The Ongoing Lonely Journey of Joanne Leung—Six Years after Sex-Reassignment Surgery

“If there was a kind of medicine that would help abandon my desire of changing my original sex and make everything right, I would strive to get it at all costs.” Said HK transgender icon, Joanne Leung Wing-yan.

This is just one of the many dreams of Joanne Leung Wing-yan, a dream which the current Joanne will never want it to really happen, for she has already paid a cost much greater to make things right.

On 11 May 2009, Joanne, the then Donne Leung Wai-ming, 46, after overcoming four suicide attempts and one-year-long depression, took the first sex reassignment surgery, and later the second one on 17 August, had his male’s outer sex organ removed, female’s breast built, and finally fulfilled a dream he had had since the age of six.

Now 6 years after that big turning point of her life, Joanne, now 52, is treading on a path that is no less easier than the one she had been taking for the past 40-odd years before the surgery.

A transgender who has come out publicly and received extensive media coverage, Joanne is an icon and role model in the Hong Kong transgender community. As the founder and chairperson of Pink Alliance and Transgender Resource Centre (TGR), two active non-governmental organizations that aim to service LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersexed) community and promote LGBTI cultures, she has been fighting hard yet with just a few companies for the transgender and gay rights in Hong Kong.

Tall, short hair with a spike stylishly falling down around her left cheek, Joanne, while dressed like a woman, still looked a bit like a man—she prefers herself to look like that, not 100% of either. A pretty woman face is never her primary concern but the change of gender is, always.

“I want people to see the diversity of gender,” said Joanne, “I like to tell people from my own experience of being a man and a woman at the same time—because you can’t just erase the fact that you were once a man—what and how both men and women think. Why is it necessary to require someone to be 100% man or 100% woman?” Pursuing a perfect role of either sex only added to her pressure, said she, who after the surgery determinedly cut her long hair which she once depended on to make herself more feminine.

“Imagine a person who had spent 40 years making unimaginable efforts to live like a man, who had got a handsome look and a nice job, being all charming in girls’ eyes. That was me, who had never lived happily in 40 years,” Joanne tilted her head as if for a moment sunk in the old-time distress and agony, “so I decided to take the risk, to do the surgery, and have lived till today. Would you still curse me? Would you not have any respect for me after learning about all this?”

Jamie Chi, an employee in TGR, a twenty something lady who just “came out” to her parents last month, considered the Public Education Project of TGR most influential to help people understand gender diversity. And an important part of that project is Joanne’s talks in schools, churches, addressing to people from all walks of life.

“She’s good at using metaphor to illustrate her previous struggles and explain her ideas on gender diversity,” said Chi, “she is being very generous to share with everyone her life experience.” Chi first met Joanne while interning at the UN Human Rights Office in Bangkok, and decided to join her in TGR after returning to Hong Kong.

But to Joanne, she’s finding herself experiencing increasing physical and mental fatigue to persist on the charity work. People like Chi are rare.

“They (transgender) just come for help on their struggles and then go when they feel relieved themselves,” said Joanne. Few are brave enough to reveal their transgender identity to the society, not to mention to stay and join hands.

Heavy workloads are consuming Joanne. Stacks of documents of pending project proposals piled up on her office desk; a large box containing a thousand condoms sat in the corner of the shelf opposite her desk, waiting to be distributed in the Hong Kong Pride Parade in support of homosexual rights in 7 November; a full schedule of travels and talks stood out on the billboard. There are just too much work to do, said Joanne. She’s got sore neck and shoulder, paranasal sinusitis, been losing sleep and has to take drugs for relief recently.

“The great pressure of work made her ill. Sometimes I really want her to work less and rest more,” said Chi.

Not just the work is unsettled, but also Joanne’s personal life. The surgery deprived her of fertility. And the current Hong Kong law might deprive her, a transgender, of the right to adoption. Adoring children, Joanne said she would have to spend time doing research on the laws. Before that however, she first has to find a loved one, her other half for life. Currently she said she has no time for it.

Two more years, she said to herself, after two more years she would step back from her lonely battle for a better life for others and focus on building a life of her own. But it’s already been another “two more years” since she began to devote herself to improving the lives of other transgender and homosexual people.

“Even though I had gone through and am still having a lot of sufferings, I learn to embrace them now” She speaks softly with a voice mostly resembles a male’s rather than female, “—they are the causes of some important decisions in my life, and what made who I am today.”

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Joanne at the Transgender Resource Center office

Nov.1, 2015

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