Transfeminist Manifesto: Coalition Politics & My Epiphanies in China

Beijing’s Sweetheart reappeared this week. How can I encourage her to stick around?

Fiona Evangeline Leigh
Prism & Pen
8 min readNov 13, 2023


From a scrap book of Good Luck wishes from my first ever class, Beijing 2015.

It was a champagne moment when I handed in the first assignment for my Gender Studies MA course.

I’d risen to the challenge despite the misgivings that popped into my mind as I typed, threatening to derail the whole enterprise. It’s that auld devil called the Imposter Syndrome again. This glitch of the mind has plagued me for years, on every possible level. It’s prevented me from following my calling, robbed me of focus and ambition, and carried me time and again toward failure like so many paper boats down sewer grates.

It has made me an eternal amnesiac.

I prove myself worthy time and again, to my complete and utter surprise, every time. Whether it’s being a transsexual who gets a look or a compliment, or a performer who snatches applause from the jaws of reduced circumstances, I get a spritz of being the Chosen one. It jolts me with excitement, a hit of real dopamine to enliven a famished system. This knowledge gives me a high for a few days before I slide back down into that bog I have in my soul. That glum place where I have never measured up and where I’ve a gnat’s significance. It turned me to drink and almost destroyed me, that damn place. I’ve spent a lifetime blindly trying to make my escape from its dead-eyed thrall.

The time has come to stop struggling against it, turn around, and face it. I’m not an eight-year-old anymore. It’s time for that bog to see what it has made and face the tunnel plow i.e. drain it and make it arable somehow.

This week in Uni we had an introduction to Queer Theory and I was due to give a presentation on Emi Koyama’s Transfeminist Manifesto of 2001.

And it begins……..again.

I’d actively read through this several times and felt the thrill one feels when you find your brethren. Despite its flaws, the manifesto has given me a shaky foothold in the blizzard of theory that obfuscated my brain, and my life for two months. Its somewhat timid reasoning brought me to the table of feminist discourse going on in lectures.

Transgender people are bringing their lived experiences to help expand the scope of the Feminist movement, it declared. We are staking our claims on sisterhood and willing to do whatever it takes to help in the eternal struggle against dichotomous Heteronormative oppression. The Manifesto covers all, be you trans, cis, or intersex, our liberation is bound up with yours too, so let’s fight for it together. It’s a hymn to coalition politics. Our somewhat complex relationship with the gender/sex binary, (trans peeps are both rebels and slaves within the system), is acknowledged and accounted for. We are angels bearing our lives in our arms determined to have our experiences translated into data. What wasn’t to like? All I had to do was present this in front of the class.

Jaysus, that’s no mean feat.

The other ladies had been giving presentations all along. These were professional, passionate, powerpoint presentation led mini-lectures. I was amazed by the ambition and focus of these ladies; they made the most of their time to shine. I felt that by making constant references to my time as an ESL teacher in China, and my desire to become a lecturer on Gender Studies, that I’d set myself a huge standard I’d struggle to live up to. By giving this demonstration I could possibly croak and flaunt my greenhorn status to the rest of the class and the guest lecturer.

Because I’m an Imposter, see?

Dysphoria isn’t just a term that is applicable only to gender, it can exist like stratus clouds over every level of life and I carry it around with me like a child does a balloon.

Bitch do be at the lecturing again.

I went about preparing for it. Not in the diligent, studious way I’d envisaged, but my instincts were at work and I listened to them. I’d learned something from my time as an ESL teacher and the first thing one needs is a killer powerpoint presentation.

I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed making PPTs. Lol, that’s a nerdy auld endeavor if I ever heard one. But it’s true. I made myself one beautiful, streamlined bitch of a presentation. As I’d only have 10 minutes max, I kept it simple. I took the manifesto’s main points and prayed to Goddess that the frisson of the moment would help me riff off them. It was colorful, funny, and powerful, brought alive through my use of animated gifs. I thought of the long-gone evenings out in Niulanshan, Beijing, where I worked at the Gengdan Institute of Technology, specializing, naturally, in Conversational English. I taught the students how to use the word BITCH properly.

It’s only now that I realize, exactly ten years after the fact, how much I loved that job. It was a gift from Nemesis that period of my life. The University held me to its bosom and took care of me after everything that had happened back home. I was a cause celebre on campus, and I enjoyed every glitter-laced second of it. I’d hit the ground running. It was around this time that I became aware of the possibility that I just might be transgender, though it would take years for me to accept it.

