70 year old Jessica Park describes the confusion, pain, and beautiful people who supported her as she transitioned to becoming the fierce transgender woman that she is today.
I first met Jessica Park, a tall transgender woman with a blonde ponytail and soft bluish grey eyes, in 2012 as a client at Professional Wills, the company she founded in 2006 after selling a successful security firm she started 33 years prior. Jessica ventured into both businesses knowing little about either. In her words, “To start [the will writing business], I checked the dictionary and found there are two Ls in Wills. I thought that was a good start.”
In April of this year, I returned to Professional Wills to take their company headshots. At 70 years strong, Jessica wasn’t too keen. Her staff warned me that Jessica dislikes having her photo taken and probably won’t smile. After the business portrait shoot (she did smile a little), I suggested that we take some family photos of Jessica, her wife Tana and their two cat babies, who are permanent grumpy fixtures at the office. That was when I saw a different Jessica, one who couldn’t stop smiling. Now I understand why.
When launching “Visible” I thought of Jessica, as a striking example of a person who is identity secure. Jessica was hesitant to do the interview as Visible is about “inspiring women over 50”. She wanted to be clear that she will only speak from the perspective as a transgender woman, not representing women.
Jessica agreed to meet me for coffee, and over two hours, she relayed the incredibly emotional experiences of her transition, which happened in her late-40’s. She was honest about the deep pains she went through during the darkest times –including the loss of her family and excommunication from her church – along with happier tales of the many people who supported her along the way, and the joys she has found in living the life as her “androgynous” self with her Thai wife Tana, whom she met 21 years ago. “I was working in Bangkok – looking for a husband, I thought,” she smiles, “and instead found Tana.”
Pre-transition, Jessica was a masculine, motorcycle-riding, fixed wing aircraft and rescue helicopter pilot with the Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force from 1971 to 1994. She was married with three kids and ran a successful business with 110 employees in offices across Asia.
Jessica’s gender confusion came to a head between 1996-98. “Pandora’s box was opened, and I was a very messed up individual,” she recalls. To try to understand what was happening, she attended transgender conferences around the world. “I was stunned seeing such an array of good people trying to understand themselves and doing so with such conviction and – I could say strength or courage – but I prefer trepidation,” she states. “To understand, one has to accept that maybe there is no understanding, and it is just so.”
The next few years Jessica describes as “hellish, with hundreds of nights of screaming – just trying to understand.” She lost her relationships with her former wife and children and… lives with that. Jessica entered a full depressive state. She was straddling both gender identities, wearing men’s clothing at work and women’s clothing on the weekends. In 1998 she swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills and woke up hallucinating in a straitjacket fastened to a bed at Queen Mary Hospital. After three days of confinement, Jessica was finally allowed to leave. She went downstairs to the cafeteria and ordered a bowl of porridge. As she sat eating what she describes as “the most delicious bowl of porridge ever”, while the sun streamed in through the windows, comforting and warming her. Jessica thought to herself “That was a close call. This is the last day I will wear men’s clothing. I’m going to be Jessica.”
The people that brought her to the hospital unconscious were her church friends. A year later she was publicly, humiliatingly excommunicated from the same church without concern for her life or caring of her difficulties. At the time, this reinforced to Jessica all the shame, guilt, and self-hatred she was feeling. Jessica sought help from counsellors (twice a week for a period) and found support from others, including colleagues and her employees. She set up a transgender support group in Hong Kong in the early 00’s and spoke at transgender conferences to help others. She grew from the depths of despair to become the confident and caring person she is today.
Jessica advised, “People like to say, ‘I have no regrets.’ Be careful who you say those words to. Of course, I have regrets. I have many – but not being Jessica. I think of the pain that my situation caused my former wife and children, and one has to live with that – but at least living – I am”. After years of active repair, Jessica has a good friendship with her former wife. They plan to travel abroad together to see their children post-pandemic.
Jessica’s best memories about her transition include the day she had her ears pierced and the day she received her passport with her name “Jessica Park” and her gender “Female” acknowledged in print.
And of course, there is Tana, whose nickname is Goi. Jessica affectionately calls her “Gooi.” “Tana is the only person in the world I’m in love with,” Jessica beams. “It was nice to find someone who didn’t think there was something wrong with me. She has understanding, indifference, listening, empathy, warmth and is non-judgmental. What more does humanity want?”
Published October 2022, Hong Kong Living