From Personal Gender Dysphoria to Trans-Empowerment: Lisbeth Wu’s Trans-Life

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This article is part of the 33th issue of LEAP — Voices of Youth e-letter. Subscribe now.

(Photo: Lin Si-Hou)

If my gender identity weren’t continuously being oppressed, I wouldn’t be working in a social movement. Since I was young, I’ve always liked to work in the field of information technology. However, I am now also forced to fight for gender identity!

With long hair down to her shoulders, 23 year old Lisbeth Wu types away on an Apple MacBook in a cafe. Her business card reads: “Back-end engineer” for a famous gender community in Taiwan and “trans empowerment hacker.”

“I am working in the field I love: information engineering. At the same time, I am working on my goal of promoting transgender people’s rights and gender equality. It’s such a dream job!” Though Wu’s voice is full of pride, it hasn’t always been easy for her. It was only after years of struggling for her gender identity and overcoming the challenges of social perceptions did she achieve her relatively stable and confident mindset.

Gender identity anxiety, hostile school systems, and the path of a social movement

The first time Wu remembers feeling “uncomfortable” about her gender was when she was in the third grade learning about secondary sex characteristics. At the time, “he” felt extremely disgusted. When he was in the 9th grade, his body started to change and his voice began deepening. However, he became so anxious that he could not concentrate on his studies.

“The confusion over my gender identity kept growing, becoming a gigantic obstacle in my life. I had to face it, or I couldn’t continue living.” To explore his own doubts, Wu began searching for information online and participating in gender camps during high school. Wu learned about the term “transgender” and made some transgender friends.

After exploring for two to three years, “she” became certain that she was a transgender individual. At age 18, after counselling with a psychiatrist, she was finally certain that she had gender dysphoria (GD). Shortly after, she began receiving hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and started living as a woman.

Just when she finally felt she could be herself, she enrolled in university and came into the worst times in her life.

Because the gender listed on her national ID is male, she was not allowed to live in the women’s dormitories according to the university’s regulations. As a result, she was assigned to a male dormitory. During a school meeting, she was treated harshly. Dorm supervisors were asked to pay special attention to this “man wearing women’s clothing.” For a month, to avoid the gaze of her male classmates in the dormitory, she avoided sleeping there. “I got in at 2 am and got out at 5 am. I usually slept at my club’s office, and showered in the toilet.”

“It was the first time in my life I had the urge to jump off a building. But, I knew I couldn’t die, or else I wouldn’t be able to see those people punished.” On the verge of having a nervous breakdown, Wu decided to suspend her studies. After some time away from university, she decided to stand up for herself and fight back. With the support of civil society groups and her family, she held a press conference and spoke about the hostile environment she suffered while in university. In the end, a ruling determined that some school personnel contributed to her psychological torment and were ordered to compensate her.

“Not every transgender person is as lucky as I am. They may not have support from their family, or may lack an understanding of the law. For some transgender people, the only possible way is to end their own lives and hope to become the gender they want in the next life. That is so sad!” In hopes to prevent more transgender people from being similarly treated, Wu started participating in social movements.

Throughout the interview, Wu maintained a sense of humor while retracing her painful experiences. (Photo: Lin Si-Hou)

Promoting social acceptance of the gender identity of transgender individuals

“For transgender individuals, the disgust for their own body is similar to gender in the way that it’s a spectrum. Not everyone wants to remove the sex organs they were born with,” stated Wu. Satisfied with her post-HRT self, she now dresses freely in any woman’s clothing she wants. In addition, she has other things she wants to do, so she is not presently considering receiving sex reassignment surgery (SRS).

However, in Taiwan, to change the gender listed on their ID, a person must provide GD certificates from two psychiatrists and undergo SRS to remove one’s original sex organs. Without receiving SRS, Wu’s application to change her ID was denied by the household registration office.

Unable to change the gender listed on her ID, Wu finds herself spending a lot of time explaining why her appearance is not outwardly reflective of the gender on her ID. She must constantly “come out of the closet.” Therefore, she has filed a lawsuit, hoping to seek help from the jurisdiction. “Having a ID that matches my gender identification will reduce the embarrassment I encounter every day in society, and will give me the flexibility to take care of other areas of my life.”

In November 2021, the Taipei High Administrative Court stated that “the relevant provisions on gender change lack a clear legal basis” and petitioned for an interpretation of the Constitution. Wu confessed that she did not expect the court would make such a petition, opening the possibility that transgender individual’s rights may be expanded in Taiwan. “I believe that the interpretation of the Constitution is only the beginning in providing transgender individuals with the most basic protection. There are many other topics, such as anti-discrimination laws, people’s understanding and education about transgender individuals and identity, and the coverage of national health insurance on SRS. These are steps we are going to take in the future.”

“I truly hope that one day, we can stop caring so much about gender and relying on it to understand a person.” From personal anxiety about her gender identity to now giving voice to all transgender individuals, Wu continues to march toward this goal in the hope that everyone can identify and respect each other’s true selves one day.

Over the last four to five years, Wu has participated in many social movements. (Photo: Lin Si-Hou)

Also in This Issue:

What is “Transgender”? The Controversy of Legal Gender-Change Without Proof-of-Surgery in Taiwan

Is it necessary to remove one’s sexual organs to change their legal sexual identity? An upcoming Constitutional debate will have the answer.

Author : Lin Si-hou

Freelance journalist exploring gender and public issues.

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LEAP − Voices of Youth

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