I haven’t been following the school-bathroom controversy in the United States, but I think it’s good that the issue has opened discussions about gender expression.

Hopefully, there will be greater awareness that there are people who don’t fall neatly into the binary male and female gender categories because of biology (people who are born intersex) or psychological conditions, such as gender dysphoria. Their numbers may be small, but they’re part of this kaleidoscope called humanity, a part that should no longer be hidden or persecuted.

In imperial China, cross-dressing for entertainment was accepted, be it male actors playing female roles on stage or emperors having their female and sometimes male consorts dress in the clothing of the opposite sex. People who lived full-time as the gender opposite to the one assigned at birth, however, were considered an affront to the natural order of things.

During the Southern Qi dynasty (479-502), an educated woman called Lou Cheng passed herself off as a man for a career in government. Despite being a capable prefectural official, she was unceremoniously dismissed when her ruse was discovered and ordered to return home in female clothing.

Less fortunate was a man surnamed Hong, who had been brought up as a girl and lived as an adult woman during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). When Hong’s husband discovered that Hong was biologically a man on their wedding day, he hauled him to the courts, where he was sentenced to death.

While the current situation in China isn’t so dire, gender non-conforming people continue to face hostility and ignorance.