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Never too late to change: China's oldest transgender person

  • Staff Reporter
  • 2012-06-14
  • 12:00 (GMT+8)
At 84, Qian Jinfan is the oldest openly transgender person in China. (Internet photo)

At 84, Qian Jinfan is the oldest openly transgender person in China. (Internet photo)

Qian Jinfan spent her whole life in the guise of a man wishing to become a woman, having identified as female from a very young age. Being an openly transgender person in China, where traditional society remains largely intolerant of those who reject traditional gender roles, would have been a life of hardship and ridicule. But at 80 years old, her dream was finally fulfilled.

Four years ago, having retired after a career as a cadre, she submitted a declaration letter to the Foshan Culture and Media Bureau, while starting to take hormones to enlarge her breasts and wear women's clothes, according to the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily.

Now known as Yiling, at the age of 84 she is the oldest transgender person in China to have openly admitted their identity. She now spends her time as a literary theorist, collector and calligrapher.

Born in 1928 in Jiaxing in the eastern province of Zhejiang, Qian worked in various positions throughout her career, at the People's Bank of China, Foshan Art Academy and other units, finally retiring from the same Foshan Culture and Media Bureau to which she later declared herself to be female.

In an interview with Qian in June, which is LGBT Pride month, the newspaper asked her about changing social prejudice against transgender people and protecting their employment rights.

Qian said she wanted to be a woman since she was a three-year-old. Once, when relatives took her out and asked her to go to the bathroom, an onlooker said, "How come she is a boy?" From that time on, she secretly regarded being a girl as a wonderful thing.

"My hip bones were wider than other boys when I was 14 or 15, and I liked to twist my hips when walking. Only when I was alone would I ever let myself be who I really am; in the presence of others I would always hide my identity." Her parents did not have the slightest inkling of their son's desire to be a woman. Even when she married at the late age of 54 to a woman twenty years her junior, her wife didn't know about her secret wish. She kept her identity stowed away in her heart for 80 years.

That was until December 2008, when her wife was 60, when she submitted the declaration letter to the authorities and began to wear women's clothing. It was a decision to be made carefully, as she had to consider whether her decision would cause her to lose her monthly government pension. After weighing the potential consequences, she decided to do it anyway. If her wish was refused, she intended to start blowing things up, she said.

The authorities answered her letter. Somewhat to her surprise, her conditions remained the same as before: her pension was not reduced and she was still invited to attend conferences. A superior in the bureau commented, "We all knew of it, and it's fine with us." He said it was quite obvious after seeing Qian wear women's clothing to a monthly tea party.

Qian said she has already become quite comfortable interacting with others as a woman, though her wife refuses to go out in public with her dressed in women's clothes. In response to their son's questions about his father's change of appearance, Qian's wife told him, "Your father has endured for decades and finally had the nerve to do it, and it doesn't cause any trouble."

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