Aspect a Chinese An American woman, the eldest son of a Chinese family, I was taught from an early age that sons are responsible for perpetuating the family line. This patriarchal idea of the preservation of the family is directly linked to the philosophy of Confucianism, one of the most influential Chinese schools of thought. Fortunately, my parents never put that kind of pressure on me because they didn’t accept gender roles as strongly as some of their peers.
Of course, it took a while for my mom to start referring to me as her daughter. But three years later, in 2022, it felt natural to call me Chinese girl and use English pronouns. Yet even today, I don’t care how he genders me, as long as it implies that I’m his child. But white Americans and many second-generation non-white Americans have given me a lot of unsolicited advice on how to interact with my family and interpret my Chinese sensibilities when it comes to transgender discourse.
Four years ago I wrote an article about my experience of coming out with my mother. While talking to her, I discussed how I navigated my transgender and Chinese identity. The editor I worked with during the drafting process suggested that I had too much “tolerance” for my mother in my family’s acceptance of my new gender identity. I agreed, but looking back, I realized that the article was much more influenced by the concepts of American transgender discourse than I would have liked.
Today, when I shared the article with white or assimilated transgender friends and acquaintances, I was met with hostility—many of whom were shocked and upset that I didn’t see my mother as transphobic, ignoring the fact that my mother now proudly calls me out. her daughter. People’s feelings often include comments like “if they don’t accept you right away, it’s transphobic”. I have tried to explain that for many Chinese families, being born a boy carries predetermined weights at birth, and that these beliefs are at the core of the Chinese cultural experience. Rooted, multifaceted, and certainly not as black and white as “my mother is transphobic”, “my mother is an ally” or “Chinese culture is intrinsically transphobic”.
However, I am not advocating patriarchal practices. I understand that the cultural context influences the way people process a new gender identity. And while my mom has never said she misses her son or feels like she’s lost a son, I’m sure deep down there’s a tiny bit of that and that’s okay with me. Her relationship with my gender has never encouraged me to put the relationship aside or threaten to do so, as I thought the wider non-Chinese community would hope or suggest. There is no perfect mother-daughter relationship, and it’s no one else’s job to tell me how I should feel about my mother.
In recent months, I’ve begun to re-examine the broader conversations I’ve had with my non-Chinese trans friends about how my culture affects how I act in the world as a trans person. And I’m increasingly tired of the implication that if I don’t embrace a white or “American” trans identity, I’m somehow wrong.
Whether we want to admit it or not, whiteness is the default in the American transgender community. But that doesn’t mean that being transgender is the only way to be trans.
In my world, Chinese acquaintances who occasionally mislead me are not transphobic. Spoken Mandarin Chinese has no pronouns; “he” and “she” are both pronounced “tá”, but in written Chinese “he” is written as: When 他 is spelled “it” 她, the preposition determines whether the character is meant for male or female individuals. For non-native English speakers, it can be difficult to memorize gendered pronouns (found in many Western languages, including French, English, and Spanish).
While my mom has never said she misses her son or feels like she’s lost a son, I’m sure, deep down, there’s a tiny sliver of it, and that’s okay with me.
Yet another example is when I talk to white trans people about the concept of “passing through” and how I feel more comfortable going through than being ostensibly trans, they immediately label me as a self-hater. But what these people refuse to admit is that it’s hard enough to be Asian in the white professional and social spheres; I don’t need my marginalized gender identity to become another obstacle to my progress in life as easily as possible.
Ultimately, I often felt pressured to cut myself off from my Chinese community in order to be accepted by transgender whites and transgender people of color who wanted their trans identities to align with Western sensibilities. It’s not in the real weird spirit of “being yourself” – it’s judgmental and ignorant.
We need more nuanced conversations around intersectionality. One of my favorite examples is intersectional feminism in America. In a country with women of all cultures, races and identities, how can we say that all our femme experiences, even remotely, are the same? How can a White woman say she understands a Black woman’s everyday experience, or how can an Asian woman say she understands an Indigenous woman’s whole life experience?
However, just because there is no one-size-fits-all method for practicing feminism does not mean that we should force all women to adhere to one type of feminism for convenience. The same goes for the transgender discourse. And until I see changes, white transgender America is not for me.