Can Transgender People Travel To China

As a transgender person in 2020, the world presents both opportunities and hardship to you. One such opportunity or challenge is that of travel, and when it comes to the east Asian superpower of China, the climate and opportunities are not necessarily as open to the transgender community. Today, let’s explore the unique climate for transgender travelers in China, and the possible prospects of transgender travel to the nation.

China is a major economic force and a country of deep cultural significance in the global order. The People’s Republic, however, does not have a great record when it comes to laws which protect and recognise the rights of its transgender population, or the LGBT+ community in general.

The official stance and reality of government rehabilitation centres and attempts to ‘convert’ people back to their original gender still plague the nation. Chinese officialdom has historically seen gender dysphoria as a mental illness, and transgender people are still subject to discrimination and prejudice by much of the population, especially the older generations.

Cultural and political influences aside, there remains much to be done for the transgender traveller in China to experience the nation for what it really is, before this kind of thinking can change. Travelling to the country generally doesn’t require any kind of gender identity documentation, but self-proclaimed transgender travellers should bear in mind that their presence may not be well received.

Much of this, unsurprisingly, links back to religion and traditional attitudes towards gender. Confucianism, which considers marriage of paramount importance and requiring ‘natural’ gender roles for increased social harmony, is very much a visible element of Chinese life, especially amongst certain generations.

Local Support

Although most of the nation as a whole revels in these still-lingering beliefs, there are still pockets of support for the transgender community in China. There are many organisations and NGOs that provide advice and support to transgender people, although discrimination is still a common issue in workplaces and even day-to-day life.

The beginnings of a more accepting attitude towards the transgender community can be seen online, where there are strongly-opinionated and informed communities, seeking to gain more support and recognition for the community.

Interesting, the Chinese state has made the somewhat peculiar step of prescribing gender-reassignment surgery as part of the required certificate process for changing gender, although this usually in political terms and does not necessarily help transgender people, as they are often stereotyped as forcibly wanting this kind of surgery. Nonetheless, although not necessarily progressive, this does suggest the stepping stones for a more inclusive approach if there is more pressure for it.

Progress

Progress has been made more recently in China towards transgender rights. 2019 saw the passing of landmark legislation that ordered hospitals not to force gender reassignment surgery on children. Progress in this area is, of course, welcome, and it’s hoped it will make a dent into legal and public attitudes towards transgender communities.

2019 also saw the passing of the Gender Equality Law which prohibited discrimination against the LGBT+ community. Again, this is welcome, and something no one can deny should and will be embraced by the transgender community.

Also, the nation recognises gender dysphoria as a mental condition, and thus provides medical insurance for those affected, although this by no means is in all cases accessible to transgender communities.

Even attitudes towards transgender people in the marketing and entertainment industries has had a positive journey in China. More athletes, models and presenters are coming out as transgender, although rights and transgender issues are rarely discussed in mainstream media.

Visas for Transitioning Travellers

In terms of travelling to the country, generally speaking, gender issues do not affect visa applications, as gender has no notation on a visa or passport. However, in the face of potential discrimination, this situation could, of course, change, especially if a transgender traveller is greatly different from their original gender identity on the passport.

Still, during national holidays such as the Spring Festival or Chinese New Year, most attractions, as well as shops, restaurants and banks are closed, so it may be better to avoid those times despite the convenience.

Unless travelling on a visa such as a work visa, students typically require a tourist visa, which usually allows stays of 30 to 90 days, which is more than enough time for a comfortable tourist visit to China.

Transgender people face a lot of difficulties in China, and this does not exclude the tourism industry. Nonetheless, with the steadily improving support and outlook for transgender people in the country, there is much to look forward to, and with the country’s vast array of culture, opportunity and beauty, it could be the ideal destination for the open-minded transgender traveler.

Transgender Integration Into Local Communities

Despite the discriminatory attitudes, China is making giant strides in terms of its recognition and acceptance of transgender people in the country. This development can be seen in integration of transgender people into local communities. Many businesses are taking steps to create more inclusive spaces that cater to transgender patrons, such as restaurants, malls, banks and other outlets which welcome customers of all genders.

There are also support communities such as bars, activities and other social communities which are aimed at people of all genders, including transgender people who are seeking support and validation. This kind of atmosphere creates a platform for transgender people to enjoy activities like anyone else, and to be able to express their true identity without fear of judgement.

While respect and recognition are still a long way off in terms of China’s official stance on transgender people, there has been a distinct improvement of recent times, and the cultural and social landscape is rapidly changing to a far more positive climate.

Safety and Healthcare for Transgender Travellers

For the international transgender traveller to China, however, the task of staying safe and being accepted may be trickier than for a non-transgender person. As to be expected, certain traditional attitudes to gender can have an impact on the way travelers are treated, and it’s important to be aware of this in order to not become the subject of any kind of attention or discrimination while in the nation.

Aside from outright discrimination, another worry for a transgender traveller to China would be the country’s healthcare system. Should an emergency situation arise, would the health service be open to a transgender person? This is something that would require consulting with an embassy prior to travel.

Undoubtedly, the safety of a traveler to a new place is always something that should be taken seriously. As China does not have a particularly inclusive attitude towards transgender people, it is essential that transgender travellers to the country be aware of both potential prejudice and oppression and plans to deal with those situations if and when they arise.

Conclusion

The desire to visit China as a transgender person is nothing to be ashamed of, or looked down upon, and for many people, this is a cultural experience like no other. However, it’s important to bear the still pervasive traditional values in mind, as well as the harsh legal climate for transgender people in the country. Travel is not always easy for a transgender person, but with the right knowledge and an open mind, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences known.

Bernice Sorrells

Bernice A. Sorrells is a freelance journalist and travel writer from the United States. She has written extensively about China, covering topics such as culture, history, politics, and economics. Bernice has traveled extensively throughout China, visiting many of its provinces and cities.

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