Transgender Ipswich Town fan Jennifer Jo Lees speaks out about her journey in a bid to inspire others
It’s not a life when you have to live as someone you are not comfortable being.
These were the words of Jennifer Jo Lees who has spoken out during her first month living as a woman in a bid to inspire other transgender people to be brave.
The 29-year-old, from Leiston, will take another big step in her transition next week when she officially loses her birth name of Mark by deed poll.
Jennifer’s journey started at primary school when she would go to the dressing up box at the age of five and pick out a blue princess dress to wear instead of the traditional male costumes.
“I would just sit there looking comfortable as anything, it just felt natural,” Jennifer said. “I didn’t really know what it meant back then.”
She then started trying on the clothes her older sister left behind when she moved away from home, and when Jennifer was 20 years-old her parents went away on holiday, giving her a chance to explore her mother’s wardrobe. “I just tried everything on and the feeling was so amazing,” Jennifer said. “I just felt like I was me, but the only thing I didn’t have was a wig and make up, I just looked like a boy in a dress.”
At this time Jennifer, who has Asperger syndrome, was seeing a counsellor at The CYDS Project in Leiston.
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“I came out and told my counsellor that what I want is to dress as a woman and how I felt, not necessarily that I was transgender but that I was a cross dresser, so it was only half the story if you like.” Jennifer said.
“So at the advice of her bosses, she provided me with a wig, make up, clothes from a charity shop and she brought them to our counselling sessions.
“I put everything on and she did my hair and when she showed me what I looked like in the mirror I just couldn’t believe the woman that was staring back at me.”
As she became more confident, Jennifer – who is a self proclaimed “selfie addict” – started taking pictures of herself in her new clothes, wig and make up and uploading them online.
Despite some of her closest friends showing support, Jennifer faced discrimination from others.
“People used it to hurt me, it went all around the town, people were staring at me in the street, I got stick and abuse, got called names in the street, had people come up to me and taunting me, I really went through it,” she said.
“Back then I was only doing it behind closed doors once or twice a week, and in 2008 my mum found out about me because she stumbled upon my clothes and wigs.
“My parents did their best to try stop me from doing it, because the main thing they were concerned about was my future, and what torment I would get from it.”
In 2011, Jennifer gave up being the woman she knew she was, and tried to go back living her life as Mark.
“It made me a very angry and bitter person and I felt a lot of resentment towards my family for it, because I was sacrificing a part of who I was to make them happy, and I tried to be Mark as best I could, it really was tough but I just grinned and beared it.”
Three years later Jennifer found the first wig she was given from her councillor in 2006 and she said she breathed a sigh of relief.
She started ordering women’s clothes discreetly online and trying them on when her parents were out of the house. When her mother found out again – this time seeing her dressed as a woman – Jennifer felt confident to stick by her decision.
“Doing something like this for the second time, the beauty of it is you get to see where you went wrong before and how you can come out in a better way, it was good to get the opportunity to do that,” she added.
“Unfortunately I do feel like I am one of the lucky ones, because a lot of transgender people lose their families and their friends over this, they often end up alone and confused so I hope I can somehow give them the confidence to come out and realise they are not alone. I know not everyone will get it, but if anyone ever wants to ask me any questions about myself I’ve got nothing to hide they can feel free to ask me.
“The attitude I’ve always had throughout the whole thing is just go out, be myself, do what I need to do, don’t look over my shoulders. If you let the little things get to you, you will never live your life. I just want to encourage everyone if they can to draw some inspiration from my experience and just get out there and live.”
Special bond with Ipswich Town fans after Portman Road triumph
Jennifer Jo Lees was thrown into the spotlight this month when she scored a hat-trick of penalties at Portman Road.
The hardy Ipswich Town fan stepped out in front of tens of thousands of people to take part in a half-time challenge.
Jennifer, who has attended games since the age of nine, was overwhelmed with the support she received from the stands.
“I came out to my Ipswich friends last because I didn’t quite know how they were going to take it because being in a football environment it’s not exactly the best,” she said.
“After the penalty shootout my Facebook wall went crazy. It was just unreal how quickly they embraced me as just another Town fan, they didn’t think of me any differently.
“To have the support from your fellow fans means a lot. It just shows that you don’t have to give up everything you love doing just because you are doing something that other people don’t understand.”
Jennifer is one of only three people to successfully put three goals past an academy goalkeeper during the half-time contest. She will now have to step up to the penalty spot again on April 30 during the last championship home game of the campaign, against Milton Keynes Dons.
The winner of the grand final will get a cruise to Spain, Portugal and Morocco.
Jennifer added: “I’m very much looking forward to the final and even if I don’t win the important thing is I want to inspire other people like myself to come out and have a voice and be themselves and to say, ‘this is me, this is who I am, take me as you will’.
“The way I see it is if I can go out in front of 20,000 fans at Portman Road then anyone can do anything.
“It was really was an incredible feeling, winning the holiday would be superb but if this can serve to help other people that would be fantastic.”