By Gan Tian
BEIJING, China - Wherever he goes traveling in China, he has trouble checking into a hotel.
The receptionists will always question him for a long time and then check with the manager if it is OK for him to stay in the hotel.
The problem? His identity card shows he's male, but he dresses like a woman.
A 26-year-old teacher at a Beijing-based high school, who wished to remain nameless, wears shirts and trousers at work, but when he goes traveling on his own, or with friends, he wears skirts, leggings and high-heel shoes.
He developed an interest in cross-dressing when he was very young. He used to secretly try on his sister's skirts, but it was not until he went to college that he started buying women's clothes.
"I knew my parents would consider it abnormal. I could only do it after going to college when they couldn't watch me that closely," he says.
"I still can't wear women's clothes in my daily life, as it is still not the mainstream culture, and is not easily accepted by other people."
During his four years in college, he rented a small apartment near the campus to store the dresses he bought.
One of the biggest problems he finds when he's dressed like a women is using the washroom. He wore a skirt to a friend's party at a KTV, but when he tried to use the men's washroom, a cleaner stopped him.
"He told me to use the women's washroom, and at that time, it was really embarrassing," he says.
He says it is hard to find other cross-dressers and while he believes that society does not accept cross-dressers easily, he admits his friends, mostly gay and female friends, are kind to him.
"When I graduated in 2007, a very good female friend said to me, 'I know what kind of person you are, just be careful, especially as you are about to become a teacher. I'm always your best friend'. I just couldn't help it, I started crying."
Zhao Gang, head of Trans China, says it is difficult to give a specific number of transgender people as it is a group easily ignored by society.
Based in Kunming, Yunnan province, Trans China is a non-government organization set up after the first Transgender Sex Workers Health and Human Rights Workshop held by Asia-Pacific Network of Sex Workers in Thailand in 2006. Two years later, it was officially registered under the International Gay and Lesbian Association.
Zhao, a cross-dresser himself, says the organization aims on empowering transgender communities in China and educating the public, winning their understanding on transgender issues.
Though he admits, "Society is more tolerant towards us now."
Recalling one of his own early experiences, he says that in 2002, he wore a dress and heavy cosmetics to celebrate his birthday with some cross-dresser friends in a pub at night. But the guards refused to let them in, unless they took off their dresses and cosmetics.
"I could understand why they did this to us. At that time, other customers would feel very strange if we appeared there. But we still felt very disappointed," Zhao says, adding that now that would probably not be the case.
The changing attitudes can be seen in the reaction to cross-dresser Liu Zhu, 19, from Sichuan province, who was called "pseudo-girl" by his fans for his cross-dressing performance on Hunan TV's 2010 Happy Boys.
Liu brought the issue of cross-dressing into the media spotlight.
"He won a lot of positive support, which means society is beginning to know what a cross-dresser is and is ready to accept it exists," Zhao says.
"Liu brought the transgender issue to the surface. Though the population is small, they are struggling to live their own lifestyle," says Li Yinhe, a sociologist and sexologist with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who started looking into the issue 10 years ago when local police banned a drag-queen troupe from Northeast China from performing in Beijing.
She explains that transgender describes people who have different psychological genders from their physical ones.
Li says their rights include refusing to write down their gender when filing their personal information and using independent washrooms.
"It will take a long time for society to fully accept the idea, but the situation is getting better, slowly," she says.
Zhao says that transgenders include transsexuals, referring to those who have sex reassignment surgery, or have the intention of having it, cross-dressers like himself, who dress like the other gender, and drag queens, male entertainers who impersonate women.
"Our theory is everyone, and his or her way of life, should be respected, as long as it brings no harm to other people," says Zhao.
-China Daily/Asia News Network