"It's time to be the real me. I wish I’d done it sooner.”
Rebecca Leigh Jenson is a Housing First Support Worker at forfutures, which provides homelessness services to Cheshire West and Chester Council for landlord ForHousing. When she was recruited to the new position she took the courageous step of starting her new job in January 2022 as her authentic self. Here she shares some of her story to mark International Women’s Day 2022.
We all face societal pressure to ‘fit in’. For me, this looked like getting married at 25, being a loving father and building a stable career in the hospitality sector. I was desperately doing all the right things to fit in with social norms but inside I felt that there was something wrong.
I will never forget going out to a bar with some friends when I was younger and being introduced to a woman. I only clicked when my friends told me that she’d gone to the same school as me, but she had transitioned.
I then noticed some hateful people abusing and mocking her. Though a seed had been sown, I never wanted to face that shaming or mockery. So, I decided to suppress those feelings and live life as a heterosexual male.
Truthfully, I was trapped.
It took me longer than I wanted to face up to it. But, there came I point where I could no longer bear it. I had to be myself and live my life as a trans woman.
I’ve had a lot of challenges to overcome. What would my family and friends say? Would I have a good experience with my GP? (I knew how varied it can be for people). What would happen at work? Would I experience abuse, violence or even death threats like others in our community?
So far, I feel I’ve been incredibly fortunate and have received a lot of support, sometimes from unexpected places.
To be eligible for hormone treatment on the NHS, you are required to live as a woman for one year and receive a diagnosis of gender dysphoria.
In January 2022 at the same time as stepping into a new work role, I started living as Rebecca.
One of my first experiences of introducing Rebecca was at my 47th birthday party in October 2021. This was a way for family and friends to meet the new me. Walking in, I was so nervous and had all sorts of scenarios cascading around my mind. But, it was pretty uneventful. Aside from a couple of funny looks, everyone just got on with their evening and I felt surrounded by love and support.
Work was another big hurdle to overcome. ForHousing has a great track record for standing for equity and creating an inclusive culture but I still worried about how things would play out in real life for me.
I spoke to my manager, Chris, about my transition and she was very supportive from the outset. She was cool, calm and made me feel comfortable. One of the most valuable things for me has been the lack of fuss from my manager and my colleagues. Chris made herself available to me if I needed to chat but it was all on my terms.
The day I came into work as Rebecca, everyone already knew about my transition and it was a relief that there was no real surprise or reaction. Everyone just got on with it.
I feel fortunate to work in this sector. Most people I know and work with are non-judgemental and progressive people. But I still experienced sleepless nights and anxiety. I knew I was moving from being a heterosexual male into one of the most marginalised groups in society.
My new role is in the Housing First team. I left one job at forfutures as a man, with my old name. I came back a week later as a woman called Rebecca.
The majority of my career in the housing sector has focused on supported housing and homelessness. I began working with the Big Issue, supporting magazine vendors to access housing and health services. I’ve worked in various supported and social housing projects and have experience and training in ASB.
In 2019 I joined forfutures and have worked in several frontline roles supporting people experiencing homelessness. Most recently, during the Covid-19 pandemic, I worked at one of our temporary accommodation projects. I have been so moved to hear about the incredible progress some people are making now they have moved onto into permanent, stable homes.
My career has given me the purpose, meaning and culture that I never felt in the catering sector.
I was concerned that it would be the tenants I was supporting who would be the most judgemental about my transition but they have been great! There are a few men in their 50s and I worried about how they’d react. They’ve ended up being the ones calling people out when they get my name wrong.
I know I will encounter hate and abuse at some point. Sadly, it’s an inevitability for trans people in our current society. But it’s not happened yet and this is reassuring to me.
This is only the start for me, Rebecca. It’s time to be the real me and I couldn’t be happier about it.