Role Models:Zhuoran Li It’s our responsibility to become ourselves

Article by Yafei Li

Could you introduce yourself, please?
My name is Zhuoran. I’m 39 years old. I’m a lesbian out and proud. I’m a women’s rights campaigner and work full time bringing social awareness of the LGBT community. I am the co-founder of RELAX which is a NGO that promotes women’s and LGBT rights.
When did you first know you were attracted to women?
When I was 3 years old, I liked a short-hair girl in my kindergarten. My feelings for girls got more intense when I was growing up. It was very confusing since everyone and everything around me told me I was supposed to like the opposite gender.
I used to wear women’s clothes when I was around 2-3 years old. As I got older I started to wear more and more masculine clothing. I think it was me unconsciously wanted to be a boy so that it would be ok for me to like girls. If I were a boy all my feelings towards girls would make sense and I wouldn’t be a freak anymore, trapped on my own isolated little island. I would be like everyone, be able to connect with the world. I could breathe freely and like girls as the way I wanted. I even considered transgender surgery for a long time, however the cost of transition proved to be prohibitively high.
Who has had a big impact on you?
My friend and co-founder Yinyan who I first met in college. She’s very open and forthright, I remember first thing ever said to me was, “Are you a lesbian?” I was shocked and told her firmly I wasn’t. She just smiled at me and sent me the link to a platform where like-minded women could meet. I was shocked to see how many gorgeous women there were looking for girlfriends.
I realised I was not alone in my situation and there are many beautiful brilliant girls who just like me who felt some of the same insecurities as I did. Yinyan slowly introduced me to the scene in Xi’an. This gave me a world to feel connected to and gave me a sense of belonging.
How did you start RELAX this NGO?
When I graduated I followed in my father’s footsteps and worked in a government agency for a few years. However the combination of social rules which had never made sense to me even when I was a child alongside the dull monotony and parochial nature of the work made me realise that it wasn’t what I wanted for my life. I quit my job and left Xi’an, in order to see more of the world and to find who I am.
Then one day Yinyan called to ask if I want to do something for the LGBT community in Xi’an. At that instant I knew, this is my calling. So I came back and started RELAX with Yinyan.
I have always wished that I could be a superhero, rushing in to save people’s lives from danger. Now that I am an adult, I have to admit that I can’t fly nor do I have super strength. There are no monsters and alien invaders stalking our streets, the threats and dangers are less tangible than those which superman faces in the comics, but no less real. I hope that one day it won’t matter who we love, that all couples can walk down the street in broad daylight without having to face castigation or judgement if their relationship is atypical.
When did you come out? Was it a difficult decision?
I have always had a good relationship with my parents, after I accepted myself for who I am I found it very difficult to keep it from them. I thought through how I might come out to them a thousand times in my head, but couldn’t do it because I couldn’t image what my parents’ reaction would be.
One day my mom came across my diary when she was cleaning my room. She was very calm when she confronted me about it, but since she already knew the broad strokes it made coming out to her much easier than I had ever imagined. I think she was maybe in denial for a long time, perhaps thinking if she ignored my sexuality, I would ‘grow out of it’ or it would ‘go away’. However, she gradually accepted this side of me. It was also her who told the rest of my family, which made things easier for me. Contrary to my fear, I am closer to my parents now that I am out. Before I was always trying to hide a big part of myself from them, it felt like there was an intangible wall between us. Coming out to them has shatter it. Now we even discuss about my romantic life freely.
What’s your biggest achievement ?
My biggest achievement is becoming myself.
We are expected to grow into the roles which society sets for us. I was confused and lost. I didn’t know who I was or what is the purpose of my life might be. I denied even hated myself. Over the years, I have discovered who I am little by little, I have accepted myself gradually in order to become the person I am today. I am happy, content and comfortable with who I am now. This doesn’t mean I’ll just stay the same. Being oneself is an ever-ongoing process. I don’t know what the other end is, but I’m willing to try different things, to change, grow and evolve.
What advice you would like to give to other women?
Don’t let anyone tell you how to be a woman.
Looking forward …
I would like to bring a more practical aspect to my work. I’m learning artistic healing at the moment, moving forward I would like to become a consultant to offer young people support in finding themselves.