2002 / 11月
Tsai Wen-ting /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Jonathan Barnard
In April, when Chang Ta-wen turned one, journalists from major media outlets-newspapers as well as cable and free-to-air television stations-came for interviews. They were interested in the story because Chang was the first child to have been legally adopted by a transsexual in Taiwan. Chung Ling, the stage name of Chang's mother, was once a man named Chang Chien-chih. She became a woman through sex change operations and a mother through adoption. Her story-or what used to be his story-is an intriguing one that reveals a transsexual's feelings and state of mind.
Near the end of 1965, in an Air Force dependents' village in Shuishang, Chiayi County, a pretty baby was born. The parents were doubly happy because their first-born was a boy. They named him Chang Chien-chih. At the time, the farthest thing from their minds was that this eldest son of theirs would later become their eldest daughter.Why am I Chang Chien-chih?
A military man, Chang's father moved around a lot, and so from a very young age Chang lived with his grandmother, who ran a tearoom-brothel. The girls in the tearoom often dolled him up with make-up and felt not the slightest embarrassment at changing clothes in front of him. "For as long as I remember, I have always thought of myself as a girl," Chang says. "Do you know what? I have always sat on the toilet to pee ever since I was small. You ask why? Girls just sit on the toilet to pee. There is no need to ask why." Having suddenly became famous because of the adoption, Chung Ling tirelessly reminds the media that she is, in fact, a woman-in possession of a pink ID card whose number starts with the number 2, just like any other woman in Taiwan.
Like most boys with gender identity disorders, Chang Chien-chih often played dress-up with his mother's (and in his case the tearoom girls') make-up and underwear. Upon catching him in the act, his mother would get so angry that she would hang him up by his collar and give him a good beating. Sometimes she would even tie him to a chair and squirt water on him with a hose. Yet these drastic punishments, rather than changing his behavior, only alienated him from her.
As he grew older, his life in school became more and more miserable. Because he was effeminate, the boys in school loved to make fun of him. They would paint his face with ink while he was napping, and they particularly enjoyed seeing him squeal like a girl when he would discover a mouse that they put in his drawer.
And because his grandmother ran a tearoom and his mother later ran a gambling hall, Chang Chien-chih was rejected and laughed at all the more. He started playing hooky, and sometimes even ran away from home. When he was in the sixth grade, he once got on the train alone and went to Taipei. In eighth grade, he dropped out of school and started to eke out a living for himself.I am not gay
Fourteen-year-old Chang Chien-chih came to Taipei alone and waited tables in a restaurant owned by Yang Li-hua, a Taiwanese opera superstar. Longing for a dazzling life on stage ever since he was small, Chang was thrilled when he served stars. Frequently meeting show-biz types, he started shacking up with a man who choreographed dance routines for television shows.
His mother in Chiayi sensed that her son and this dance instructor were more than just friends. "Mother thought I was a gay," he recalls. "It was hard for me to bear, just as it was hard for the man I loved to look at me like I was a gay. I like men because I consider myself a woman. I am not gay."
Brought back to Chiayi by his mother, Chang Chien-chih started to sing in a western-style restaurant, becoming the youngest singer there. His four years there were a happy period in his life. But as soon as it came time to perform his military service, he knew that hard days had come again.
A problem arose on his first day in the army when it was time to take group showers. When everybody crowded into the big showers to wash themselves quickly, Chang and another guy who also thought of himself as a woman in a man's body lingered outside. Their drill sergeant questioned them as to why they wouldn't take a shower. "We didn't dare say, but what we were thinking was 'who wants to take a shower with a bunch of guys?'" Chung Ling recalls that she often joked that she should be called "the first GI Jane of China." When he was assigned to a post, Chang Chien-chih couldn't stand the demeaning way he was treated by his sergeant, and he deserted. He was caught and sentenced to ten months additional service. By the end, he had been a soldier for 46 months.A rare and precious animal
After leaving the army, Chang received an introduction to join the first drag show in Taiwan, led by the famous agent Night Shepherd. "I was being offered an opportunity to make a living by performing on stage and given a justification for wearing women's clothes. It was more than I had ever even dared dream of." He changed his name from Chang Chien-chih to Chung Ling and started to perform in the drag show. Her signature song was "Tuberose."
One day, Night Shepherd suggested that it would be a good career move for Chung Ling to have breast implants. As it turned out, Chung Ling had long been taking female hormones. Like a girl in puberty, she had been eagerly waiting for her breasts to grow. Nothing much came from the hormone treatments, but for a time she was thrilled just to see a slight enlargement of her breasts.