I could feel the queerness in the air, and I loved it. The Chinese around me didn’t seem all that fussed about conforming to traditional gender roles. Or if they did, these didn’t seem as ponderous and life-obstructing as they did in Ireland. A fresh start in a new place does wonders for a girl. I could tart up and be praised for it and I took to it all with gusto. I vividly remember calling my reaction to all this as ‘Gender Performance’. I would start behaving more feminine and play up to the sexual curiosity that Chinese men were giving me, even if it was all in my head. I even managed to work my fabulosity into my teaching style and the students weren’t long wrenching their eyes away from their mobile phones.

My tenure there ended badly, of course, all over a stray puppy I’d adopted, bizarrely enough. So when I left to take another job in the city, I didn’t look back at the place that had treated me with such respect and love. I’m only doing this now. I even dream of the place. Paws down, the best job I’ve ever had……EVER!

So, all this was going through my mind as I made my PPT. My teaching style had been kinesthetic, to put it mildly. Simple classes were given with a stand-up comedian’s verve. My long-maligned career as a performer stood me in good stead and it helped me, fleetingly, to become Beijing’s Sweetheart.

If I could only access this side of me while giving my presentation at UCC. Now, that would be the cat’s pajamas. I didn’t dare even hope for that miracle. Beijing was a different time, a different set of circumstances. The amount of beer I’d been knocking back probably had some effect too; it gave me false inspiration perhaps. There’s always an opportunity to knock oneself down. In ten years I’d gone from being Courtney Love to Dame Maggie Smith. And I’d be heading a class in a REAL University setting, not a glorified orphanage out in the hinterland of China. I take valuable experience and trivialize it. Always have.

I tore through another wet evening to get to UCC thirty minutes early to set up the classroom like I used to do. I’d had visions of donning a nice frock and playing Cabaret as my fellow students filed in. As it turned out, I decided that wearing a dress would be a bit too much, so I opted for an all-black ensemble, tastefully rock and roll, Marianne Faithfull meets Hamlet. The classroom being occupied put paid to my idea of Liza Minnelli’s introducing me. No matter. Just get everything set up and fly.

I opened the class with a video poem I’d made called Visible to Myself and sat with big emotions churning inside me as I listened to my own work being aired in this lofty context. Jaysus, I’d done some major work on myself, no doubt about it. And once that was done and had the desired effect of being genuinely applauded, I got up out of my chair and gave my presentation.

Me introducing a poem by Helen Kavanagh Ronan, a close friend of mine


I rocked the joint.

The Heroine Light came on inside me and I gave a powerhouse presentation. I was once again back in Gengdan, in front of the students I loved, nervous energy being converted into an articulate, experienced exhibition of self, character, and knowledge. I went off book a few times, but the raw materials of an excellent lecturer were exposed and the sense of vindication was giddying. The Ladies trilled that the possibility of my having a career as a Lecturer had suddenly become a closer prospect.

I walked back into town, the streets slick and shiny with rain, with a self-assuredness I hadn’t felt in a very long time. I noticed how I made myself inferior by looking at strangers passing me, scanning for lechery, disgust, or indifference. For the recognition of my being a beautiful woman. The casual way I contributed to the punitive damage to my spirit. I’d long made a habit of giving away my power to hot chimeras. It was time to put an end to all that palaver if I could at all.

So, what do I do now? I’ve proved myself worthy so what next?

Do I just live off the accolades for a few days before putting my bashed-up, old dunce’s cap back on again? My world is defined by what it lacks, conveniently overlooking the building blocks I already have and that I can use to make an even better life for myself. The improved quality of life I’ve attained this past year alone has its own currency. But dysphoria blinds one to the facts of the matter. True change is created by focus and dedication. So what next?

Strike while the iron is hot.

I rang the Careers Advice Center in UCC and made an appointment for next Tuesday. I’m going to get this M.A. I’m going to pursue a PhD whether at home or abroad. I’m going to make all this my raison d’etre and give myself over to being a student completely. Small steps contribute to change. I drop my crutches and I can walk.

Hallelujah, bitch!

To all the bitches I've loved before💕



Fiona Evangeline Leigh
Prism & Pen

An Irish writer, transgender woman and singer currently living in the Republic. Has just completed a memoir Marabou Barbie.