Hostility Towards Transgender Influencer Chiang Chia-Wen Is Unacceptable

Hostility Towards Transgender Influencer Chiang Chia-Wen Is Unacceptable
Photo Credit: Shutterstock / TPG Images

What you need to know

A transgender influencer's pregnancy claim ignited a debate over medical ethics, harassment by journalists, and cancel culture.

On February 18th, transgender influencer Chiang Chia-wen, also known as Wang Yao, announced that she was pregnant. After posting an ultrasound image on her Instagram profile on the day, a media firestorm erupted over the weekend.

Chiang announced in 2017 that she had undertaken gender affirmation surgery and changed her gender registration on her national ID card. This was why the Taiwanese public zeroed in on the issue of Chiang’s pregnancy. Soon, Chiang was engulfed in a controversy surrounding her ability to give birth.

Physicians, politicians, and fellow influencers in Taiwan soon mounted waves of verbal abuse. Chiang was called a liar, her pregnancy labeled “bullshit,” and her ability to give birth was questioned by medical experts of all sorts.

Whereas some believe that Chiang has a social responsibility to publicize the biological facts of what’s going on inside her body and her pregnancy claim, Chiang did not directly respond to these requests. She posted pictures suggesting that there is a baby within her, as the public attempts to, without any information or testimony from her, understand what was happening.

Several Taiwanese media outlets across the political spectrum doubled down on their reporting despite the lack of information, using sensationalist headlines and discriminatory terms to the transgender community to draw attention to her case. 

I decided to reach out to Chiang via Instagram for an interview a few days after her announcement as she faced these accusations and media harassment. I presented myself as an ally to the transgender community and asked her whether she would be willing to talk. Despite showing great distrust of the media in Instagram stories, she accepted the request to talk.

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Photo Credit: Shutterstock / TPG Images

Through exchanging messages with Chiang, I found that she was treated more badly by Taiwanese media than I had imagined. This was consistent with what I had read on the news in Mandarin.

In pursuit of exclusive reports, journalists from Mandarin-language media treated Chiang with little respect for her privacy, violated ethics of journalism for “exclusive” information, used language that invalidated her identity, and circulated false, unverified, and unattributable information.

According to Chiang, the only time she agreed to talk to the Mandarin-language press was with a journalist from ETtoday News. She asked to speak off the record, but the journalist ignored her request and publicized a recording of their conversation.

After the incident, she refused to talk to journalists, but this only fueled a hunt for information throughout the weekend after her social media announcement, through unreliable sources such as Facebook groups. Posts including abusive languages by users hiding behind anonymity were taken as legitimate sources of information by Mandarin-language daily news publications.

I didn’t ask her if she was pregnant. At that point, the controversy was no longer about whether there was a baby inside her. 

Instead, media intrusion into the private lives of Chiang, her partner, former partners, and family, and just what exactly is going on inside her body, is no longer journalism. It has become harassment.

In a self-recorded interview on February 27, she describes how this harassment has affected her personal and professional life as an e-commerce business owner. 

“I would hide under my blanket and cry until my eyes got puffy. And the next day people would wonder why I didn’t post new content. It’s because I would refrain from posting selfies when I have puffy eyes.” she said.

“Some people on the internet would attack me based on my look, my gender, my having undergone a surgery, and even go after my family, saying that my parents gave birth to someone who is ‘neither a woman nor a man.’”

Some argue that Chiang, a public figure, has a social responsibility to disclose her private medical information. Chiang has built a large base of followers on Instagram, but whether it makes her a public figure is a matter of debate.

A few days after taking down her account, she posted an apology on March 13th, saying that she posted the sonogram in order to experience what it feels like to be a mother.

Violations of medical ethics

Before Chiang’s explanation, physicians were already reacting to her announcement.

Physicians at the Kaohsiung Medical University hospital, in which Chiang suggests to have obtained the sonogram, publicized her medical record. They told the state-run Central News Agency that Chiang neither visited a gynecologist nor had an ultrasound scan at the hospital. 

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Photo Credit: CNA
Physicians at the Kaohsiung hospital speaks to the press about Chiang Chia-wen's pregnancy claim, February 19, 2021.

It may be that the officials at the hospital told the press such information to avoid controversy. But it came at a cost of violating a person’s medical privacy. 

Physicians are seen in Taiwan as authority figures. In this case, some may have wielded influence to invalidate Chiang’s identity.

Still, some physicians gave Chiang blessings for her pregnancy. Right groups pointed out nuances that should have been considered in discussing the issue. But these voices were dwarfed by the overwhelming negativity in the Mandarin-language media in Taiwan.

