Hey everyone At 9.PM on Monday 20th January 2014 in the Weatherfield district of Manchester Hayley Cropper passed away she died in the arms of her husband Roy and will be sorely missed by all her friends and neighbours. Hayley had been diagnosed with an inoperable form of cancer and made what she believed to be a positive decision to end her own life before her last weeks or months became a sentence of lingering pain.
Now you may think that writing an obituary for a soap character is slightly unusual and possibly even surreal However I felt I had to write something for a character who was warm, funny, intelligent and above all believable because Hayley Cropper was no ordinary woman she was and will remain the first transsexual character in any British soap.
When she first appeared in the street in 1997 few if any people had heard of transsexuals except those of us like myself who are actually trans and will identify as such. When Coronation Street first introduced Hayley to the Weatherfield cobbles in 1997 the move was seen by some people as slightly controversial. Few people if any knew what a transsexual was and often got it confused with a transvestite. The only stories they had read about transwoman were usually in the tabloid press and usually made the person concerned an object of ridicule or best a figure of fun. Life for those of us with this condition was difficult and the idea of coming and admitting you had gender identity issues would be have been almost impossible. It is I think safe to say that
the world was a crueller place in the last years of the last millenium than it is now so to bring a transwoman in to the street was a bit risky even if it was as a blind date for the street’s most hapless but likeable male Roy Cropper when she answered his request to a lonely hearts ad. Slowly but surely however the appearance of a trans character like Hayley began to change those attitudes.
However despite the obvious risks credit must go to Coronation Street writers and producers for taking the risk who for reasons best known to the them decided to swim against the tide at a time when being trans was often a subject for prejudice and mockery and more than that for making her appear real to the outside world by giving her same hopes and aspirations as any other woman and during her time in the street Hayley would have her fair share of dramas, dreams, and disappointments just like anyone else in a soap renowned for strong characters. This was to be no token tranny and I for one was glad of that.
Hayley’s life in the street may have began when Weatherfield’s most hapless reluctant Romeo Roy Cropper posted a lonely hearts ad and Hayley a pre op transsexual was the one who replied to it but it is how the Coronation Street scriptwriters dealt with normalising the relationship between the pair which was perhaps the most impressive feat but that it is exactly what they did and the rest of the story I think you know at least you do if your a Corrie fan and I certainly am. Well let’s put it this way it’s my favourite UK soap by a country mile and part of the reason is that the characters unlike Eastenders where they tend to be exaggerated examples of what we in Glasgow call neds are actually far more realistic and it was good to see that Hayley would be no different in this respect.
Through time Hayley’s trans status was largely forgotten about and she became accepted as one of the girls by her friends and neighbours in Britain’s most well known street. It would however resurface from time to time to act as a reminder to those who may pander to prejudice that they should perhaps not be so judgemental of people or lifestyles they don’t understand. I recall in particular difficult relationships with her son from her ‘traditional marriage’ a man ironically given the name Christian though his attitude was anything but, Roy’s mother,and the street’s queen bitch Tracy Barlow.
My favourite of these was the relationship with Roy’s mother who being a plain speaking no nonsense woman of her time could not quite get her head round the fact that her son’s wife had actually been born male. However using her kindness as her most effective weapon she eventually won her mother in law round to such an extent that in the event of a disagreement she would actually back Hayley against Roy on more than one occasion.
I have to admit that I always followed Hayley’s story lines with particular interest as her story mirrors my own journey to a reasonably significant extent and in the fact I have similar values and moral traits. Indeed you could say that I am a younger version of Hayley with a bit more fashion sense and there is no doubt that having a trans character in a soap made it easier for me to talk about my condition to friends colleagues and neighbours about my gender identity when the time was right for me to take the step and live full time as the woman I had always known myself to be. For though she was a fictional character her appeal was more enduring than the transwoman who won Big Brother about a decade ago and her impact certainly lasted more than 15 the minutes of fame that reality TV show winners or contestants seem to get before going deservedly back to where they came from. In fact at the beginning of my transition when people asked me what a transwoman was like I used to say do you watch Coronation Street and when they said they did or have sometimes I would say well I’m bit a gabby version of Hayley. All of a sudden a light would come on and they would get it.
As I said Hayley’s life has to some extent mirrored my own in the respect that on coming out and living as a woman I did initially get a bit of unwanted attention from some people but it really was a seven day wonder and I have to a significant extent been accepted as the woman I am. This is particularly true in the cultural and political communities in which I play an active part and it is that acceptance which made me realise that any unwanted abuse would soon pass as I became just another woman who did the same things as their mum’s aunts sisters and daughters. Well believe me there is nothing more annoying for your would be tormentors or judges and trust me at the beginning of my journey I had to face situations particularly at work where there were more and I have to say poorer judges than the X-Factor than to see go about than to see you go about your daily business in the same way you always have done.
I have to say that in my opinion that was the real success of Hayley she normalised people’s perception of transwomen and made them realise than we are just the same as anyone else and capable of leading loving and fulfilled lives with a great and diverse range of interests and friends our gender identity may be a part of us but it does not define us or who we are.
As Julie Hesmondhaugh who played the part of Hayley for the last 17 years moves on to other things there was the issue of how Hayley would exit the show. It couldn’t be divorce as she and Roy had one of the happiest marriages in the street so it had to be a dramatic story and they don’t come any more dramatic than someone who is terminally ill deciding to take their own life. Believe me this story set Britain talking about the moral implications of such a decision but brilliantly written and beautifully acted it was a poignant end to the life of some of soaps most celebrated characters and Hayley Cropper had a life worth celebrating. Farewell Hayley you changed the face of the street and girls like me can walk with confidence because you did. After all you blazed a trail for girls like me and proved we really are just like anyone else.
Love And Best Wishes