Audrey Tang—an anarchist and a hacker—is Taiwan’s Digital Minister.
Tang made headlines in 2016 when they became the world’s first transgender (or postgender) minister. They are quickly shaking up how Taiwan’s government interacts with its people. And, making Taiwan a better place for trans and gender-diverse people. Tang also believes social media does not have to divide people. It can, in fact, bring people together to a common solution. Gay Star News sat down with Tang last month to find out what it’s really like to lead a ministry.
Being the world’s first gender-diverse minister is ‘pretty mainstream’
When becoming a government employee, Tang was required to fill in a form declaring party affiliation and gender. Tang ticked 'none' for both boxes. 'People generally took it really openly. They said that it brought ‘a lot of positive discussions'. This included launching a third gender on ID cards for trans people. 'I think transgender rights is just a part of human rights. I interact with these people from the human rights angle' Tang told Gay Star News. Tang said 'I usually would like to know people by their values.'
Tang is an anarchist
In 2014, Tang was one of the activists that stormed and occupied Taiwan’s parliament building. The Sunflower Student Movement demanded greater transparency over a trade deal with China. As an anarchist, Tang is revolutionizing the way Taiwan’s government interacts with everyday Taiwanese. The minister wants Taiwan to switch from a top-down government to a 'collaborative governance model'.
'We ask: Given the different positions, are there common values, and if there are common values are there innovations that deliver those values without leaving anyone behind?' As part of the process, each government website has a 'hacked' or collaborative version, called g0v. The minister is available to talk to anyone for one day each week. Tang also operates a 'radical transparency' policy. Every meeting they conduct is recorded and posted online. Including this interview.
The minister went through two puberties and identifies as postgender
Tang said this experience let them 'understand how the two biological changes feel like.' At the age of 20, an examination found Tang had the natural level testosterone level of 70-year-old man. 'I’m born with a really low testosterone level by male standards, but a little bit high by female standards' Tang told Gay Star News. 'So I’m in between.'
At 24, they went through hormone therapy and female puberty. 'I have the first-hand experiences of many body developments, that the body asserts itself more.' Tang said that having experience of both male and female hormones allows them to relate to various psychological states.
Taiwan is becoming a more transgender-friendly place, according to Tang
Taiwan suffered a setback to LGBTI rights this week when voters decided against changing the Civil Code to recognize same-sex unions. But, according to Tang, Taiwan is welcoming different sexualities and gender diversity.
'According to Taiwan’s construction laws,' Tang said, 'every building must have four bathrooms of equal size: One male, one female, one gender neutral, and one for people with disabilities. This is a positive sign that shows not only it’s mainstream, but actually, it’s not forcing anyone to do anything that they’re not comfortable with’ Tang said. 'All this is part of what we call universal design or universal accessibility. This is not just about gender. This is about making everybody feel inclusive in spaces. Recognizing a third gender on identity documents was also a big step. That is concrete and makes life so much easier for people' they told Gay Star News.
Tang said organizations are increasingly finding Taiwan as a 'safeguard, a stronghold for people working on human rights'. 'Everywhere in Asia the civil society space is shrinking, including Hong Kong, but in Taiwan it’s expanding.'
Tang believes technology can encourage acceptance
Tang said that online communities are often post-gender places. 'The computer really doesn’t care which gender I am' they said. 'A text-based community, of course, enables people to experiment with their gender expressions in a very free way’ they said.
What’s more, they said, virtual reality is a vital tool in creating empathy.
'With VR, it’s now possible to literally inhabit a different body, and have body experiences that are very different from one’s personal experiences, in a way that gives the overview effect on the diversity.'
'All all this informs the idea of me being a channel that enables people to literally feel more close to each other, also see beings in general as people.'
Tang also believes populism doesn’t have to be polarizing. The ministry uses artificial intelligence as a facilitator to moderate a conversation. Mainstream social media, such as Facebook or Twitter, rewards polarizing behavior. Divisive comments generate shares and comments. But a system like pol.is allows only ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’ replies to statements. It does not allow comments or personal attacks.
In this kind of online forum, disagreeable comments drop out as they are down-voted. But comments people can agree on will continue until a consensus is reached.
Source: Gay Star News