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    International Activist Hiker Chiu Helps to Lead the Way on Intersex Social Justice

    By Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis–

    When Taiwanese and international intersex activist Hiker Chiu as a teenager saw their childhood medical records for the first time, one question kept resounding in their mind: “Am I a monster?” It was Chiu’s reaction to reading the Chinese dictionary translation of the word “hermaphrodite” as “a female and male in the same body.” Chiu saw no hope for the future, and thought there must be no “other people like me in the world.” Chiu had an even more terrifying thought: “You are a person that nobody loves” because “you’re like a monster.”

    But life had something different in store for Chiu. Chiu embarked on a years-long journey that brought them out of despair to become the first Taiwanese intersex person to “come out publicly and intentionally” and as an international LGBTIQ activist.  We had the great fortune to meet and interview Chiu at this year’s Taipei Pride celebration.

    Chiu was raised as a girl, but as an adolescent felt as if something “kind of weird” was going on when they didn’t develop breasts or have a period and, in fact, grew “some moustache” and a male Adam’s apple. Not menstruating was particularly difficult because of Chinese cultural pressures on women to marry and have children, and Chiu again wondered, “If a woman cannot have children, could she be loved by someone else?”

    As a young person, Chiu vowed simply to give up on love for self-protection, but something unexpected happened. “Cupid targeted me, and, yes, I was caught! If you intend not to believe in love, it doesn’t mean that love wouldn’t come to you.” Chiu fell in love with a young woman, and felt “all kinds of excitement.”

    Chiu became part of the gay and lesbian community and initially found welcome and acceptance. But after a ten-year relationship, Chiu’s lesbian partner said she wanted to break up because, as she put it, “You are too much like a man.” Chiu felt “kicked out by the lesbian community” and asked if “I’m too much like a man” then “what can I do?”

    Chiu might have wanted to become part of the gay male community, but horrific surgery performed on Chiu at age six—and without consent—foreclosed that possibility. “I was born with … ambiguous genitals,” Chiu said. “But I was a healthy baby. But people, doctors, think you have to be ‘either or.’ If you are a girl, you cannot have such a large clitoris, which looks like a penis.  No. So, they removed it without my consent.”

    After the relationship breakup, Chiu felt isolated and alone. But in 2008, a friend told Chiu “there’s a word—intersex—that describes your situation.” Chiu saw the Argentinean movie XXY, which is about an intersex teenager. Chiu’s reaction was: “Oh my god, there’s someone else like me!”

    Chiu then discovered Organization Intersex International (OII) online, and was shocked to learn that there was “not just one person like me; there are so many!” OII was very “empowering” for Chiu. They conversed with other intersex people through the organization and thought, “Maybe I am one of them. This is my community.”  

    Chiu “really wanted to communicate with other intersex people who speak Chinese,” and founded OII-Chinese, and translated the website into Chinese. They still had not met any other intersex people in person, however, and knew of no such person in Taiwan.

    They decided to remedy that by traveling to San Francisco and other parts of the United States to meet intersex activists, including local activist David Cameron Strachan. The face-to-face meetings were transformative. “It was very powerful,” Chiu said. “Very powerful.” Chiu found them to be “all excellent people.” Perhaps most importantly, Chiu experienced their love. “I got so many hugs from them.” 

    The American activists taught Chiu that “you have to share your story to reach out,” both to enable other intersex people struggling with their identity to find community and to educate medical professionals about intersex people. Chiu returned home and decided to come out as intersex at the Taipei Pride parade as a way “to show my gratitude to those intersex activists in the U.S. who teach me and hug me and help me. I wanted to share their love.”

    Chiu now feels they belong, not just to the intersex community, but also to the lesbian, gay, and “maybe” heterosexual, and other communities as well. Indeed, Chiu said, “Now I find my community in the world.” Chiu often gives talks and is co-chair of ILGA–Asia (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association). As one of the early Asian intersex people to come out, Chiu is “working on reaching out to people in Asia to make the voice in Asia heard.” When the ILGA-Asia regional conference was held in Taipei in 2015, Chiu “gathered for the first time in history six or seven intersex activists from Asia and we came out publicly in the Taipei Pride parade.” This December, Chiu will continue this work at the ILGA-Asia conference in Cambodia. 

    Reflecting back on adolescence, Chiu said, “I think my body insisted to be a naturally intersex person.” This describes who Chiu is. As we listened to Chiu’s story, we identified with much of it, even though we are not intersex. Meeting LGBTIQ people who confront formidable challenges and then use their lives to make the world better for others never fails to inspire us and give us joy.

    Chiu’s story in a testament to the power of resilience, persistence, love, connection, international organizing, books, movies, the internet, cross-cultural understanding, empathy, gratitude, benevolence, and hugs. We feel lucky to have shared hugs and much more with Chiu, and in gratitude we share their story and love.

    John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.