After the breast implants, Night Shepherd held a big press conference for Chung Ling, offering the audience a "topless drag show." When the police came to break up the show for violating nudity provisions, Night Shepherd retorted, "Is a man baring his chest against the law? Which man in Taiwan is not allowed to bare his chest?" Walking the thin line between legality and illegality, the show left the police at their wit's end. With regard to her decision to perform in this kind of topless show and to go on TV variety shows where the hosts or audience would belittle her, Chung Ling says: "There's nothing I can do. The competition is fierce in show biz. If there's nothing special about you, you will be replaced in an instant. This is just a transition in my life. When I am ready, I will leave."
Once, she was arrested in an underground girlie bar while drinking with customers and was brought to the police station. When the police saw that this beautiful girl had a male ID, they maliciously humiliated her. They made her stand on a desk in the station and strip to prove that she was really the "he" in the ID. Chung Ling says the incident left permanent psychological scars. She wishes that our society would give drag queens or transsexuals the basic respect they deserve.Give me back my female body
After leaving Night Shepherd's agency, Chung Ling went to work in one of the new "third sex" bars staffed by transvestites that were opening up in Taipei. Although the income there was entirely from tips, after a year Chung Ling had saved up NT$1 million, and she decided to go to Thailand for a sex change operation.
"I was 26 and had lived a life of not truly being a man or a woman for long enough. Besides, that extra piece of meat down there really made me feel uncomfortable." Although her parents were set against it, Chung Ling went to Thailand accompanied by a friend.
After the operation, she returned to Chiayi with a tube and bag that she urinated into, and a much-distressed body. Although her mother had said, "If you do it, don't bother to come back," when she saw how weak her "son" was, she came to take care of him.
Chung Ling has never regretted the operation. "Remember how people used to tell girls that if they pierced their ears, they would be born a girl again in their next lives?" says Chung. "Well, I have seven or eight holes pierced in each of my ears."
After her son suddenly became a daughter, for a whole year Mama Chang tried to avoid her neighbors' odd looks by only going out when there were few people on the streets. Mild-mannered Papa Chang, on the other hand, quickly resigned himself to the situation: "I had already lost a son, I didn't want to lose a daughter too." Chang's parents, out of old habit, still call her Chang Chien-chih instead of her new name Chang Chia-ling.Men in her life
At the age of 26, Chang Chien-chih finally fulfilled his dream to become a woman. Most people, however, still see her as a transsexual instead of a woman.
Employed in the sex trade, working girlie bars or strip shows, she has tried not to let people know that she is a transsexual. She has had a few boyfriends, and the issue of marriage has come up upon occasion. But there was never a happy ending. The stunned men always broke up with her after learning that she was a transsexual.
But, last year in May, a boy truly entered her life and won her heart for good. He was a little baby not yet a month old. While doing a show at Yuehmei's Tourist Sugar Refinery with "Macho Man" and "Spice Girl," Chung Ling got a phone call from her mother, saying that the daughter of her neighbor Mr. Yao had just given birth to a baby boy and that he would like to let Chung Ling adopt the child.
Chung Ling went to the hospital to visit the baby, who suffered from a glucose deficiency and had been abandoned by his drug-abusing mother. The baby bawled as soon as he saw her, as if to convey his suffering. Caressing his tiny hands, Chung Ling felt that fate had brought them together.
Would having a transsexual as an adoptive parent have any effect on the kid while he was growing up? Would a kid brought up by a transsexual become a transsexual too? All of a sudden, Chung Ling was besieged by doubts from people all around her. But Chung Ling did not hesitate to let people know who she was, and she stood up to call for support. Social workers, after interviewing both families, made the assessment that the child would be better off with Chung Ling than with his biological parents. At the end of November, after five months' struggle, Chung Ling finally was able to take the baby to the local household registration office and complete the adoption procedure. She named the baby Chang Ta-wen and became a mother.A home
Now, Chung Ling has partnered with friends to open a bar. Chung's parents are taking care of the baby, and she goes to her parents' house to play with him when she wakes up in the morning and leaves when he is taking a nap. Because of Ta-wen, Chung Ling, who has spent half of her lifetime wandering here and there, finally has a home. Now she has a solid relationship with her parents and a little family of her own.
Looking at a society where there are still entrenched prejudices against transsexuals, Chung Ling worries that when Ta-wen gets older he will have to face society's judgments about his background. "What if the teacher publicly discusses how he was adopted in the class when he is going to school? I hope to move to Japan with him one day." Chung Ling once worked in Japan, and she feels that Japanese society would be more polite and tolerant.
Chung Ling says that if the child asks her why she changed her sex or adopted him, or who his biological parents are, she will tell him the whole truth. She says that if the boy then decides to go back to his biological parents, she will wish him well.
Although she has had a tough life, when she gazes into the bright eyes of the one-and-half-year-old Ta-wen, holds his warm and soft body in her arms and feeds him milk, Chung Ling can't help but declare, "What is there to complain about?"