Maeve: Hi, I’m Maeve Marsden, and you’re listening to Queerstories. This week, Hayden Moon is an out and proud Queer, legally blind, Wiradjuri Brotherboy who resides on Gadigal country. He is a PhD candidate in Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Sydney, a Pinnacle Foundation Scholar and a competitive Irish dancer. His writing’s been published widely, and in 202 he was named Student of the Year award in Out For Australia’s 30 Under 30 Awards. In any spare time he can find, he advocates for his communities with activist collectives Trans Action Warrang, Pride In Protest, Intersectional Irish Dancers, and Sydney Queer and Disabilities Collective. He also consults with ACON and The LGBTI Health Alliance. He performed this story about his love of Irish dance at Giant Dwarf in Sydney. We sadly can’t share his incredible dance performance on the podcast, but you can check out the photos on the Queerstories Facebook page. Enjoy.
Hayden: 4th of June 2017: I’m standing in the bathroom at my motel, looking at myself in the mirror. I think to myself, “I can’t do this, I can’t go on that stage as a woman, I can’t keep playing this role, it’s just too painful”. My legs start to shake and I feel sick from nerves. I step closer to the mirror to look at my reflection, a reflection I have no connection with. The person I see staring back isn’t me. My outer casing doesn’t match my inner feelings, my embodied knowledge, the real me. “You’ve done this before, for years, you can do it now”, I say out loud to myself. And with a deep breath I start teasing my hair, preparing to attach my curly, platinum blond wig. My make-up is spread across the counter, complete with fake eyelashes, sparkly pink eyeshadow and bright pink lipstick.
I have been a competitive Irish dancer, on and off, since I was 13 years old. I have an absolute love and passion for the sport. Irish dancing is my medicine, it keeps me going but even more, it allows me to truly thrive.
My grandma and I have always been incredibly close. She’s been my best friend for as long as I can remember. A beautiful, kind-hearted, strong … and incredibly stubborn Irish woman, she hails from the beautiful county of Offaly. We’re very similar people… possibly due to the fact we’re both cancerians with our birthdays 3 days … and 70 years apart. But our connection runs much deeper than astrology.
I spent every school holidays at her house, she’d make me hash browns and banana smoothies and we’d sit and talk all about her life, growing up, falling in love with my Blak grandfather, the difficulties of that in 1940s Australia and her love for Irish dancing.
Grandma was very proud of her own grandmother, who had been the Irish dancing champion of her county in Ireland in her youth, she’d always wished to follow in her footsteps but wasn’t able to afford it growing up in the depression.
Like most children presumed female at birth, I was taken to ballet lessons at a very young age and I learnt to plié, tendu and sauté. But the more I spoke to my gran about Irish dancing, the more I saw her passion for it and… I’d never really liked ballet – it was too slow, too graceful… it just wasn’t for me.
So, at 13 years old, I begged my gran to take me to my first Irish dance lesson. She jumped at the opportunity and I went to my first class the following week. The fast-paced movement, the rhythms, the music, the connection to my grandma and her culture – I loved every moment.
In November 2017, after years of hiding my true self and feeling a disconnect between my inner feelings of gender and my outward presentation – I began a gender transition, moving from a feminine gender presentation to a masculine one. While Irish dancing has always been a passion of mine and I still loved it when I was dancing in the ‘Senior Ladies’, there was always the sadness in me that I wasn’t myself, I was playing a role of a ‘woman’ and hiding who I truly was. Not only did I need to transition in everyday society, but I also needed to transition in the world of Irish dancing. I had to unlearn the women’s style of dance and re-learn how to dance as a man and… if that wasn’t challenging enough… I had to fight the system just to be allowed to dance as myself on stage.
The first step to becoming a Senior Man was coming out to my Irish dance teacher, I was terrified because I didn’t know how she’d respond. I anxiously messaged her, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to say the words out loud. My hands shook as I typed the words “I’m transgender, I’ve known for a very long time and I have decided to finally live as myself. I will be going by the name Hayden and transitioning to a masculine presentation”. I sat there shaking and watched the ellipses move as she typed her response… and it felt like an absolute lifetime.
My phone buzzed in my hand as her response finally arrived… “I don’t believe in the transgender thing.” She said “I’m really sorry… you’re a girl and you always will be a girl… if you want to stay at the school you’ll have to be a girl and use your birth name”.
The words became muffled in my mind, my heart sank and before I knew it, I was sobbing uncontrollably. My absolute love had been taken from me. I would have to choose between a future as my true self and my passion, Irish dance. It was an impossible choice. I spent days and nights sobbing and I fell into a deep depression. I felt hopeless and alone, and I felt like no one would accept me as myself and I’d never dance again. I couldn’t see a future for myself.
I tried to make my dance teacher understand, I was desperate to remain at the school and to continue dancing. Being the first transgender person to approach the Irish dancing community in this capacity, you can imagine the obstacle was massive. Regardless of any anti-discrimination law that is in place, a lot of the time, it’s not worth pursuing these battles – I questioned whether the cost to my mental health and the financial cost would be too high.
I knew that even if I could force my teacher’s hand through a legal battle, I would never be able to learn from her again, because that respect and that trust were lost. After a great deal of searching, I finally found a school where I was accepted. I went to my first class feeling awkward as fuck, but I felt completely supported and so I shyly asked if I could join the school.
I wish this was the end of my story to find acceptance as a transgender Irish dancer, but while I was supported at this school to dance in the men’s style, using my correct name and pronouns – the official policy of the Australian Irish Dancing Association did not allow for me to compete as myself. I still had a fight ahead of me.
With the support of my new teacher, some pro-bono lawyers and my chosen queer family – I advocated for a change in the official policy to allow transgender people to compete in Irish dancing competitions in Australia. Thank you! And in September of 2018, the battle was finally won.
[Applause] Thank you!
So – I had a new accepting dance school, I’d changed the policy so that I could compete. Now I just had to learn how to dance as a man… Which was certainly a challenge.
24th of August 2019, It’s my first State Championship as a Senior Man. I am getting ready in the men’s bathroom at the competition venue. As I stare into the mirror, a flurry of thoughts enter my mind and I feel a conflicting sense of bodily sensation – a mixture of comfort and unease. I am finally dancing as myself, in the male role, at the NSW State Championships. This feeling is now radiating through me, giving me confidence. I tuck my black shirt into my pants, and I tie my purple tie around my neck. After tightening the tie, I realise the skinny end is sticking out the bottom. So, you know, with a frustrated sigh, I undo the tie and start again. My hands are shaking with nerves, which certainly isn’t helping. I tighten the tie a second time, put on my sparkly black jacket, do up all three buttons, and I’m ready to go. Applying one more lot of bronzer to my jawline, to ensure that the miniscule amount of facial hair I have is noticeable (I’ve been on T a while since then) I look back to the mirror, locking eyes with myself. I turn to the side, looking at my outfit and a genuine smile emerges. Gender euphoria washes over me as I step on stage. This immeasurable feeling of joy when I dance as a Senior Man emanates from me. I’m wearing the men’s costume, I’m doing the men’s steps, I’m being seen as and experienced by others as a man. I can just fly across that stage as myself. My body is a masculine body, it’s my body, and when I dance, on that stage – everyone else can see and feel it too. I walk off stage, a huge smile on my face, I can’t hide my happiness. I will continue to dance proudly on that stage. I feel free, I feel elated, and I feel myself. Thank you.
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