Hiker Chiu uses “s/he” as a gender-neutral personal pronoun in written English. Pronouns are easier in spoken Chinese (Mandarin): “he” and “she” are both pronounced “tā.”
Monster. The words on the medical record, scrawled in a doctor’s messy English script, said “pseudo hermaphrodite.” But what 18-year-old Hiker Chiu read on the paper was monster.
Hiker’s world had been crumbling since her/his early teens, when s/he stopped growing. Until age ten, s/he had been the tallest girl among her/his peers. But as her/his classmates developed breasts and began to menstruate, Hiker’s physique remained the same, although s/he developed a sparse beard and a small Adam’s apple. “I always wanted to have kids, and I was concerned when I did not begin to menstruate.” That’s what finally prompted her/him to go to a doctor and led her/him to discover what her/his parents had never disclosed.
Hiker’s parents finally told her/him that s/he was born both male and female—the word intersex never came up. A medical procedure that s/he could vaguely recall from age six had been a surgical reduction of her/his clitoris. That surgery took place more than two decades before intersex activists in the U.S. first rallied in protest of “normalizing” surgeries on children. Hiker’s parents had few answers to give, and they were clearly distressed whenever s/he raised the subject. Hiker chose to stay as quiet as possible about her/his body.
Hiker’s hopes for the future—romance, marriage, children—faded as s/he struggled to find a place in the world. S/he strategized about how to dress: in high school, gender-specific uniforms were helpful, but beyond regulated uniforms Hiker faced greater hostility when s/he was read as a male wearing feminine clothes. S/he tried to attract as little attention—and as little danger—as possible, but s/he ran into problems in dorms, restrooms, and public spaces. Hiker felt isolated, alienated, and even monstrous. Employment was also difficult to navigate, and eventually s/he chose to work from home as a translator.
Eventually, Hiker found some acceptance in a lesbian activist community. Hiker’s new friends were less concerned about how well s/he fit into mainstream feminine ideals. S/he fell in love with a woman and had a ten-year relationship, but that fell apart when her/his partner ended it, saying that Hiker was “too much like a man.” The rejection not only broke Hiker’s heart, but also devastated her/his sense of belonging. “I became suicidal, but I decided I needed to learn more about who I was.” S/he enrolled in a Master’s program in Life Studies and wrote a self-narrative thesis, which may be the first autobiographical account of an intersex person’s life in Chinese.
It wasn’t until Hiker was 42 years old that s/he learned that an intersex rights movement existed—that people like her/him had found strength and acceptance in each other and were challenging the medical and social conventions that had taught them to think of themselves as monsters. After seeing the Argentine film XXY, s/he Googled the term “intersex.” Suddenly the world opened up: Hiker discovered the website and forum for Organization Intersex International (OII). “I knew I had finally found my people,” Hiker says.
Invited by founder Curtis Hinkle, Hiker began to translate for OII in 2008. S/he created the Oii-Chinese website to make the information that was so important to her/him available to the hundreds of millions of people in the world who read Chinese—statistically the largest linguistic group of intersex people.
Through her/his PhD program at Shu-Te University in Kaohsiung, Hiker was funded to visit the U.S. and meet some of her/his intersex human rights heroes in 2010. Curtis Hinkle, Hida Viloria, Thea Hillman, and David Cameron Strachan all met with Hiker to share life experiences, activist strategies, and words of wisdom. Their affirmation, warmth, and encouragement were transformational for Hiker.
Riding the high of finding community and friendship on her/his trip, Hiker wanted to share her/his gratitude for the healing experience s/he had in the U.S. Inspired by the wonderful hugs s/he had shared on her/his visit, Hiker initiated the global “Free Hugs with Intersex” movement at Taipei Pride in 2010.
Hiker wanted to use kindness and affection to combat the fear and isolation intersex people face.
My original idea is simple. I just want to share the love and power that changed my life from those respectful intersex souls I met in the U.S. with other intersex people and the general public. I sincerely hope everybody can feel and get the warm energy of love that helped me to overcome the shame and stigma within me and have the courage to reframe even embrace it. To learn that intersex people do really exist, that we are also human beings in various beautiful ways, that we need to love and to be loved too.
S/he has taken the Free Hugs movement to Pride festivals in Madrid, Brussels, Hong Kong, and Kaohsiung to let the world know: “We are not monsters. We are full of love.” Curtis Hinkle told Hiker that her/his story was one of the most powerful tools s/he had to change the world for intersex people. Hiker has since come out and spoken to audiences across Taiwan and around the world. Audience members always give her/him hugs after her/his talks.
Hiker meets with intersex activists, friends, and allies across Asia and the world. S/he has held three meetings in mainland China since 2013 and talked to more than one hundred Chinese intersex people since 2011. The Chinese government has blocked the Oii-Chinese website, but other forums are still intact. Beyond the Chinese-speaking world, Hiker organized the very first Asian intersex gathering in preparation for ILGA-Asia’s conference in Taipei in 2015.
Contributed by Leah Entenmann
December 21, 2015