|Jennifer Josef, ILGA-ASIA|
|Jennifer Josef, ILGA-ASIA|
Tony has experienced physical and emotional changes since taking testosterone injections 20 days ago.
The 24-year-old from Shandong's provincial capital Jinan, who refuses to give his Chinese name, says the pitch of his voice is now unstable. Facial stubble has started growing above his upper lip. And he's irritable.
But, despite feeling grumpier than usual because of the hormones, he's delighted with the changes.
"This is the first step to restore my true gender," Tony says.
"I'm not a tomboy, a transvestite or a lesbian. I'm a man born in a woman's body."
Tony's only social activity is chatting online with about 200 people, who face the same issue, from all over the country. He spends his leisure time chatting with the female-to-male online community on Baidu, a Chinese search engine - an avenue where "brothers" share their life experiences.
A recent post about the dangers of sex reassignment surgery received more than 800 replies. It's the online community's hot topic.
The surgery is a long procedure. It requires injections, the removal and reconstruction of breasts, removal of the uterus, and the construction of a new urethra and penis.
"Every step entails suffering and danger," Tony explains.
"Most results are unsatisfactory. The recovery time is long. It hurts. And it's expensive, costing about 150,000 yuan ($24,000)."
Tony says one of his "brothers" from the online community died because of internal bleeding after taking testosterone injections for three years.
Another underwent five sex reassignment surgeries in Thailand but all failed, he says.
"It is a risky procedure which might disable us," Tony says. "But, it is a chance to wake up from our nightmare."
Tony says from childhood, he never acted like a girl. He dressed like a boy and played with boys.
His first crush was on his middle school history teacher - a married woman in her 30s.
"My classmates sneered and called me a lesbian," Tony recalls.
"I was confused but couldn't tell what was wrong. Sometimes, I feel so alone with this problem."
During puberty, Tony felt disgusted with his physical changes, including menstruation and growing breasts.
Tony dreaded going to school then.
"The greatest pain was I didn't have anyone to talk to about how I felt," Tony adds.
In 2004, Tony started using the Internet and that was when he discovered there were others like him. But he was dismayed to learn that many of them continued to live in misery, he says.
"Their parents forced them to see psychologists and undergo so-called gender correction treatments or even female hormone injections. They lived through hell," Tony says.
He was amazed to learn in 2009 that sex reassignment surgery was available in China. But the procedure was more complicated than he ever imagined.
Before applicants can qualify, they must present a "transsexual disorder" certificate from a mental health center, a clean criminal record from the public security office and three local hospitals' approvals.
"Some of my 'brothers' bribed to get the paperwork but still waited up to six years before they had their surgery," Tony says.
"And after they've changed the gender on their ID card, all their past certificates and documents, including academic degrees, become invalid."
One of Tony's "brothers", who held a master's degree, ended up becoming a bartender because his original academic certificate became invalid. Many faced work discrimination and difficulties qualifying for social welfare.
"But I won't hesitate to go through the surgery, to end my nightmare," Tony says.
He plans to find a job to earn enough money for the surgery.
"I hope to start a new life. Then, I can write 'male' on my resume. That's more important to me than anything else," he says.
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