A trans woman from the UK who came out aged 48 with the support of her wife has renewed her wedding vows after beginning her medical transition, and hopes to raise awareness that it is never too late to “live your truth”. Leona Slack, from Mansfield, was assigned male at birth and named Paul, but says she knew she was a girl from a young age, recalling how she would be jealous of other girls at school.

After meeting her third wife, Charoen, 45, in 2004, the 51-year-old revealed her gender identity and, with Charoen’s support, began medically transitioning in 2020. In March this year, Leona and Charoen renewed their wedding vows in a Buddhist temple in Bangkok, Thailand.

Although Leona admits she is still not “completely happy” and is awaiting more gender-affirming surgery next year, she says she now feels free to be herself and hopes to encourage other people in similar situations that it is not too late. Leona, who lives in Bangkok with her wife and their two children, George, 16, and Harry, eight, said: “I can’t forget myself comparing my girly legs and feminine body structure to my girl class friends when I was growing up and I was jealous they were actually real girls and I wasn’t.

“I want to help others like myself who have found it hard and difficult to express their true gender identity issues because they’re afraid of the public’s opinions and hatred towards them.” Leona’s gender identity was apparent to her from an early age, recalling how, at the age of 11, she contemplated taking her mother’s contraceptive pills believing they would turn her “into a girl”.

She said: “I never did take them but I’ll never forget thinking about it, wondering if it would make me feminine. I was always wanting to play with the girls and I was jealous of the other girls at school. I spent a lot of time at the library reading a lot about transgenderism.

“At nine years old, I would sneak into my mum’s bedroom and try on her clothes, then as a teenager I would watch Jerry Springer and there would be a trans person on about twice a week. I knew who I was from a young age.”

Despite having clarity on her identity, Leona kept it a secret and continued to present herself as a man in adulthood. However, after two failed marriages and becoming a parent to two children, Jake, now 23, and Asia, 22, Leona knew she wanted to find someone she could confide in.

In 2004, she moved to Bangkok where, still living as a man, Leona worked as a school teacher and regularly ate at a restaurant where Charoen worked. She said: “Charoen worked at a noodle restaurant opposite the school, like 50 metres away.

“I went inside to have a cup of coffee every morning and something to eat. She couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak Thai so we would write letters to each other and translate them.

“One evening she decided to see me after work and we ended up spending the whole weekend together. After just seven weeks together she decided to quit her job and I said I’d support her. It was a whirlwind romance.”

No longer working, Charoen spent her time learning English and became largely fluent within two months. Tying the knot in 2005, the couple went on to have two children, George and Harry, and Leona was open with Charoen about her identity from early in the relationship.

Leona with wife Chareon before he started to transition

She said: “She knew straight away and, maybe a year or two into marriage, she started getting oestrogen hormones for me and buying me clothes to wear in secret. It was so nice to have that acceptance.

“She told me that no matter what happens, she’ll be with me for the rest of our lives. It was incredible to hear that.”

After four decades of hiding her gender identity from the world, Leona said the first step to living openly as a woman began from “boredom during lockdown”. She said: “My wife wakes up early and does her make-up every morning.

“One particular day in lockdown, we were so bored and she asked to do my make-up instead. I loved every second of it. That’s what sparked it off.

“From there, we were stuck at home and I could see that cosmetic procedures were discounted due to the pandemic. I thought, ‘Well, this is an opportunity now to transition’.”

Writing a post on Facebook, Leona came out to friends and family, revealing her new name and her plans to medically transition. Since then, she has undergone various procedures including breast implants, gender reassignment surgery, a nose job, Botox, eyelid lift and permanent tattooed make-up.

She said: “My transition has had a mixed reaction from people. Some family are embarrassed by me and have disowned me, but there are others who have accepted me.

“I’ve had comments saying it’s out of the blue or not like me, but I was just good at hiding it. Even though I looked and acted like a man before, the whole time inside I wanted to be a lady. I just tried and tried to ignore it, thinking it would pass but that feeling never went away.”

For Leona, the most important acceptance came from her children, who she said have been “fantastic”. She added: “My kids were absolutely fine. My oldest son has been great, he’s never been homophobic or transphobic. I have a nice relationship with my children.

“They all still call me dad, I’ll always let them call me dad because I don’t think it’s fair on them to change that, I’ll always be their father. Each time I have something surgically done I feel better, and closer to being me. I’m still not completely happy, I’m going to get vocal surgery next year to feminise my voice and get rid of my Adam’s apple.”

The couple renewed their wedding vows both in white bridal gowns, and Leona hopes to inspire other people to “live their truth” and never think it’s “too late” to come out. She added: “I want to help other people who are in my shoes and are afraid to come out like I did.

“It took a weight off my shoulders and I want the general public to see that. More than anything I hope to raise awareness of acceptance.”