Witnessing to the truth of trans people’s lives

I’m here in Hong Kong to present at this two day conference on the legal status of transgender and transsexual people which starts tomorrow.

http://www.cmel.hku.hk/events-details/conference-legal-status-transsexual-and-transgender-persons

Earlier in the week we had thunder and lightning and it has rained heavily the few days I’ve been here. With this stormy weather in mind perhaps, the Hong Kong transport system is reckoned to travel at lightning speed, and I’ve experienced this myself today, zipping along twice to the Central District and back again by taxi, and twice to Tsim Sha Tsui – once on the smart MRT (the Hong Kong underground system) and back and forth this evening on a more traditional mode of transport – the ferry.

It’s been a day for meeting three people who know a lot about Hong Kong. This morning I went to see the Revd. Stephen Miller, Senior Chaplain of the Missions to Seamen in Hong Kong, and to visit the Mariners’ Club, a hotel and complex run by the Mission.

http://www.marinersclub.org.hk/

The parishes on the south coast were I used to work were great supporters of the Mission’s witness to Christian hospitality and care to the now, mainly Third World crews, who work long hours for low pay.

This evening I had dinner with a friend of a friend, a political academic from the City University. And at lunchtime I met with Dr Sam Winter of Hong Kong University.

Dr Sam WInter

All three of them were highly informative about the political context in Hong Kong which has been shaped, inevitably, by the British common law tradition. Christian opinion too is influential, and like many parts of the world, it can be quite conservative in tone, though there are radical Christian voices too, especially in favour of greater democracy.

Apparently there’s a lot of interest in the conference – so much so that it is being moved to a larger venue – and in the paper Duncan Dormor will be presenting, which will outline, as comprehensively as possible, Christian perspectives on transgender and transsexual people, and in my own paper on spiritual aspects of gender transition.

Sitting in the window seat of the Senior Common room of the University, on the 15th Floor of the K.K. Leung Building – literally the ‘dizzy academic heights’ – talking to Sam I discovered that he and I had both ‘transitioned’ at the Millennium: me from male-to-female, and Sam from lecturer and researcher in education to researcher into the lives of transgender people in Asia and lecturer in sexual and gender identity. This move, though it proved to be incredibly energising and productive for him, and for those he taught, would eventually prove costly to him for, despite a full set of excellent ratings, his department refused to extend his tenure when he reached the age of 60. This is all in the public domain and Sam had no hesitation in saying that he felt that he was the victim of trans phobia, and he may well be right.

http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/trans-studies-asia-endangered-university-axe090512

As an educational academic Sam was never happy with research that stayed on the shelf, and his trans research had led him into the world of trans activism, particularly in connection with the high profile Hong Kong case of ‘W’, which I might come back to on this blog if time allows over the next few days, and which still forms a background to discussion of trans people’s legal status here.

http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/article/1265976/hong-kong-starts-embrace-transgender-issues

The conference, though academic in character, is very much about people’s lives, and the organisers are well aware of the difficulties and hostility trans people can experience.  Listening to Sam I felt very strongly that by his passion to learn about and improve trans people’s lives – ‘to make a real difference’ in his words – he had inadvertently assumed some of their oppression. The archetype of the martyr came to mind, i.e. one who bears witness, at personal cost. I’m not sure he’d want to use that language about himself, but it seemed appropriate to me.

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