A military hospital psychologist suggests that Chiang is delusional. Former DPP legislator and gynecologist Lin Chin-yi suggests that Chiang is appropriating the “painful experiences” of “many women and their family” in order to “gain clicks.” The chairman of the Taiwan People’s Party and mayor of Taipei Ko Wen-je said that Chiang merely “ate too much,” a common Taiwanese expression implying that a person has nothing better to do.

Identity politics

As Chiang faced harassment, government officials were either apathetic or hostile. The Kaohsiung City Department of Health said her case involves “human experiments” and called her in for an interview, citing possible violation of a loosely related medical advertisement law.

It doesn’t make sense that the Taiwan government, which has a an transgender minister in its cabinet and which is known for defending LGBTQ rights, would say nothing as a municipal government controlled by the ruling party took such a measure. 

The controversy could have led to serious discussions surrounding transgender rights in Taiwan But it didn’t because Taiwan’s civil society and media have been overwhelmingly hostile towards Chiang, a transgender person. 

As physicians gave public statements and the press reported on the controversy, Chiang did not have the opportunity to speak out in the face of overwhelming negativity. The media’s intrusion into her privacy and invalidation of her identity by journalists undermined her ability to explain herself to the public.

Chiang announced that she has received  gender affirmation surgery in 2017. Physicians and journalists argued that she does not have a uterus to be pregnant as uterine transplantation isn’t authorized in Taiwan. 

As pointed out by TNL Editor Nicholas Haggerty, Chiang didn’t release the information to the public with an intent to deceive. She didn’t state  that there was a fetus within her, either. 

Physicians should not have made assumptions without consulting Chiang herself. The Ministry of Health and Welfare assumed that Chiang had an extrauterine pregnancy, but she could have been expecting a baby through other means.

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Photo Credit: Shutterstock / TPG Images
A scene at a hospital in Taiwan

The danger of singling out an individual of a marginalized community is that the public may feel emboldened to take extreme actions to further marginalize said member of the community. 

In a Facebook group, a netizen, who claimed to have escaped from the jaws of death after ectopic pregnancy, based her argument on the government’s assumption and called Chiang a “rotten apple” of the LGBTQ+ community. 

There might be a limited number of medical explanations for her case. But does the public really need to know exactly how her baby can or cannot be delivered? Is what is going on under her belly not the sole business of her and her partner?

I personally do not need to see with my own eyes someone carrying a large belly and a baby coming out of a womb to bless anyone for their pregnancy. And if one says “we’re pregnant” alongside their partner, I’d be equally happy for them. They can be adoptive parents or parents who have a surrogate mother bear their child. 

Understandingly, the mere thought of changing the definition of pregnancy can be worrying for people, especially those who have struggled to get a uterus transplant and who have experienced the pain of childbirth. However, Taiwan needs to recognize that the definition of “woman” needs to encompass the transgender community, or it’s an invalidation of their identity.

I see the ongoing hostility towards Chiang as one that erroneously assumes that acknowledging Chiang’s identity and pregnancy undermines the identity of those who are born women. Many women and gynecologists feel it jeopardizes their identities because Chiang’s identity is something that cannot be solely explained with medical and traditional definitions.

Though their concerns are valid, they are nevertheless misplaced. Affirmation should not be seen as zero-sum. Accepting transgender woman as woman and allowing them to say they are “pregnant” does not diminish the experiences of other women. 

Unfortunately, Chiang retreated from social media amid overwhelming negativity. Kaohsiung’s Department of Health, after Chiang apologized, said she violated the law of Social Order Maintenance by “spreading rumors.” Officials are likely to present her post of apology as evidence at court. 

It looks like Chiang has been “cancelled” for her attempt to express herself. It does not sound right that she has to be punished under the law just to make people who can not tolerate her identity comfortable.

Time for change

The controversy shows that many journalists are willing to violate privacy norms for reporting, at the expense of the subject of the report. Chiang, a transgender woman, could suffer more from the abuse than others.

Chiang’s presence and perseverance amidst the controversy today shows how she is willing to stand against an overwhelmingly repressive society just to fight for the survival of people like herself.

We should see Chiang’s existence in Taiwan’s society is a beautiful exemplification of how Taiwan is becoming increasingly diverse. But the Taiwanese needs to stop ostracizing Chiang Chia-wen based on information that has been irresponsibly framed.

I believe that Chiang, like many people who have fought for what they believe in, merely wants to fight for the right for people like herself to exist in Taiwan without facing discrimination. It wasn’t her intention to make anyone believe that she is carrying a baby. 

As the Taiwan government used heavy-handed legal measures to repress Chiang’s speech and expression of identity, we must ask ourselves: is what we are permitting the Taiwan government to do to Chiang consistent with our values?

READ NEXT: What’s Going on With Taiwan’s Influencers?  

TNL Editor: Bryan Chou, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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