Pantisocracy S5 E4 ‘Phoenix Rising’
Welcome to Pantisocracy, and this is your host, Miss Panti Bliss.
Hi. Hello. Hi, they’re all waving at me manically so thank you. Hello and welcome to my Pantisocratic parlor of delights. And I have spent the last few hours getting ready and looking particularly gorgeous. So I hope my guests here really appreciate it. And for those of you who are in radio or audio podcast land, you can check out the videos of this show on Pantisocracy.ie and then you can apologize to me for doubting me.
Now today we are talking about the art of transformation, becoming the person you feel you are meant to or want to be. And I’m using that gorgeous bird, the Phoenix, rising up out of its own ashes as a way of thinking about becoming your true self, something which I guess in a way I do all the time. When dull old Rory becomes glamours Panti Bliss.
And I have gathered together a thoughtful and if I may say so, a very good looking group of people around our sofa to talk about transformation not just of ourselves, but also of the places where we live.
And they are going to share some stories and, you’ll be glad to hear, some music too. So let me introduce them. With me is first a woman of words and wheels, it’s the fabulous writer, culture commentator Louise Bruton, who once had Grace Jones no less sitting on her lap. Don’t worry, we’ll explain that later. And Louise is well known for being a voice for equal access for all, including those like her who navigate the streets and the clubs in a wheelchair. So welcome, Louise. We’ll give you a little clap. We’re socially distanced without our usual crowd.
Next, we have a young man who knows all about transformation, transgender activist, Noah Halpin, who, as he says himself didn’t choose to be born transgender, but did choose what he did about it in making the transition to becoming Noah and letting go of the body and indeed the name he was born into. So welcome, Noah.
I’m liking your lockdown hair.
And then we have a woman who carries some of her transformation in her double handled, barrelled name, it’s Indian born poet Nidhi Zak/Aria Eipe. I’ve been practicing that. And she found her voice in poetry when she settled in Ireland a few years ago and had to let go of and grieve for several losses in her life. So. Welcome Nidhi, it’s a pleasure to have you.
And then we have a woman of music and sound magic composer, musician Úna Keane, who is going to give us some tunes later, and she has a typewriter with her. So I’m very curious to find out how she’s going to be using that. Welcome Úna thank you for coming.
And finalement as they might say in the French speaking parts of Belgium, we have a stunning young woman of song and style, Melina Malone. Greek/Irish in background with a voice of seductive silk. She grew up in the flats near Harcourt Street, actually near where we are today recording, right here in the heart of Dublin City. And she, like every other singer and artist around the country, is dying to get back to live audiences.
And by the way, if you happen to have seen that amazing collaboration of Irish women singers online recently doing a lockdown cover of Dolores O’Riordan Dreams in aid of Safe Ireland which campaigns against gender violence, well, then you’ll have seen and heard Melina in the mix. We’ll talk more about that later. So welcome.
But just before we talk to our guests properly, I am going to hog the floor for a moment, if I may, because this show we have called Phoenix Rising and that always, the Phoenix, makes me think of my mother because you see my mother once described me and my older gay brother as being like two exotic birds that just landed down on top of us. And I’ve always loved that description.
So this show got me thinking about me and my exoticness. And, you know, there are a few questions that I get asked all the time, mostly, how come you’re so pretty or, no seriously what age are you really.
But another one is why did you become a drag queen? And the simplest honest answer to that is because I like it, but I know that that is not the answer they want. It doesn’t satisfy the complex tangle of curiosity and the many other half formed questions roiling beneath the calm surface of that simple inquiry, why did you become a drag queen? But the truth is that there is no simple, easy answer.
There are a myriad answers and myriad reasons, some big, some small and some I’m not even entirely sure of myself why I became a drag queen.But if I have the time and if I’m in a generous mood, I’ll try to explain one of the bigger reasons.
I quite like Rory. He’s not perfect by any means. He’s a terrible procrastinator. He’s poor at time management, doesn’t have the patience for box sets. He panics when he has to buy somebody a gift. He can never spell the word accommodation correctly at the first attempt. He has weird toes. And he’s been an extreme night owl all of his life.
But I like him. I’m comfortable in him. I’ve had 51 years to get used to him and I’ve learned the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. I have a jumper that I quite like too. Now, it’s not as old as Rory, but in jumper years it’s as old as Rory. And it’s not perfect either. It’s a little worn and there’s a raggedy hole in one sleeve. It’s lost a lot of its shape. It’s worn thin and threadbare at the elbows and it has a weird bleach stain on one of the shoulders.
