The Nonbinary Chinese Fighting to Live Their Truth

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08/18/2021

Chao Xiaomi cut quite a figure as she strutted down an alley near the Forbidden City in the brilliant May sunshine. The 38-year-old was dressed to kill in a tight-fitting purple cheongsam, matching nails, and a jade bracelet. But many locals’ eyes were drawn to something else: her bushy black beard. Several passersby gaped and pointed, yet Chao appeared unfazed. She continued smiling for the camera, determined to project an image of breezy confidence. The photoshoot — which saw Chao pose for the well-known photographer Zhang Shaokang — was part of several viral stunts the transgender activist has staged this year after becoming one of the first high-profile figures in China to publicly embrace a nonbinary identity. There are an estimated 4 million transgender people in China, but the community is largely invisible in mainstream media and faces deep-seated discrimination. This is especially the case in the workplace, where over 40% of transgender Chinese feel forced to conceal their gender identities.

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