Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2021
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
University of California - Irvine
Transgendering “In-Betweens”: Precarity and Belonging of Gender-Nonconforming Individuals in China

In the last forty years, social transformations in China have given rise to new forms of identity, desire, and community. KuaXingBie, a term closely related to “transgender” in English, has started to emerge since 2015 as an identity category to describe people with gender-nonconforming experiences. Whereas the emergence of the KuaXingBie category has provided gender-nonconforming individuals with new possibilities of belonging, KuaXingBie lives are often precarious due to persistent social discrimination toward gender nonconformity. What does “KuaXingBie” mean in post-socialist, globalizing China? How are gender-nonconforming precarity and belonging manifested in everyday life, and in the construction of one’s sense of selfhood? This dissertation project draws on psychology, anthropology, queer/trans studies, and China and Asian studies to examine KuaXingBie lives in contemporary China. Given that queer anthropologists have long argued that identity categories do not translate easily across cultural contexts, I examine the meaning of the KuaXingBie category in China across translocal, national, and transnational contexts and how KuaXingBie individuals might reify and reimagine global understandings of “transgender.” Similarly, whereas the psychology of gender and sexuality theorized predominantly from Euro-American gay and transgender experiences emphasizes the effects of identity-based discrimination, recent psychological research on queer individuals in China suggests that interpersonal relationships may be more important to their sense of selfhood. Thus, I also examine how experiences of social discrimination and interpersonal relationships shape the everyday life and sense of selfhood of KuaXingBie individuals. Taken together, by utilizing archival data collection, in-depth interviews, and participant observation, this project asks how gender-nonconforming precarity and belonging are manifested in the everyday life of KuaXingBie individuals in post-socialist, globalizing China. Ultimately, this project contributes to psychological and anthropological understandings of gender-nonconforming lives and selfhood to reimagine gendered and sexed ways of being and relating in an era of challenges to neoliberal globalization.