Ipswich is 'quietly supportive' of trans people, activist says

Ellena Woolf has lived in and around Ipswich for many years. She says the town is 'quietly accepting' of trans people.

Ellena Woolf has lived in and around Ipswich for many years. She says the town is 'quietly accepting' of trans people. - Credit: Thea McPhillips

A transgender woman from Ipswich says the town is “quietly supportive” of trans people. 

Ellena Woolf, 27, is an outreach officer for Suffolk Pride. She says that it is important for LGBTQ+ youth to have visible role models and the chance to form communities. 

Ellena started her transition at the age of 18.

“People often ask, when did you first realise you were trans? But for me, it was more like when I realised that the rest of the world didn’t see me as I saw me,” she explained.  

Ellena says that finding community can be difficult for LGBTQ+ youth in rural places

Ellena says that finding community can be difficult for LGBTQ+ youth in rural places. She works as an outreach officer with Suffolk Pride to change this. - Credit: Thea McPhillips

Suffolk Pride usually involves a parade on Ipswich Waterfront, however plans look a little different

Suffolk Pride usually involves a parade on Ipswich Waterfront. - Credit: Rachel Edge

“I remember being really young when that first happened.” 

It was her father’s death when she was 16 that made Ellena realise she needed to tell her family how she was feeling. 

“That really clarified to me that life is short. It made me think: 'If I want to be happy, I should take steps to do that soon.' 

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“When I told my mum: 'I think I want to be a girl' she was shocked. But she came around to it quite quickly.  

“I have an older brother who I’m really close with, and he had to process what it was going to look like and how it would work.  

“But I think for them, once they realised that I wasn't really going to change – I was just going to become more honest about myself – that's when they understood it and could see it as being a wonderful thing.” 

Moving away to university in Norwich helped, Ellena said. 

“I soon found my community, a lot more than out in the countryside and little villages. That informs a lot of what I do today. 

“I work with Suffolk Pride, and I’m also a community artist. A lot of that is to bring together LGBTQ+ people in the countryside, where it can feel a bit isolating.” 

Originally from Manningtree, Ellena has lived in and around Ipswich for many years and says that the town is for the most part accepting of trans people. 

“I used to work in a pub in the middle of Ipswich and most of my customers had no idea," she said. "Those that did were quietly supportive, which was lovely. 

“What I find generally is there's this feeling of: 'Good for you!' Whenever I encounter resistance, often it's just confusion, or people are curious. 

“But once you speak to them, and it becomes clear we have a lot of similarities, then transness becomes less of this alien thing they might read about in The Telegraph, and more, oh, that's their barmaid who's really funny and normal."

Ellena speaks out about LGBTQ+ issues, to bring LGBTQ+ people together, and help them find communities.

Ellena speaks out about LGBTQ+ issues, to bring LGBTQ+ people together, and help them find communities. - Credit: Thea MCPhillips

Ellena describes pride as 'a utopia of queerness.'

Ellena describes Pride as 'a utopia of queerness.' - Credit: RACHEL EDGE

At Pride, people come together to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community.

At Pride, people come together to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. - Credit: Rachel Edge

One myth she is keen to dispel is that the transition process happens quickly. 

“There’s this huge mythology that we get people on this conveyor belt, and they show one little sign, like a girl playing with a truck, and we give them hormone pills," she said. 

“It’s absolutely not like that. You have to fight every step, and there are huge waiting lists. The process is punishing. 

“It feels pretty tough to be a trans person at the moment.  

“There's a lot of conversation about us, but very rarely are we the ones getting to have our voices heard. 

“It really is quite exhausting having people ask, do trans people deserve to just quietly exist in the world? 

“Every day, there's someone new questioning that, and rarely do we get to answer, and say, we’re just trying to get on with stuff and exist.” 

However, she also said there is also a lot of joy and happiness to be found in embracing the queer community. 

“One of the superpowers of queerness is we get to think really deeply about what we want our lives to look like, which rules work for us and which don’t. I find all of that really magical. 

“All life is transition. Nobody is the same person they were 10 years ago, we’re all constantly updating ourselves. 

“I really believe we have much more in common with each other than makes us different.” 

For more information:

In Ipswich

Contact Suffolk Pride on Facebook, or email: info@suffolkpride.org.uk

Outreach Youth supports those 25 and under who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer or questioning their sexuality or gender identity. Contact them on Facebook or email: info@outreachyouth.org.uk

National organisations

Mermaids - supports transgender, nonbinary and gender-diverse children and young people.

LGBT Switchboard - provides support 24 hours a day

Stonewall - a charity that campaigns for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights