Being Transgender In China: Self-surgery and Illegal Hormones

Being Transgender In China: Self-surgery and Illegal Hormones

Just 20 years ago, the Chinese government had classified homosexuality as a crime. While the trans community has found victory in recent years, homosexuality is still considered a mental illness. LGBT members in China face constant discrimination in various fields. There are instances where trans people lose their jobs and position due to their identity.

By one estimate there are over 4 million transgender individuals in China, but only 2.2 % of the population reports having trans friends or family.

In July 2017, a Chinese court ruled in favour of a trans man. It stated that he was unjustly fired from his job because of his gender identity. The landmark ruling is believed to be the first of its kind in China. It established protections for China’s LGBT community on the basis that workers cannot be discriminated against for their ethnicity, race, gender, or religious belief.

image credit@ South China Morning Post

However, this hasn’t stopped the discrimination faced by Chinese LGBT members. Accessing gender-affirming surgery in China isn’t easy. Transgenders are forced to seek out black market hormone treatments and even operate on themselves.

Black market Hormones and Self-surgery.

China classifies being transgender as a mental illness. Due to this, transgender Chinese face discrimination and abuse at home, school, work, and at clinics and hospitals. Furthermore, to access gender-affirming surgery, transgender people need permission from their families, to be unmarried, and not have a criminal record.

“I was scared because I was bleeding so badly, I could die right there”, Huiming told Amnesty International for a new report into transgender rights in China.

“I feared I would still die a man since I only did part of my surgery”.

She was desperate to realign her male sex characteristics with her female identity.

Unregulated, counterfeit or expired drugs and improper use of drugs put transgender people at great health risk. Due to the lack of support from medical professionals, transgenders opt for self-surgery and buy hormones from the black market. These are expensive and can be defective or expired as well.

‘They chose to perform surgeries on themselves because they felt that there was no way they could undergo gender-affirming surgeries in the existing medical system’ the report explains.


“The police said I needed a statement from a hospital proving my sex reassignment before they could change my ID. But when I went to a hospital, because I had had the operation abroad no one was willing to sign a statement”, said Minnie Chen, the director of Trans-Life, a nonprofit advocacy organization.

“Neither the police nor the hospital wanted to accept the responsibility and I had no idea what I could do”, she added.

The process of changing your gender on government-issued IDs is a convoluted bureaucratic process that leaves many in legal limbo. The struggle doesn’t end after changing their IDs. Education and employment records no longer match an individual’s gender. Due to this, their job applications are often rejected by employers as past qualifications cannot be verified. As a result, many trans individuals are forced to find jobs in grey areas outside of the official economy.

“China is failing transgender people”, said Doriane Lau, China Researcher at Amnesty International.

What should change

Lau welcomed a new trans healthcare team launched at a hospital in Beijing last year. But, she warned that the Chinese government still has a lot to do.

China does not have a law that bans discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identities in China. As a result, trans people do not approach proper health care. They often fear being discriminated based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The highly-restrictive requirements for accessing gender-affirming surgeries and lack of health-related information needs to change so people can access the health care they need”, she explained.

For a change to take place, transgenders should not be classified as having a mental illness. Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity is wrong in various aspects.

China isn’t the only country where transgenders face discrimination. Although various countries have legalized LGBT, discrimination is very much present in many. LGBT communities have a long road ahead. Furthermore, the government has a major role in its fight for equal rights.



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