Women’s Week: Transgender woman Jennifer Jo Lees from Leiston loves living her ‘true self’

Jennifer Jo Lees. Picture: JENNIFER JO LEES

Jennifer Jo Lees. Picture: JENNIFER JO LEES - Credit: Archant

Few of us can imagine what it feels like to be born in a body that you do not recognise as your own.

Jennifer Jo Lees as Mark on the left. Picture: JENNIFER JO LEES

Jennifer Jo Lees as Mark on the left. Picture: JENNIFER JO LEES - Credit: JENNIFER JO LEES

For hardy Ipswich Town fan Jennifer Jo Lees, this is a truth she has battled since childhood and tried desperately to bury.

But two years ago, Jen, from Leiston, decided to take the brave steps to become her “true self”.

The 31-year-old was accepted as a patient at a gender clinic in London and since October 2016 she has been taking hormones to block testosterone.

Jen is now preparing to undergo male-to-female reassignment surgery.

Jennifer Jo Lees celebrates scoring three penalties in a fans half-time penalty shoot out competitio

Jennifer Jo Lees celebrates scoring three penalties in a fans half-time penalty shoot out competition in March 2016. Picture: STEVE WALLER - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller


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“Going through what I have been through so far has been life changing, in more ways than one,” said Jen, who works as a general assistant on grocery at Tesco in Saxmundham.

“I have done things with my life that I wouldn’t have even dreamed of doing, that I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do as Mark.

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“I know that Mark wasn’t who I was. Mark was just a shell with Jennifer on the inside. That’s all Mark ever was.

“In my mind I have always been a girl, but it’s unfortunate you get the hand you are given at birth so obviously over the past 15 months I have been correcting that.”

Jennifer Jo Lees, a transgender woman from Leiston. Picture: JENNIFER JO LEES

Jennifer Jo Lees, a transgender woman from Leiston. Picture: JENNIFER JO LEES - Credit: JENNIFER JO LEES

Jen told her story in this newspaper during her first month living as a woman, around the same time she scored a hat-trick in a half-time competition at Portman Road.

Since then her journey has been far from smooth.

Like many other trans people, Jen has struggled with poor mental health, which she said was exacerbated by the hormones she is taking.

“I do get a lot of anxiety and depression, which is a part of what I am going through,” Jen said. “I have been through some testing times emotionally, it’s been very challenging, but you do have to take the good with the bad, and I’ve got a lot of supportive friends who have been there for me.

Jennifer Jo Lees at the start of her transition when she first appeared in the East Anglian Daily Ti

Jennifer Jo Lees at the start of her transition when she first appeared in the East Anglian Daily Times. Picture: SIMON PARKER

“Friendship to me is so vital, if I didn’t have my friends I would be nothing.”

Last year, Jen went to Sparkle, a national transgender celebration event in Manchester, for the first time, and she said it was “amazing” seeing people being so proud of who they are.

Jen has lost more than five stone through Slimming World, which has helped her feel more conformable with her appearance. She no longer needs a wig as her hair has grown, and she is happy wearing little make-up.

“Everything about me now is natural,” she said. “I felt at the start of everything I was trying my best to look like a woman, but now it just feels so nice to be more natural. I know I don’t have to try to be a woman now because I am a woman, and that is such a lovely feeling.”

Jennifer Jo Lees, from Leiston. Picture: JENNIFER JO LEES

Jennifer Jo Lees, from Leiston. Picture: JENNIFER JO LEES - Credit: Archant

Having lived in Leiston all her life, Jen, who has Asperger syndrome, said the community had been supportive throughout her transition.

She added: “I think a lot of people find that going to places like London and Brighton helps them the most, because a lot of people think they have to move to places like that to be able to be their true selves, but people tell me what they find so brilliant about this is I have come out in a small town where everyone knows everyone and for a small opinionated town like Leiston to accept me for who I am is just amazing and I can’t fault it.

“It just proves you can come out and be yourself and not be afraid of what people might say because if people round here can support me, they can support others who have been through what I have been through.”

However, Jen said Suffolk did not have a great pool of resources for trans people.

Suffolk Constabulary recorded more transgender motived hate crimes in the first six of months of this financial year than it did for the whole of 2016/17.

From April 2016 to March 2017, police logged 11 of these crimes, while 14 were reported from April 2017 to October 2017.

Although Jen admits she has had some negative experiences, she is hopeful that with more awareness people will begin to throw away their prejudices.

She said: “I’m so glad there’s the coverage there is about transgender people because it’s helping more people realise that actually we are not bad people, we are human beings just like anyone else. We deserve the same dignity and respect as anyone else. All we are trying to do is be who we are.

“We are just trying to live a life that matches how we feel inside because one of the worst things you can do is live a life that feels incompatible, because it can seriously eat away at you on the inside, it did me all through my life.”

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