Young transgender people in China are risking their lives and health by taking unsafe hormones and attempting surgery on themselves, researchers at Amnesty International (AI) said.
An “alarming” lack of knowledge and expertise within the nation’s public health system, as well as restrictive eligibility requirements, has made it almost impossible for trans people to access safe hormone therapy or other gender treatment, the group wrote in a report published yesterday.
In China, trans people are classified as having a mental illness and require the consent of their families for sex reassignment surgery, the researchers found.
The prevalence of discrimination and stigma means many choose not to tell their families, they said.
“China is failing transgender people,” said Doriane Lau, China researcher at Amnesty. “Discriminatory laws and policies have left many people feeling they have no choice but to risk their lives by performing extremely dangerous surgery on themselves and seeking unsafe hormone drugs on the black market.”
Transgender people are “invisible” in China’s healthcare system, Amnesty International said.
They face entrenched discrimination at home, school and at work, as well as when seeking healthcare, it said.
In 2017, a report stated that more than 1,000 people in the country had undergone gender surgery and 400,000 people were planning to do so. Two of the 15 people interviewed by Amnesty researchers spoke of trauma after attempting surgery on themselves.
“I thought I was an abnormal person,” said Huiming, 30, from Hangzhou, who was born with male sex characteristics, but identified as female.
After unsuccessfully seeking out a black market doctor for gender surgery, in 2016 Huiming attempted surgery.
“How could I explain this to my family?” said Huiming, whose name has been changed for this report. “I was both happy and scared. I was scared because I was bleeding so badly, I could die right there. I feared I would still die a man, since I only did part of my surgery.”
Huiming, who was rushed to hospital after the attempt, eventually traveled to Thailand for treatment.
Other trans people told Amnesty of how they had resorted to buying potentially unsafe hormones online, via information on social media, without knowing whether the drugs were genuine, or if they might cause harmful side effects.
Shansan, 21, a transgender man from Beijing, said: “I couldn’t tell if the drugs were authentic. I think there isn’t anything lethal in these drugs, but what better options do I have?”
Shansan’s name was also changed for this report.
Lau said: “The Chinese government can show it is serious in addressing discrimination against the LGBTI community by removing the barriers transgender people face when trying to access safe gender-affirming treatments.”
Peking University Third Hospital, which opened last year, is the only multidisciplinary clinic in China that specializes in a range of gender treatments.
Amnesty’s local partners in China said they found it difficult to recruit interviewees on a large scale for the report due to fear of the potential repercussions.
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