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Xia Yu has not visited her family in years, afraid that they would be ashamed of her identity. Yang Zhou stopped taking the subway to avoid the stares of strangers. Xiao Tong was once beaten by police. Then he kicked me, really, he kicked me.
Transgender sex workers like Xia, Yang and Xiao — all pseudonyms — are among the most marginalised and vulnerable populations in China today, the nonprofit organisation Asia Catalyst says in a detailed research report released on Friday. The majority of Chinese people refuse to regard transgender identification as socially acceptable — Confucian standards of morality discourage breaking with convention, and traditional Chinese society holds men in higher esteem than women.
While sex work in China is technically illegal, prostitution is ubiquitous and often thinly veiled, and the ban pits sex workers against police. This dynamic also exposes sex workers to abuse by clients. It makes more sense to just suffer in silence. Globally, transgender sex workers are 49 times more likely to be infected with HIV than the general population, and nine times more vulnerable to the virus than female sex workers, said the report.
For many transgender people in China, sex reassignment surgery is prohibitively expensive, and resources for understanding their sexual orientations are scarce.