Joanne Leung Wing-yan Is Hong Kong's First Transgender Politician
While she didn’t receive the nomination in April’s Democratic Party primary election for Legco, the founder of the Transgender Resource Center still actively fights for LGBT rights in the city. Photos by Kirk Kenny / studiozag.com
When I was 6 years old, I realized that I didn’t want to be a boy: I wanted to be a girl. People would make fun of me. At that time, our society told me it was not acceptable, and my family would tell me that I looked too feminine. So I’d actively adjust myself, trying to be “normal.” I thought I was abnormal, I was a monster. I realized I’m into women—so I thought “I like women, that means I should be a normal man.”
I had suicidal thoughts back then. The strategy I used was to suppress [my transgender identity] and not think about the issue. But whenever I was alone, the thoughts would just crawl right back in and the struggle would continue.
It was only when I was in my 40s that I finally faced up to this issue. Before that, I had spent so many years blaming myself and forcing myself to change. I really couldn’t handle the suppression and I started seeking help: counseling, calling hotlines, speaking to psychologists and psychiatrists. I also started coming out to the friends around me.
At the time, surgery was my only option. There wasn’t much help for our community. I couldn’t find another way out and if I hadn’t gone through with the surgery, I’d have probably killed myself. I thought, “I’m going to die anyway, why not give [surgery] a try and see if that can help?”
“I want to liberate everyone from ‘black-or-white’ concepts of gender.”
I’m a devoted Christian and I used to think that I shouldn’t be [transgender], that it was against His will. The Bible is a narration of the truth, or “the word of God.” Christianity is a community that interprets the Bible to develop certain points of view. Its language, through many layers of translation and interpretation, is often different for each of us. I couldn’t see that there was anything against homosexuality or transgenderism.
Everyone has their own interpretation, so why does one person’s interpretation prevail? Only God has the truth. Some would say changing gender is against God’s creation. But as humans, we’ve always altered ourselves. From getting a haircut and wearing glasses, to living in a house and cooking your food, you’re already doing something unnatural.
After the surgery in 2009, I had to readjust my life, including my voice. After all, we still live in a world where interpersonal communication is necessary. Maybe one day, when there are many trans people living in society, it will all be normal. But that day has yet to come.
But actually, I think me being a transexual woman has allowed me to achieve a lot of things. There are a lot of inconveniences, but once I’ve overcome them, I can inspire others with my story: not just fellow transgenders, but also other people. I want to liberate everyone from “black-or-white” concepts of gender, and discover other possibilities.
Five or 10 years ago, people didn’t even know what being transgender was, or that there was gender reassignment surgery available in Hong Kong. Now, people are more accepting of trans people and they understand their situation.
I’m not young: I’m 53 years old already. I don’t know what will happen in four years [the next Legco election], but I still want to continue in politics. Sometimes I think: Why bother? I could just live my life. But the reason I work in activism and politics is to help more people to live happier lives.
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I was invited to join the Democratic Party by [chairperson] Emily Lau. Many asked why I chose to join the Democratic Party, instead of other parties like the Labour Party or the Civic Party. I did it because the other two parties are far more accepting towards the LGBT community. I see things very differently. The Democratic Party’s unclear stance affects the LGBT movement. So why not join the party and change it?
I joined the Legco primary on a hunch. I might not have planned things too well, but when opportunities arise, I just go for it. Now when I think back, I’m actually quite relieved I wasn’t nominated. There are so many issues in our society. If I were to be elected, LGBT issues would not be the most important issue to me. I know it might tick off some people, but I think for us better-off LGBT members, we need to help minorities in society more, instead of fixating on LGBT issues.
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I am quite different from most people in the LGBT circle: I don’t really hate people who are homophobic. I think it’s quite tiring to hate someone. I pity them, though. LGBT people exist in society and they cannot be eliminated. Even if you kill them all, they will still be there. It’s not like two gay people give birth to another gay person. There’s naturally a spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity in humans.
There is so much hate in society and it will continue to spread. But I don’t think hatred is the solution to anything. They [anti-LGBT groups] are afraid, so they want to protect themselves. We won’t harm anyone. I want to communicate with them. It takes time.