Chinese media embraces trans star, reflecting attitude shift in Beijing

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Liu Ting won national morality award as a man; her transition to a woman has seen support from public

ALJAZEERA_America_downloadChina’s latest “it” girl was once hailed as a model son. And reflecting changing attitudes toward members of the LGBT community, Beijing appears at pains to stress it has no problem with a transgender star.

State media this week ran a series of complementary — almost to the point of fawning — articles on Liu Ting, a woman who, before coming out as a woman, received an award for respecting elders.

It follows swelling support for the transgender 28-year-old in recent months, with national press and a powerful political body holding her up as a symbol of what many say is Beijing’s increasingly progressive attitude on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights.

On Thursday, the Beijing Times ran a slideshow from a glossy photo shoot of Liu, accompanied by an interview of the media phenomenon.

“The reporter scanned the room and couldn’t find a trace of masculinity,” the newspaper article stated, while also noting the number of skin care products in her bathroom.

Liu — who has changed her given name Ting 霆 to the more feminine homonym 婷 — announced earlier this week that she had completed nearly seven months of gender reassignment surgery.

In 2007, Liu received an award for model moral behavior, having cared for an ailing single mother for 15 years in their native southern province of Zhejiang. Liu famously used to carry her mother to the hospital on her back, where doctors treated the matriarch’s uremia.

Liu received the award at a time in China’s modern history when the privatization of social services previously guaranteed by the government had left many complaining of inadequate healthcare.  The prize was among the many ways that Chinese authorities promoted — and continue to promote — young Chinese ensuring the quality of life of their parents.

But after news first broke of her plans to publicly identify as a woman last year, Chinese media reportedly lambasted Liu and questioned whether she indeed deserved the morality prize. Zhejiang officials told her not to mention the award, according to the South China Morning Post.

But Liu’s current moment in the spotlight appears to indicate that those local officials are no longer in line with the Beijing consensus on LGBT issues, which has moved toward a more progressive stance since the turn of the century.

Until 2001, homosexuality was officially classified as a mental illness in China. But in little over a decade, China has seen rapid-fire growth in the area of LGBT rights — even if cultural stigma continues to pose problems in day-to-day life.

In an example of efforts intended perhaps to make a dent in public opinion, the CEO of Chinese gay dating app Blued told Al Jazeera the government had not opposed his efforts to develop a homegrown alternative to popular international counterparts like Grindr and Jack’d. Moreover it had actually collaborated with the company on efforts to offer gay Chinese information on preventing the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted illnesses. And in December 2014, a Chinese court ruled that one of a series of clinics offering “gay conversion therapy” should pay the defendant in the case over $500 in damages and issue an apology on its website.

The Beijing Times reportage this week waxed amazed about Liu Ting, hailed by many on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, as “pretty.”

In regard to Liu’s case, China didn’t even require her to undergo surgery before accepting her gender identity, reports observed. The government had already recognized Liu as a woman, after a visit to a local Public Security Bureau office where she filled out the necessary paperwork in August 2014 — months before her first operation.

Meanwhile, the Beijing Times’ report is one of a plethora that has carried complimentary remarks on Liu’s looks.

Other media have noted her “fair-skinned” and “high-nosed” appearance — deemed to be attractive qualities by many in China.

In another indication of her acceptance at an official level, one of China’s state organized non-governmental organizations has held up the Liu as a role model.

In June 2014, the politically powerful All-China Women’s Federation noted, “Being a role model doesn’t necessarily mean being a male role model.”

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