Transgender Identity Struggle in China: Mediated Intimacy and Self-Isolation


Following the queer theory and movements, transgender studies emerged as an independent research entity since the 1990s. Transgender theories are argued to be compensating for queer study in the sense that it has complicated the discourse of sexuality and sexual orientation, which rely on categorical thinking on body and gender. In the global knowledge production of transgender and queer identity, the lived experience and everyday struggle of the Chinese transgender community rarely obtain academic attention, except for some problematic medical articles and literary studies on transgender phenomena in pre-modern China. What kind of identity construction and community formation do Chinese transgender people experience and practice? How can these experiences and practices contribute to understanding the identity politics and strategies in contemporary China and challenging western-centric theorisation of trans identity? Based on 15 interviews conducted in Beijing in 2018, this study examines how Chinese transgender people construct and negotiate their gender identity within the queer community and identify the relationship between their gender identity and other queer identities. This study finds that transgender individuals rely heavily on the internet to develop a sense of belonging to and obtain mediated intimacy in the online trans community. Chinese transgender individuals apply a self-isolation strategy and create identity borders in the online trans community to seek a sense of security in identification, which results, however, is a highly fragmented community landscape. Also, the pre-existed and imagined social relationship in different platforms shapes transgender performance, narration and identity negotiation online.