Sun, Oct 05, 2008 - Page 13 News List

Taiwan’s trailblazing transgenders

With rigidly defined gender roles, unsupportive parents and a largely unsympathetic public, Taiwan’s transgenders must turn to the Internet as the only means to find lovers, friends, information and support

By Noah Buchan  /  STAFF REPORTER

As the Butterfly Garden has grown, its members have become more confident. The group has taken an increasingly proactive role in Taiwan’s annual LGBT Pride parade. This year’s parade on Sept. 27 saw their greatest turnout ever — an estimated 20 transgenders marched alongside other groups.

“More people would have shown up if it hadn’t rained,” Kao said.

Although the Butterfly Garden provides needed support and information, the group cannot replace the family structure, and bringing parents into the equation remains an important step in the transition process, even if painful at first.

Janet Hwang is an example of how family acceptance can give transgenders the courage and confidence to be themselves and face society. Hwang, who is married with two children, came out publicly in January of last year after telling her parents.

“When I told my mother … she had difficulty accepting it. In our household, my mother — no matter what the situation is — will not make decisions without first consulting my father. But she didn’t want my father to know. So I didn’t want my father to know either. But eventually I told my father and his reaction was that I am an adult and it’s my decision,” she said.

Hwang, 49, said that her parent’s acceptance gave her the courage to tell the principal of

the Christian school where she teaches in Chiayi County.

Soon the whole community knew and a media maelstrom ensued with reporters tailing Hwang for days. When asked if she was concerned at the time that Taiwan’s scandal-obsessed media might trivialize the revelation, she said they handled it well.

“My experience is that Taiwan’s media generally puts a positive spin on transgender news,” she said.

She had similar words for the students and parents of her school.

“They generally supported me. After the news came out I would be walking along the street and students would come up and give me a hug,” she said.

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