Qian Jinfan, an 84-year-old retired government official in China’s southern province of Guangdong, came out as transgender last month.
In an interview with Southern Metropolis Daily, Qian said she started to live as a woman four years ago at the age of 80, making her the oldest openly transgender person in China.
Born in an intellectual family, Qian realized she wanted to be a girl at the age of 3 when a neighbour referred to her as a girl.
By the time she reached adolescence, Qian started to show some feminine features in her behaviour, but only in private. It remained a secret for her parents throughout their life, nor did Qian’s wife have any clue when they married 30 years ago.
According to Southern People Weekly, Qian’s first attempt to become a woman physically was in 1960s. Then, between the age of 60 and 70, she tried a few different ways to gain female physical features, such as applying breast enhancement cream.
Frustrated with the failure of these methods, Qian tried to find help from other transgender people, including Jin Xing, a famous contemporary dancer and the first person to have gender re-alignment surgery in China. But her attempt to make contact with Jin Xing was unsuccessful and it was only in 2006 that she first met a transgender person, a girl in her 20s.
In 2008, the year she turned 80, Qian decided to live openly as a woman. She gave herself a female name Yi Ling and embarked on a new life.
A year later, Qian contacted Foshan Administration of Culture, Radio, Television, News and Publication, where she once worked and which still controls a great portion of her retirement benefit, to announce her gender change. To her surprise, although some of her former colleagues did stop talking to her, the authority quietly accepted her and Qian was able to keep receiving her pension.
Today, she uses female bathroom and writes 'male-to-female in transition' when filling out her gender in official documents.
After the initial report by Southern Metropolis Daily, Qian’s story attracted widespread media attention in China, including an interview with China Daily, in which she speaks about some of the difficulties after coming out in the media.
Her family, including her wife with whom she still lives, allowed her to undertake the surgery, but are not happy with their private life being exposed in the media.
‘I don’t seek media attention myself,’ explains Qian. ‘But I don’t turn down interviews. In my opinion, you only avoid it if you feel guilty. I did nothing wrong, so why should I be so evasive?
I’m standing up against social discrimination and prejudice against transgender people. This is important. My family are not yet aware of its significance, but they will given some time.’
Qian’s effort might already be changing opinions about transgender people. The China Daily uses a gender-neutral pronoun referring to her, rather than ‘he’, as transgender woman are usually referred to by the Chinese media.