The brutal institutions ‘transforming’ China’s LGBT, nonconformist youth

Played out on social media, a dispute between a 17-year-old transgender woman and her parents has shone a spotlight on the country’s ‘schools’ that exist to ‘regulate’ the behaviour of teenagers

In March 2018, when Huang Xiaodi turned 17, her family told her to return home to Jiangyin, in eastern China’s Jiangsu province, so they could throw a birthday party for her. But before she had a chance to cut the cake, Huang was ushered to a car with her father, sister and brother-in-law.

“They said they wanted to take me shopping,” Huang recalls of the evening. “I was surprised, thinking, ‘Shopping? At this hour?’” It was about 20 minutes into the drive that Huang realised something was wrong when the car turned onto a highway and headed out of the province.

“Where are you taking me?” she asked.

“We’re going to cure your illness,” replied her father. Hours later, Huang would begin to understand when a round but sturdy, 40-ish drill-instructor type wearing camouflage gear and with a buzz cut appeared to greet them.

“What is this place?” she protested. “Who is that man?”

“He can cure you,” her sister replied. Then she and their father took hold of Huang’s arms and pulled her from the vehicle, dragging her past a set of iron gates towards the man she would soon come to know, and dread, as Old Zhang.

The previous month, Huang, who was born male, had come out as transgender in a handwritten letter to her family and run away from home. Caught by police, she was taken a few days later to the psychology department at Southwest Hospital, in Chongqing, where she and her father discussed gender reassignment surgery. A huge step. Her father “thought there were only two genders”, Huang says, so “if I wasn’t set on being a girl, I’d have to turn back to being a boy”.

After that, nothing further was said on the subject. Huang returned home before finding a job in Suzhou, about an hour away. And now here she was being hauled into a schoolhouse in Chongqing, more than 1,000km from home.

Huang remembers the first time she walked down that dark, narrow hallway in the Chongqing Lishi Information Engineering School, passing rooms where a few children came to the doorways, some greeting the family. She recalls feeling “they were without souls”.

by Phoebe Zhang in Shenzhen
Source – SCMP