Family kills if you don't toe the hard gender line
By Josephine Ho Quinton Kao 何春蕤 、高旭寬
Wednesday, Aug 06, 2008, Page 8
A decade ago, a key figure in Taiwan’s lesbian and gay movement said out of distress: “In Taiwan, only orphans can be gay.”
Taiwan, the whole Chinese world in fact, has a tradition of keeping “potentially embarrassing” family matters a secret. This tradition has seen the parents of many gay people express extreme anger and hatred toward them, with some parents choosing to totally isolate and ignore their own children. On some occasions, parents even use emotional blackmail to force their children to “return to normality.”
This rejection and exile from the natural affection of one’s immediate family has left many gay people trapped in between what they want and what their families want, and long-term dejection has made many of them susceptible to depression and mental anguish.
Now the same sad statement can be said about another population: “In Taiwan, only orphans can be transgendered.”
Many transgendered people suffer condemnation by their families and ridicule and ostracism at school. In a world where the distinction between men and women is kept crisp and clear, transgendered people do not fit in on either side. This situation has turned many of them into orphans, loved by no one and despised at all times. They have to learn to rely on themselves to grow and survive in this world.
They become the focus of their parents’ hatred and the crux of the messy situation. Parents detest their mere existence, and their fate is to drift through life in exile, living on antidepressants and sleeping pills. The pain and humiliation can accumulate to the intensity that led a friend of ours to leap from his high-rise apartment to end the misery. He had always been afraid of heights, and the towel that he put over his eyes before the jump poignantly spoke of his unbearable situation on the fringes of his family.
Living with desperation that has no end in sight, it is little wonder that quite a number of transgendered people choose the same path. The cause of suicide is not, as is commonly believed, an inability to handle pressure, but this world’s obstinate refusal to accept these transgendered individuals and help ease their burdens. Nor is it because they are impulsive and emotional, but because this world refuses to give them any understanding or hope, not to mention support or love.
In Taiwan, “blood is thicker than water” and “parents are always right” are common proverbs. However, the coldness and cruelty of familial “love” becomes evident as family members stubbornly overwrite the last wish of their transgendered child to be buried in his chosen gender identity. At the final stage of our friend’s life, not an ounce of love or respect came from his parents: He was buried in his birth gender as a girl.
How many of our transgendered youth have to die before parents and elders wake up to the fact that the stubbornness of adults often results in damaged souls amongst the young that never fully heal, and young lives that never reach maturity? Are the reputation and authority of adults really so important that the young have to suffer throughout their lives?
Transgendered individuals may not be able to find solace or support from their blood relatives, but members of Taiwan’s transgendered community will not fail them. Taiwan’s first counseling line for transgendered individuals will start operating today. The phone number is 02-2394-9008 and the service will run from 7pm to 10pm every Wednesday night. With unconditional love, we will try to uplift the souls of transgendered people who suffer at the hands of their families.
Josephine Ho is a professor and coordinator at the Center for the Study of Sexualities at National Central University. Quinton Kao is spokesperson for the Taiwan Transgender Butterfly Garden.
TRANSLATED BY DREW CAMERON