Wiradjuri Brotherboy, activist and PhD candidate Hayden Moon was the first transgender person in Australia to enter the world of competitive Irish dancing. But not before breaking down some major barriers, writes Mike Hitch.
Hayden Moon uses Irish dancing as an outlet to escape and recharge from reality. In our new Covid-affected world, these escapes are necessary to keep mentally healthy and happy.
However, as a Wiradjuri Brotherboy and transgender activist, Moon fought for recognition in Australia’s competitive world of Irish dancing when they began their gender transition in February 2018.
Moon not only changed Australia’s national competitive Irish dancing policy the same year they began transitioning, but also became the first transgender person in Australia ever to compete.
Speaking to the Sentinel, Moon discussed their first time competing as their true gender, as well as their journey towards ensuring acceptance for themselves, and future ‘baby trans’ people interested in Irish dancing.
“I love competing and going to class and dancing in my spare time. People go running to clear their minds, I Irish dance to keep myself happy,” they said.
“My first competition since I transitioned was in July last year, and it was the best feeling, but it was also fucking terrifying.
“When I found out I could compete, I was so excited. I got to go up on that stage for the first time, as myself. I was euphoric, knowing that I’d done that and proved the transphobes wrong, who were just sitting there sipping their lattes – it was amazing!”
As well as having a passion for the sport, Moon also has a sense of humour: “I was so happy, I had this massive smile on my face, but I was also shitting myself!”
Yet, despite ensuring a more accepting future for themselves and others in Irish dancing, Moon’s battle was long, uphill and fraught with discrimination.
“It was a very long-winded situation with a lot of bureaucracy, conversations, and a lot of confusion – and people being like ‘I’ve never met a trans person before, I don’t know what to do!” they said.
“People started debating the validity of my gender and who I was. It was awful, and it really affected my mental health. I had to switch off.”
Transitioning from feminine presentation to masculine presentation, Moon was well aware that the restrictive, binary-focussed world of Irish dancing meant that transgender dancers couldn’t compete in Irish dancing competitions in Australia.
Before Moon, trans and gender diverse people could only compete as their true gender if they’d had gender-affirming surgery. This policy excluded non-binary identities and invalidated trans people who chose not to undergo affirming-surgery.
It took Moon nearly five months, as well as the help of not-for-profit social justice organisation, Rainbow Rights Watch, to finally change the official policy of the Australian Irish Dancing Association (AIDA) in 2018.
“I mean, I wasn’t asking to reinvent the wheel,” they said, in a deadpan tone.
“It was very frustrating and tedious, but it eventually happened. The beginning of a trans person’s transition is a really tumultuous, vulnerable time, and you’re having to navigate the world as yourself.
“To have on top of that, people debating whether or not you deserve the same rights as everybody else in a sport you love – that was heartbreaking.
“But, the response and support was also amazing. I had people come up to me and tell me, ‘You dance so much better as Hayden than you did as your pre-transition self.’
“Of course I did, I was too busy focussing on putting on a persona before. This time I was just focussed on dancing.
“That was really validating, and that tells you how important it is to let people dance as themselves.”
After getting AIDA’s policy officially changed, Moon faced another challenge competing within the senior men’s Irish dancing competition. For those who don’t know (this writer included), men’s and women’s Irish dancing are quite different.
Both genders use different shoes, and men’s Irish dancing involves stamping the heel on the floor to create rhythm while dancing. Women’s Irish dancing is fluid and consists of the dancer carrying themselves on their toes.
After having learned and practised the women’s steps for thirteen years, Moon had to re-learn the entire men’s routine in the space of one year.
Moon says that in the world of competitive sports, these feats of determination prove that trans people are made of tough stuff.
“I had to re-learn all of that stuff. If anything trans people [in Irish dancing] have to re-learn all of the basic techniques, and movements, and how to carry yourself in a really short amount of time,” Moon says, giving a ‘crash course’ in Irish dancing etiquette.
“I’d always learned to be graceful and to never, ever let my heel touch the ground – you’d lose points over that. Then I had to learn to always put your heel on the ground, always making noise, stamping, being strong rather than graceful – it’s a fight against muscle memory.
“I think that makes it really impressive. Despite what everyone might say, we can get up there and prove them wrong.
“People say that we’re at an advantage, but it’s actually a disadvantage – and that’s what makes us stronger.”
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