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Yinyang ren (traditional Chinese 陰陽人, simplified Chinese 阴阳人, Pinyin yīnyáng rén) is a category of gender identity and gender role is used in Chinese society for people (rén) who are both feminine (yin qualities) and masculine (yang qualities) in about equal proportions. Such a person has a bisexual sexual orientation, and expresses androgynous behaviors and attitudes that are associated with women as well as men.
One well-known example of a yinyang ren is in the 18th century Chinese novel The Dream of the Red Chamber (published 1791). The main character, Baoyu, was assigned male at birth, expresses many gender nonconforming behaviors from early childhood, and grows to feel attraction to women as well as men. Though Baoyu doesn't deny that he is a man, he is said to behave in a more feminine way around women, and in a more masculine way around men. He also experiences attraction to both men and women. Other characters explain that Baoyu's androgynous behavior as metaphysical in origin: they say he was infused with a perfectly equal amount of yin and yang chi (energy) before he was born, rather than an uneven proportion of these energies like most people receive. (Women usually have more yin, and men usually have more yang.) Baoyu's androgyny makes some challenges for him, but his family is supportive. They encourage Baoyu's preference to socialize mostly with women, because he has a more difficult time getting along with men. For this reason, the novel is all about the lives of the women who are his friends. When Baoyu was a small child, his family presented him with a variety of objects representing different occupations, such as paintbrushes to represent becoming a writer, to see what he would grow up to be. Baoyu reaches for women's cosmetics, representing his own femininity, although his family interprets this as meaning that he may grow to be a rake who is weak to women's wiles. Presenting a child with objects like this is a common test of gender divergence in many societies. Marginal notes in the original manuscripts of the novel indicate that nearly every character was strongly based on a real person, and that Baoyu was based on the author, Cao Xueqin (曹雪芹) (1724 – 1764). In Chinese culture, The Dream of the Red Chamber is considered one of the most important pieces of literature. It has a similar level of cultural value and status as the works of Shakespeare have in English. In China, an entire field of study, called "Redology" in English, is based on examining this novel. This is a very culturally significant piece of literature featuring a gender nonconforming protagonist.
In Chinese, the phrase yinyang ren is also used for intersex or transgender people. Currently, on the Chinese Wikipedia, the "Yinyang Ren" article redirects to the "Intersex" article. However, the term "Yinyang ren" has been applied to people who are not intersex, such as Baoyu. That said, an organization for intersex rights called Organization Intersex International Chinese (OII-Chinese) uses yinyang ren exclusively as a word for intersex people. Its site says,
"Yin and Yang are people whose physical gender cannot be clearly classified as male or female. A yin and yang person may have the characteristics of both sexes or lack the physiological characteristics that are defined as a gender. Yin and Yang people are born, derived from changes in genes, chromosomes or hormones. Environmental effects such as endocrine disruption may also play a role in causing some differences between yin and yang. Yin and Yang people do not mean people who deliberately choose to change their physiological characteristics."
In this case, the term yinyang ren specifically only means intersex, and excludes nonbinary, gender nonconforming, or transgender people. However, the OII-Chinese site celebrates worldwide events in the progress of all of these marginalized groups as well.
See also[edit | edit source]
- Gender-variant identities worldwide
- Glossary of Chinese gender and sex terminology