Hayley became a cornerstone of Coronation Street in her 16-year tenure. She was brought on as a side story, maybe a funny story: Roy, resident odd duck, finds a ladylove, and turns out the lady is a man. A quirky tale for a quirky character. But Hayley caught viewers’ attention and affection and the powers that be had the good sense to run with it.
We saw Hayley taunted and rebuffed. We saw even Roy have trouble accepting that the woman he loved was born a man. Then we saw his acceptance of that fact, and of her. We watched their first wedding become a ‘celebration’ instead of a legally binding marriage. Years later, we watched their legal marriage. We witnessed Roy’s words: “We have remained still and the world has turned to meet us.”
What we never learned much of was Hayley’s backstory, her life before she came to the Street. She has talked a bit about her parents and her life as Harold, but we never met anyone from that time. Christian, the son she had fathered when still Harold and had not known about, is the only person from her past who has been part of her story. He brought up issues about a child not knowing his parentage and then finding out that ‘dad’ is a now a woman.
But I think Hayley, when going through the process of deciding on a sex change, must have known people in the same position as she. No one could go through such a profound psychological and physical process, even trauma, without becoming aware of, and a part of, a community. Hayley is a loner, and likely would never have been part of any club scene, either as Harold or Hayley.
But political or socio-psychological activism of the type that used to be called ‘consciousness-raising’? That fits Hayley’s nature. The only people who truly know what it is to be trans-gendered, in your mind and your daily life, are trans-gendered people and others also stigmatized for their sexual orientation. That is why the current definitional term, LGBT, includes all.
Obviously, from her dress style and make-up, Hayley was not attracted to the silks and satins of being a woman. She cannot, by any stretch, be called flamboyant. You know that under her sensible skirts and cardies, she is wearing serviceable white cotton from Marks and Sparks. Not for her the lacy products of Underworld. However, she knows how it feels to present your inner self in the wrong body and wrong garb.
Hayley and Marc/Marcia
A chance to show that side of Hayley’s life journey was in the story of Marc/Marcia, Audrey’s transvestite beau. He was happy as a man but liked wearing the fripperies of female fashion. We saw his friends and support group, in scenes where he took Audrey to clubs where he and his friends hung out. Audrey did try to understand, did listen to the wives of his cross-dressing friends. But why did she not talk to Hayley? It may not be part of the trans experience that Hayley was part of, but she would have insights. And she knows Audrey. I looked forward to Hayley explain how it feels to not match societal gender definitions. But, alas, Marc took his blonde wig and disappeared off our screens.
When Hayley’s story first came out, I was disappointed that a real transgendered woman had not been cast in the part. It struck me as appropriation of voice, no matter how much consultation was done. It still is darkening up a white actor to play the Indian in a Western. But over time, I pretty much forgot that – not that Hayley was transgendered, just that the actress wasn’t. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. I think Hayley did a lot for dispelling preconceptions and misconceptions about transgender issues. I doubt if anyone applauded occasional wisecracks about ‘Harold’. Hayley had become part of our collective family. So what if she had once been a man? That’s good for sure, that she had become central to our hearts and a pillar of all that is honourable for both audience and the Street community.
End of life fears
But we should not be allowed to totally forget her struggle, the struggle faced by transgendered people still every day. It is good that she brought it up, when thinking about her impending death. Her fear that, under the influence of morphine, her mind would revert to being Harold was very real and very sobering. It seemed even Roy couldn’t really understand her terror. It never was fully aired between them. Maybe it will linger in our minds, something to ponder when we remember Hayley and all she has taught us.