But I like it. It’s lamb’s wool and it’s soft and comfortable and feels homey. But I do not wear it every day. Sometimes I pick it up and it looks boring. It looks not like me. I mean, it’s exactly the same jumper that I wore yesterday, the same jumper that I felt cozy in yesterday that I felt right in yesterday.
But today it looks dull and wrong. It looks nondescript and invisible. It looks Danish and Hague. But today I’m not Danish and Hague. Today I am Brazilian and I’m going to Carnival. Or today maybe I’m Alexis Carrington Colby Dexter and I have a board meeting to sweep into and slam my hand on the desk and say, “Don’t fuck with me, fellas. I own fifty one percent of this company” and Alexis Carrington Colby Dexter doesn’t wear cosy, faded lamb’s wool jumpers.
She wears sharp shouldered power gowns and sweeps into boardrooms in heels that change the shape of her steel spine to make her stand and walk with purpose and power. She has no use for a jumper that makes you invisible. She is a woman who gets seen, gets heard. Alexis Carrington Colby Dexter is exciting and glamorous and powerful and fun and in Technicolor and sometimes doesn’t everyone want to be Alexis Carrington Colby Dexter. So I wasn’t entirely truthful at the beginning when I told you that the simplest, honest response to the question, why did you become a drag queen, Is because I like it.
Because in truth, the honest, simplest response to why did you become a drag queen is, why the hell didn’t you? Thank you.
I want to explain to Grace Jones reference Louise. I’ve been on your lap and Grace Jones has been on your lap and many people, explain that.
So I’ve got a thing called famous people on my knee, which is where I approach, so I’m in a wheelchair that won’t compute via the airways, but I just ask famous people to sit on my knee for a photo and it’s always the reaction which they give, which is always the best. So Grace Jones full on, straddled me and tried to kiss me. And then I got to go to an after party in workmans and she got on her hands and knees and sang Happy Birthday to me, which was great.
And then Taylor Swift, I completely warmed to her because she was so on board with how weird it was. And I was like, oh, you’re actually as strange as the rest of us, you’re not this Barbie doll pop star. And yeah.
Cause that’s one of those things where you’re turning your wheelchair to your advantage because it’s impossible to say no to you know. Noah have you ever met anybody more famous than me?
Yes. I almost knocked Beyonce down behind the main stage of oxygen music festival in a golf buggy.
Wow. That’s a good one. It is. And Nidhi what about you?
Oh my god. Just Barack Obama. Oh my god.
This was right before he became president.
What’s the story with Barack Obama?
I was living in Chicago and some friends were part of the campaign, so but that was before he was elected so.
Listen it’s more impressive to have met him before his presidency. Oh, you know, I’ve known him for years. That’s pretty much the vibe of it all. Anyway, we’ll listen, Louise we are kind of talking about transformation and in many ways all of our guests represent it in different ways. And yours is interesting because it was thrust upon you, I guess. For the benefit of our listeners, of course, you’re here in a wheelchair today, but you haven’t always been.
I was born with a walking disability, so I’ve always had a disability my entire life. I’m very familiar with being in hospitals and having surgery and all that kind of thing. But I think as I was growing up, I was always told that I didn’t look like I was disabled. So there was this idea thrown upon me that I was different to other disabled people because I went to mainstream schools and yeah.
What does that even mean? You don’t look like a disabled person what does a disabled person look like?
I have always been very comfortable with myself, but it’s when I come up what other people think, what disability should be. That I suddenly find complications in that, um. So as I was on crutches for my childhood in my teen years and then when I was 17 for aesthetic purposes, I had my right leg amputated so that I would have two feet on the ground. So that was another kind of physical transformation.
Sorry, just to go back slightly to being a school kid and a teenager on crutches. Like that really marks you out in school I mean.
Well it marks you out in the way but I could also pretend so I wouldn’t have had different treatment because I could trick myself into thinking that other people would think I just had a sprained ankle. So that was, because I noticed if people ask me oh what happened to you when I said, oh, I’ve just got a walking disability, suddenly their tone will change. But if I just said I just sprained my ankle and it’s it’s business as usual,
it’s so funny Noah will understand that definitely she was trying to pass me, you know, like transgender people talk about passing, you know, whether, you know, people, you know, know or don’t know by looking at them, you know, where you were trying to pass as somebody just had a sprained ankle.
completely like that was the whole thing where because I was incredibly physically strong for my entire life. But then when it got to the point so the reason I had my foot amputated was I was born with one leg shorter than the other. So it was just for aesthetic purposes that I had would have two feet on the ground.
