Breaker of Taboos

By Zhang Yiqian Source:Global Times Published: 2015-2-14 5:03:01

Sexologist, outed as girlfriend of transsexual, spreads understanding

Li Yinhe, renowned sexologist in China, finds herself in the middle of controversy after she wrote a blog post confessing she has been living with a transsexual. Photo: Li Hao/GT

After finding out a reporter is meeting with Li Yinhe, the attendant at a teahouse in Fengtai district showed the way to a private room. "This is where she always sits for interviews."

The attendants all know Li as a teacher. But what they don't know is that Li has been the protagonist in two of China's most famous love stories of recent decades.

For many years, Li was known as the widow of Wang Xiaobo and a pioneering sexologist herself. Wang, who died of a heart attack in 1997, was a well-known contemporary novelist and essayist. His collection of works, the Age Trilogy, was among the first in China to contain explicit descriptions of sex.

Recently, Li became the center of media attention due to a forced "coming out" after a blogger named Liu Chang'an wrote that Li was a lesbian and had been living with a woman.

In her response, Li wrote that she had been living with someone, but that the person was a transsexual. That person identifies as a man, even though he is physically a woman.

The statement brought instant reactions from all sides. Many attacked her. But many were also curious.

Li has gone from a scholar to someone using her own example to spread understanding. She says that although her role came about by accident, she is happy she can contribute.

Forced 'out'

Before the blog post, Li had been going through a quiet period. She retired from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) in 2012 and focused mainly on writing.

But when she read the blog piece by Liu Chang'an, it was her instinctive reaction to write something and set the record straight. She said she planned to include this confession in her autobiography but was forced to reveal it early.

In her blog post, Li confessed that she had met someone, a transsexual, after Wang Xiaobo passed away. They have been living together for 17 years.

At first, when Li met Daxia (literally translated as "swordsman"), she saw him as an interviewee. Daxia, however, thought they were on a date.

"He fell in love with me, and at first it was surprising to me," she wrote. "But his love was overwhelming, and I had no choice but to be attracted and touched. I felt that he was an angel sent by God to save me from the misery of losing Xiaobo."

Daxia only accepted a few interviews after their relationship came to light. He told the Nandu Weekly that Li has helped him as well.

Before Daxia met Li, he thought he was a lesbian and only sought relationships in that circle. But Li helped him understand that he wanted to love women who are straight.

The blog post immediately became a hot topic of discussion. Many people were curious: they hadn't even heard of transsexuals before.

Media flocked to interview Li. At first it was about her love story. Then gradually, the subject shifted to introducing the transsexual community.

Li had to face camera lenses two or three times a day, repeating over and over, "I am heterosexual, I do not love women." "Daxia is a transsexual, he is physically a woman but identifies as a man." "He has undergone surgery to transform himself."

Many have attacked Li as well, calling her a pervert, a degenerate in society. "Her head's been kicked by a donkey," is one typical comment. Li simply ignores such remarks.

Controversial work

It's not the first time Li has met with controversy. Her early work focused on sex, which was taboo at the time.

Li described her focus as "natural." She was born in 1952 and grew up during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).

Movies and literature show how oppressive that era was, especially when it came to sex, Li said. One famous movie, Shanghai Dreams (2005), told the story of a young woman who was forced to accuse her lover of raping her, even though they had consensual sex. As a result, her lover was given the death penalty.

"See how oppressive that was? It's only natural that I was curious about this subject," Li said.

She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1988 with a degree in sociology, then went to work at the CASS, writing 10 reports exploring different aspects of sex in Chinese society.

She was the first person in China to write about homosexuality. While interviewing people, she met a 40-year-old man who just wouldn't tell her why he wanted to stay single. Li was persistent in her questioning.

"In the end, he couldn't hide it anymore and said to me, 'All right, you don't seem like a bad person to me, so I'll tell you. I'm gay,'" she said.

That was the first time Li had come face-to-face with a gay man. Then he introduced her to other interviewees.

But when she completed the report in 1991, the publishing company thought the issue was too sensitive and refused to publish it.

The same fate befell some of her other books. In 1998, Li wrote a series on homosexuality, women and sex, and sadomasochism.

On the eve of publication, the publishing company received a notice that the book on homosexuality was to be published "as an insider book," meaning people could only buy it with an official letter of introduction. The order for the book on sadomasochism was that it had to be "burned at once," Li said.

Target of abuse

Li said she's seen change over the years, and as a scholar pushing for more rights and freedoms, she doesn't mind being part of the controversy.

In 1997, the crime of "hooliganism" was abolished. The existing laws on sex, including those on prostitution, are being used less and less. She has also seen more discussions about homosexuality.

Her shift from a scholar to a "main character" in this controversy came by accident, Li said. When she wrote the blog post, she hadn't expected what would come, that she'd be caught in a storm of insults.

Li said she is used to insults and simply ignores such remarks. When she started a blog in 2005, commentators hurled abuse at her.

"Once, a man commented on my post on incest, saying, 'If killing weren't illegal, I'd definitely kill you,'" she said. "I was so angry that I laughed."

During the past two months, she has gradually become a spokesperson for the transsexual community, saying it has worked out well.

"My work has touched on the transsexual community before, but people may not have paid attention," she said. "When you have someone who is associated with the community, then people would naturally become interested."

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