it is estimated that one in every 300 people are transgender, according to estimates by Dr Sam Winter, an associate professor in the University of Hong Kong's faculty of education who specialises in sexuality and gender research.

Chen - a male-to-female transgender and an electrical engineer by training - said one of the main problems affecting the group was the scant number of advocacy groups to help protect their rights.

She said while there were about 100 groups for homosexuals and nearly 1,000 organisations working on HIV and health issues, only five had been established for transgender communities on the mainland.

They also struggle with health issues, including the lack of qualified medical practitioners to address their special needs, Chen said.

'Only about 10 per cent of transgender people undergo reassignment surgery, the majority rely on hormone therapies and most of them opt for the dangerous method of self-medication' to make the transition to another gender, she said.

'Without proper access to prescription drugs, most transgender people buy drugs on the black market and self-medicate. No one knows the correct dosage or what the side effects may be. This could easily result in liver damage and other blood problems.

'Among 20 self-medicating transgender people I have talked to, only two of them had any kind of medical check-ups,' Chen said.

For those who want sex-change operations, male-to-female surgeries cost as much as 200,000 yuan (HK$246,000) at private hospitals, according to Chen.

The cost for female-to-male reassignment surgery, meanwhile, is about three times higher.