The process of gender transition is never easy. But in the dance world, it poses particularly unique obstacles.
Hayden Moon, a 26-year-old theater and performance PhD student from Sydney, Australia, has been Irish dancing since he was 13, and competing since he was 19. For years he danced in the women's section, but it took a toll.
"I would cry before competitions because I had to dress as a woman," he says. "I was competing in the senior ladies competition and knowing the whole time that I was a guy."
When he was 23, he came out as transgender. His teacher told him that they didn't believe in trans people, and that he could only stay at the school if he danced as a woman and used his previous name.
Fortunately, he eventually discovered a school that not only accepted Moon with open arms but worked alongside him—plus an LGBTI youth group and a pro bono lawyer—to change the Australian Irish Dancing Association's policy to allow dancers to compete in the gender they identify with. (However, very recently, Moon's supportive teacher left and he's had to change schools for a second time due to transphobia.)
When Moon made the decision to transition, he was also making a commitment to relearn how to perform Irish dance as a man, which included new footwear. "All of a sudden, I had a heel on my shoe," he says. "I'd spent years learning to be high on my toes and not make any noise and never let my heel touch the ground, doing all of these very pretty kicks and leaps and jumps. And then all of a sudden I was getting told by my dance teacher that I wasn't loud enough."
Sage Amethyst Photography, Courtesy Moon
Reviving his competitive career post-transition wasn't without difficulties—he encountered everything from being referred to as "it" by another dancer and having difficulties buying new dancing shoes by sellers, to being aggressively asked which bathroom he was going to use at a competition.
Bigotry in personal relationships has also, on several occasions, led him to become homeless (a problem that is twice as likely to affect LGBTQ+ youth than heterosexual people in Australia).
Despite the challenges, finally getting to dance onstage as a man is an experience he describes as euphoric. "All of the people who said that there was something wrong with being trans or that I shouldn't compete as a trans person, I just felt like I proved them wrong."
Moving forward, Moon hopes to offer support and community for people going through similar experiences, and now co-runs the Intersectional Irish Dancers Instagram page. "It allows people of minority status to feel less alone and to know there are others out there who are competing," he explains. "The first way to create change in Irish dancing is representation and raising awareness. Because you can't create change if people aren't aware of why that change is needed."