In December, Li Yinhe, one of China's leading experts in both sexology and the LGBT community, penned a blog post about living with and loving her partner of 17 years -- a man who happens to be trans.
Within days, the post received 3 million hits, sparking a public discussion of transgender identity in a scope and intensity that China has rarely seen, reports the Associated Press.
Li, known for pioneering women and gender studies in China, has had her sexuality scrutinized by the public for years, according to news site Women of China. While many have speculated that she is a lesbian, in her blog post she clarified that her partner is a trans man and that, though not able to legally marry, they are husband and wife. The pair are parents to an adopted son.
Li also took the moment to explain the difference between sex, gender, and sexuality to her readers, the distinctions of which are often blurred in Chinese discourse. Responding to people who have presumed her partner's "female" birth assignment and attraction to women to mean that he is a "lesbian," Li wrote, "My cohabitant's sexual orentation is heterosexual ... He is a pure man in my view; one whose sexual preference is female, like me."
Li went on to explain how she had met and began dating her partner to illustrate to readers how, "Love is so simple and spiritual. It is not related to social status, age, or even sexual identity." Her partner, she wrote, says he fell in love with her at first sight when they met at a friend's party; Li fell in love with him on their first date. The couple have been together ever since.
Her public revelation of their simple, sweet love story is a nearly unheard-of occurence in a country where LGBT people -- and especially the "T" -- are still socially marginalized. Many readers, for instance, have responded with surprise, confusion, or derision to the thought of dating a trans person, notes Women of China. Many others have responded with support, and their ongoing debate has deepened the public conversation about transgender people in a way Chinese trans advocates say is much needed.
"[Li's revelation] will help the [transgender community] tremendously, whose voices are hardly heard by the public," Ying Xin, executive director of the Beijing LGBT Center told the Associated Press. "It helps with their visibility."
Li is no stranger to being a lightning rod for public discussions or opening herself to vitriol in the name of advancing a cause, notes the Shanghaiist. As a writer and professor she has long voiced her opinions to stir conversation about Chinese sexual morays, advocating for, among other advances, legalized sex work and equal marriage.
Watch the AOL Makers video below to hear how Li's first book gave an unprecedented voice to China's gay male population.