Taiwanese women hit back as government tries to roll out self-ID law

There has never really been a robust feminist movement in Taiwan, despite there being notable feminist icons, such as former Vice President Annette Hsiu-Lee, author Li Ang, and publisher of the feminist magainze, Awakening, Yenlin Ku. For better or worse, Taiwan owes its ideological origins to Western feminism, and Taiwanese feminists have always been careful to take into consideration the tradition of social hierarchies and the Confucian belief that women live in service to their husbands. This created a feminism that strived more to win social respect as wives and mothers in the home, rather than to actively subvert gender roles, and avoided antagonizing the male populace.

Thousands of pamphlets are being distributed by anti-self-ID feminists in Taiwan. They have been distributed in mailboxes around Taipei and New Taipei City, warning citizens of the implications of gender identity legislation.

The only options to choose from were:

  1. Maintain the status quo/current law
  2. Certificates of sex change only, but no surgery required
  3. Complete access to Self-ID in law
  4. Other

The survey also included questions like:

“Some people feel like they’re neither male or female — do you think there should be another option?”

  1. 1.Yes
  2. 2.No
  3. I don’t know / No comment

Lin says:

“That’s where the fire started for us. I jumped into an internet argument, and we gathered in a chatroom to discuss. The more we looked into the data, the more I could sense the whole thing wasn’t right. I am a lawyer — I know the law — and when I saw what the government was attempting to do I was extremely anxious and shocked.”

Lin and other women spoke out on the Taiwanese social media platform, Plurk, sparking awareness which led to a growing outcry against self-ID. Lin says, “My friends and I ignite fights online to raise awareness of this issue. We fight to prevent being erased as women.”

Another woman I will refer to as Ms. Chen has been active in the LGB community for years, supports the rights of trans-identified individuals to safety and dignity under the law, but does not support self-ID and feels betrayed by the movement she has always supported:

“I’ve been helping transgender individuals for more than seven years now. For over five years, I’ve contributed to the Women’s March Taiwan, advising on a wide range of feminist [issues], spreading awareness about consent, hosting three Women’s Day marches, live streaming Women’s Day events, and organizing more than a dozen workshops on women’s rights and related issues. During the past few years, self-ID has started to creep into Taiwan quietly as the country slowly but steadily joins many modern Western nations on human rights issues. After same-sex marriage in Taiwan became legal in May 2019, I thought everything would be fine, at least for a while. But suddenly we see the world crumble so fast as self-ID advocates are pushing through their agenda hastily, giving people no time to react. I instantly thought I should come forward and start acting since this is clearly not an advance of human rights or transgender rights. This is a clear breach of human rights and will only do more damage than benefit. As I’ve been a supportive of the transgender community for some time, I believe I also have the responsibility to stop this and lead the trans movement in a better direction.”

To Ms. Chen, a better direction would mean considering women’s safety, rejecting self-ID, and maintaining the previous ruling in Taiwan requiring verification from psychologists and surgery in order to change birth sex.

Ms. Tsai, another activist opposing self-ID, also felt a deep sense of betrayal when she tried to raise awareness about this issue:

“Honorable feminist scholars in Taiwan have publicly supported self-ID, such as Prof. Chen Yi-Chien and Prof. Fan Yun. More and more girls and women are worried about self-ID, so we turned to women’s organizations and politicians for support, but we got nothing but disappointment. It is time for us to call for attention.”

Prior to gender identity legislation being pushed in Taiwan, many women were not familiar with feminism and were hesitant to refer to themselves as feminists. Ms. Liao, who has personally handed out nearly 2000 flyers around New Taipei and Taipei City warning about the harms of self-ID, says:

“I didn’t consider myself to be a feminist before this movement hit. I got interested in self-ID after seeing some posts from one of my friends. I had never even heard of self-ID and had no idea what it was about. After doing some research, I understood how deep the problem went and how it could really impact us.” 

Ms. Lin said something similar, explaining:

“I didn’t march in the street for any feminism issues in the past. I did talk about and argue about feminism and gender issues on the internet, but as far as starting a real a movement, this is my first time. I looked up the term, ‘gender critical,’ and decided this is where I stand.”

Chen says this movement is growing, but not quickly enough, as it “clashes with the recent trend of the LGBTQ-inclusive agenda that was forced to be adopted by many mainstream Taiwanese feminists, human rights groups, and the government”:

“The Taiwanese don’t necessarily think that deep into an issue, as [gender gender identity ideology] looks very distant to the average Taiwanese. This creates a problem as it’s harder to gain momentum when we need to spread awareness. Political activism addressing issues that affect people financially, or dealing with things that might cause personal harm, like drugs or guns, tend to gain a larger public response in Taiwan, but because of this verdict, I believe it is possible for the movement against self-ID to grow.”

It’s truly amazing to see what a small (but growing) group of women have achieved under adverse circumstances, and how this reflects the strength of women’s collective energy and determination. I expect more and more women will be empowered by those who are brave enough to speak out against self-ID in Taiwan.

Jaclynn Joseph is a Hawai’i born — now Taiwan based — PhD student and university lecturer.

Published by Jaclynn Joseph

Hawai’i born PhD student and university lecturer. Devourer of books, amateur historian, travel junkie and educator. A curious mind in search of the rational.

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