Uncertain Futures of Chinese Trans Sex Workers and Testimonial Documentary

This paper analyzes two strikingly different documentaries by Michael Liu which were included in the Northeast China Yao-at-work Photography Exhibition �北妖站街日常 (in Taipei 2017) on the lives of cross-dressed and transgender (male-to-female) sex workers in Dongbei and the way they discuss their futures and 'trans' identities differently according to the different modes of documentary employed. In Magic (女夭儿 2014) we see their practices of everyday life, improvised queer forms of kinship and survival, their dark sense of humor, and their business ambitions, whereas in Trans to a New Life (2016) they address their hardships and dreams of the future to the compassionate 'NGO gaze' that demands testimonial about being a victim of discrimination (from family members, hospitals, and in employment). Understanding these rhetorical differences helps us intervene in a major debate in contemporary China over the role of NGOs, especially with regard to transgender identity, sex work, HIV, and queer forms of kinship. We also connect these recent documentaries to films about queer sex workers in Beijing by Cui Zi'en (2005, 2012), debates over the testimonial and ethnographic format of an important documentary about transgender women and sex workers, Jennie Livingston's Paris Is Burning (USA, 1990), and current debates over trans cultural production and the politics of visibility.

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Author Information
Nicholas de Villiers, University of North Florida, United States
Yongan Wu, University of North Florida, United States

Paper Information Conference: MediAsia2018
Stream: Documentary History

Added on Friday, July 27th, 2018
The full paper is not available for this title

Posted by amp21