Qian Jinfan (钱今凡), a 84-year-old calligrapher, art critic and retired government official based in Foshan, has become China’s oldest openly transgender individual, after outing herself in an an exclusive interview with the Southern Metropolitan Daily, in her bid to promote understanding of transgenders in China.
Born male in 1928 in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province in a family of civil servants, Qian told the Daily that she realised she was trapped in the wrong body as early as three years old.
“Once I was playing outside and a relative was taking me to the bathroom. I remember a passerby remark, ‘Oh, it’s a boy?’. Deep down inside, I always thought it was great to be a girl,” said Qian.
“By the time I was 14, 15, there was always this sashay in the way I walked,” added Qian. “But only when I was completely alone would I be fully myself. Whenever other people were around, I would keep it all inside.”
Throughout their lives, Qian’s parents remained clueless that their son secretly wished to become a woman. When Qian got married as a man at the age of 54, the wife too was totally unaware.
It was not until December 2008, at the grand old age of 80, did Qian feel the time was now or never to start taking female hormones, and to dress as a woman.
Shortly after embarking on transition, she wrote to the Foshan Cultural, Radio, Television, News and Publication Bureau, where she once worked, explaining her decision. She was afraid that she would lose all her retirement benefits.
“At first, I prepared to defend myself at whatever it would cost, but then I found I had been accepted already,” said Qian. “Their tolerance towards transgenders was beyond my imagination.”
In September 2010, Qian decided to move one step further in the journey to become a woman. According to Chinese law, one has to live as the opposite gender for at least 2 years before gender reassigment surgery can be approved.
Today, Qian attends meetings, goes on trips and even goes to the bathroom as a woman and writes “Male-to-Female in transition” when filling out her gender in application forms.
Once reluctant to be seen in public with her dressed in female clothes, Qian’s wife has no problems going out with her now.
Some of Qian’s friends, after deliberately ignoring her existence when she began to transition, have started to greet her again. Others though, have decided to have nothing to do with her anymore.
That, together with the occasional name-calling from strangers, has not lessened her determination to be a woman. “I don’t think I’m inferior to anyone,” she says. “I will not give up so easily. I have done nothing wrong.”
When asked whether she was willing to go under the knife in her final step to become a woman, she said, “I cannot wait to go for the operation, but there still remain many complications and I have been holding out hope for some medical breakthrough.”
“I was very disappointed when I heard recently that such breakthroughs would take forever to come,” added Qian. “Those who place all their stakes on surgery need to be careful.”