Yao, More or Less Human

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    This essay introduces Kiki, a transgender sex worker in Hong Kong, who is not adopting the term transgender and is not particularly involved with the transgender movement. Rather, she chose a particular Chinese term to conjure, evince, and categorize herself: renyao. While ren can be translated to “human being,” yao to “monster,” and renyao to “shemale,” those well versed in its vernacular circulation in Hong Kong would understand it as a somewhat old-school but definitely discriminatory, derogatory usage, primarily used to sneer at people who were not readily identifiable as male or female and are viewed as freakish, monsterlike, or less than human. With renyao, Kiki finds her ways to queer transgenderism. By reclaiming a shameful, derogatory term, by bringing transgenderism beyond the language of medicalization and legalization, by inserting playfulness and pleasure, by opting for sex work and founding an organization that defends the rights of male and transgender sex workers, by not wanting to pass, by being neither this nor that, she is renyao, not a transgender person. This essay is to insert Kiki's self-representation, visually and linguistically, into our examinations and explorations, to weave the narration of one Asian transgender person into the weft of trans scholarships and activisms in Asia.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)464-472
    Number of pages9
    JournalTransgender Studies Quarterly
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


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