TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The exhibition “100 Ways to See” in Ximen’s Red House concluded on Sunday (Nov. 12) and provided a snapshot of issues and themes in transgender people’s lives in Taiwan.
Themes ranged from social acceptance, transitioning, financial stress, employment, and how the everyday drudgery of receiving a bill in the mail can become an anxiety-laden exercise in public exposure. Organized by the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR), the exhibition featured the leading entries of a photo competition from transgender artists, alongside an art installation that collected items representing the experience of transgender women.
It showed some things one might expect – hormone therapy medication, feminine clothing, makeup – and a paper shredder, which one might not.
Designed to highlight an issue easily overlooked by most, the paper shredder was full of paperwork from various health agencies, banks, and other institutions. Notably, all of them misrepresented the recipient’s gender.
Yui (依依), who volunteers with TAPCRP, spoke to Taiwan News on Thursday (Nov. 9) and requested the use of a pseudonym because she did not want to be publicly exposed as a transgender at work. This is the same reason, she said, why many transgender people want the option of having the gender they identify with on public documents – unlike those in the shredder.
Using the example of signing up for a bank account, Yui said that initially, her bank listed her as male, even though she presents to her workplace as female. The fact that she is transgender was not something she wanted to share with her employer. However, since she was unable to choose how the bank displayed her name in official documents, it risked her being “outed” against her will, she said.
Photography competition finalists' work displayed at exhibition. (Taiwan News photo)
After a back and forth with the bank, Yui was able to have her gender changed in their official records. She said she did not think it was discrimination that created these barriers, but a lack of understanding of transgender people’s issues combined with a general concern about fraudulent behavior.
The right to choose one’s gender identity is a core part of organizer TAPCPR’s work, and the group is specifically lobbying to change regulations around identification. The organization’s public policy director Fang Chi (方綺) said that at present, the government requires Taiwanese people wishing to change their gender on their national ID cars to have surgery to remove their sexual and reproductive organs, which not all want or can afford to do.
TAPCPR said that in addition to this work for transgender rights, it is also working to increase visibility for transgender people among the public with more and larger events. They said that transgender issues have received more media coverage than in the past, but often in ways that do not reflect people’s everyday lives.
Returning to everyday life, Yui said finances are another big issue for many transgender people. The high cost of being transgender was highlighted by one of the exhibition's winning photography works that “satirizes the glamorous façade of transgender women.”
“For transgender individuals to become their authentic selves and conform to the expectations of this cisgender-dominated world, they often need to undergo multiple treatments and surgeries, enduring various levels of pain and discomfort,” the artwork’s blurb read. “These struggles come with substantial financial burdens, leaving many transgender individuals in debt, which significantly impacts their lives.”
People march in support of transgender rights in Taipei's 2023 Pride parade in late Oct. (CNA photo)
In terms of “conforming to expectations,” Yui said that in Taiwan, people often avoid talking about transgender issues. “Even though I’m transgender, I won’t loudly say it, or say I want certain rights, etcetera.”
However, she said this is gradually changing. “I realized that before there were so many people who didn’t know any transgender people, or if they know them, the information they have about them isn’t so accurate," she said.
Yui said this is the reason why she decided to speak about her life at the event. “I just hope that if you encounter a transgender person in your life, you can face them as you would anyone else,” she said.
She added, “No need to be especially nice, or discriminate because of their small differences. You really just need to treat them like a normal person."