June is the worldwide celebration of LGBTQ Pride. Despite officially legalizing homosexuality in 1997, and removing it from the Ministry of Health’s list of mental illnesses in 2001, it would be something of an understatement to suggest LGBTQ rights in China still have a long way to go. This history makes the story of Yiling all the more impressive. According to a story in the Southern Metropolis Daily, at 84 years-old, she is the eldest known transgendered person in all of mainland China.
Born Qian Jinfan, Yiling was born to a wealthy family in Zhejiang’s Jiaxing. Over the years, she has worked at the People’s Bank in China, the Foshan Painting Academy, and the Foshan Bureau of Culture, Broadcast and News; she was married and is a father. Yet, despite Yiling’s upwardly mobile lifestyle, she had spent her entire life hiding something from all those around her, including her wife and parents. According to Yiling, she had wanted to be a woman since the age of three. In the privacy of her own room, she would dress the part but wouldn’t dare tell anyone for fear of persecution.
Four years ago, Yiling made the decision to take the necessary steps to undergo gender reassignment surgery. She began to go out in public dressed as a woman and later underwent breast implant surgery and hormone replacement therapy. Two years ago, she officially applied to the Chinese Public Security Bureau requesting to be identified as a woman. While her request wasn’t approved, it wasn’t denied either: she never received any response of any kind.
While Yiling is generally reluctant to grant interview requests, as June is Pride Month, she agreed to speak with the Southern Metropolis Daily in hopes of enlightening the public with respect to transgendered people and transgendered issues. Yiling also called for fair and equitable employment rights for transgendered persons.
On the day of the interview, Yiling showed-up in a leopard print top carrying two identity cards: one with the male name Qian Jinfan, the other with her female name, Yiling that she had made herself. “I didn’t do it out of impulse,” Yiling explains. “I had thought it through long before that, and I planned to fight if my request was denied.” It turned out Yiling didn’t have to fight at all. Despite all of the physical changes she underwent, for the most part, Yiling’s life remains unchanged. She still receives her government pension, and attends meetings regularly. And although Yiling’s wife was initially shocked and refused to be seen with her while dressed as a woman, their relationship has since improved: “Recently she seems to be more comfortable with it” she said.