A wide variety of terms are used in relation to transgenderism in Chinese languages. In Mandarin, the term kuaxing (跨性, pinyin kùaxìng), literally "to go beyond sex", has recently come into use as a literal translation of the English term "transgender", but kuaxing is not in popular use outside of academia.
Fanchuan (反串, fǎnchùan) is the historical term for cross-dressed performing on stage, as in Beijing opera where males play women's parts, or in Taiwanese opera where females play men's parts. Fanchuan has recently come to mean dressing in drag as well, with many of the associations of that English word.
A common term for "ladyboys" or other transsexual people who perform on stage is renyao (人妖, py rényāo). This term is most specifically applied to Thai katoey, and almost never to Chinese transgender people. The term can be broken down as "human monster"; and while some would argue that yao here means "enchanting", the word has both connotations. In combination with its application primarily to non-Chinese, and especially southeast Asian, transgender people, it is a very offensive term. Chinese transgender people themselves almost universally avoid the term, favoring less insulting descriptions.
In the late 1990s, the performing group Red Top Arts (紅頂藝人, py Hǒngdǐng Yìrén) came to fame in Taipei, Taiwan as the island's first professional drag troupe. Since this time, "Red Top" and various homophones (紅鼎，宏鼎, etc.) have come to be common combining-forms that indicates drag, crossdressing, etc.
The standard Chinese term for transsexual people is 變性者, (py bìanxìngzhe), literally "one who changes sex". Bìanxìng 變性 is therefore the most common way to say "change one's sex", though not necessarily through sexual reassignment surgery -- bianxing may also include hormonal changes and lifestyle changes.
Terms for crossdressing are many and varied. 異裝癖 (py yìzhūangpǐ), literally "obsession with the opposite [sex's] attire", is commonly used. 扮裝 (py bànzhūang), literally "to put on attire", is commonly used to mean crossdressing. Related to this is an auxiliary term for drag queens: 扮裝皇后 (py bànzhūang húanghòu), or "crossdressing queen". There are several terms competing as translations of the English drag king, but none has reached currency yet.
For a short period in the late 1990s, "third sex hostess" (第三性公關, py dìsānxìng gōnggūan) bars were popular in Taiwan. These bars were closely modeled on Japanese new half hostess bars, though perhaps less stately than their Japanese counterparts. Through this trend, "the third sex" has come to be used more frequently for a general marker of transgenderism.
Two common terms for intersex people exist: 中性人 (py zhōngxìngrén), literally "middle sex person" (and perhaps indicating androgyny rather than medical intersexuality), and 陰陽人 (py yīnyángrén) , or "Yin-Yang person".
History of transgenderism in China
In 2000, what appears to be the first formal transgender support group, Taiwan TG Butterfly Garden, was established in Taiwan. Informal groups exist elsewhere and on the Net; see the links section, below.
Relative occurrence of transwomen and transmen
As transgender studies began in Taiwan and statistics began to be published, many people noted that the island had a far larger occurrence of transmen (female-to-male) than of transwomen (male-to-female). This put Taiwan in interesting contrast to the West, where the opposite is usually believed to be true. Fang Ronghuang, one of Taiwan's most famous sexual reassignment surgeons, published statistics stating that the prevalence of female-to-male transsexualism is at least five times greater than male-to-female.
However, as with the Western case, many academics now believe that this is an error in reporting rather than a true difference in reality. Many believe that the actual ratio is about 1:1.
- The Center for the Study of Sexualities, at Taiwan's National Central University. Josephine Ho is one of the island's experts on transgender issues.
- Chinese and Taiwanese gender-related information.
- TransgenderASIA Research Centre, A website on transgender research, focusing on Asian transgendered persons and culture.