Aesthetic purely no practical benefit?
No practical benefits, because I thought I didn’t have any strength or power in my right leg so it wasn’t assisting anyway. But there was the idea that it might prolong my walking years. I was always given the age of 25 for when I would shift from being a crutches user to be in a wheelchair user, And that started roughly happening when I was about 23, 24. But I was in a massive kind of stage of denial with that. And I actually didn’t really socialize much for about two years.
And it was a very much a mental battle where I had to accept the fact that this was what my life was going to be, but that as I did start using the wheelchair, I was kind of switching between crutches and wheelchair. Like if I was going long distances or that kind of thing, I’d use the wheelchair and then again, I would notice how people were looking at me differently, and how the conversations were changing and then also how my social life was changing because beforehand on crutches, I could go upstairs to the smoking area of a pub or a nightclub.
Because you love your nightlife, you’re fun.
But then suddenly when I was in the wheelchair, I was then a fire hazard and I wasn’t allowed to do that. But as I started using the wheelchair, I then realized that there was this whole other world open to me that I never had before. I suddenly gained back time. But suddenly, because I was in this position as a music journalist who’s in a wheelchair, work became a little bit difficult because music venues aren’t all wheelchair accessible.
But then because I had this little little sliver of limelight, I was then asked a lot about disability issues and then in turn that always led onto sex and disability. So that was the main question that a lot of people working in media wanted to know about. Specifically if I was going in to talk about access and building regulations, which I know like the back of my hand, the question was, do you have a boyfriend? What’s your sex life like? And I just had no clue.
If you ask many 23, 24 year olds if they can define their sex life, it’s just the shoulder shrug. I don’t know. And then I was suddenly on radio stations and magazines were asking to do an interview with me about it.
So it was then this new thing that I’ve come to realize that with disability is a lot of people within the media want to know about your sex life. And it’s just unfair. And that’s the new way that people look at me. So then as a result, I’ve kind of spoke I’ve had a play about sex called Why I Want to Have Sex with Me in the French show, which is why do people keep partnering the fact that I have a physical disability with the need to ask, what is my sex life like?
Yeah, people are funny like that.
Now Noah, I’m actually going to come to you here because in some ways your story is well, it’s echoes it in some ways, but in some ways it’s almost the mirror opposite because Louise’s transformation was sort of forced upon her and then she had to adjust to that, whereas yours was the other way around in the sense that you almost had to force it on other people in a way.
And you had to you instigated the change.
Yeah. I mean, I will always maintain that, you know, a transgender person is never going to be, you know, truly, truly happy until they can live authentically and live them themselves. So although, you know, we don’t choose to be transgender, such as people don’t choose to be gay. And I did choose to transition because I knew that I wouldn’t be happy. I wouldn’t be truly happy until I did that.
Well, I mean, I think it’s true of everybody. That nobody can be truly happy unless you live in your real self. And there’s a billion variations or eight billion of that.
It’s just I guess it’s really obvious in a way, when it’s a transgender person because you’re so far away from your real self and you have to accommodate that somehow.
Well, I always knew there was something I’d never say wrong with me. There’s nothing at all wrong with being transgender. But there was something different about me growing up as a child. You know, my first memory of anything, gender variant was a three years old. And I really remember it vividly. And I used to think when I was very young that I was growing up to be a boy, which is, you know, such a naive thing to think.
But I mean, when you’re three or four and gender doesn’t mean anything and but then, you know, growing up, I remember my puberty, it started very early at about eleven and I was devastated. I couldn’t wear trunks and the swimming pool anymore and, you know, things like that.
And I was this dismissed by everybody as oh you’re and all that stuff?
Yeah, a complete tomboy. I remember my mother bought me a jumper that said tomboy on it. If only she knew what was to come. And but, you know, you’re going through that. I ended up in an all girls boarding school. I mean, a great school, but not the right environment to be able to come out in. And yeah, I mean, people say, when did you first know you were trans? And I always say when I heard the word because I didn’t have the language as a child.
And I remember seeing a documentary about a young trans girl. And I said, oh, my God, there’s a word for it, and that’s what I am. There’s nothing wrong with me. And, you know, I used to kind of think, are you a lesbian? Is that what it is? But then I’m like, oh but, I don’t fancy women. So, you know, I knew I was some something to do with the LGBT community, but I didn’t know what transgender was.
So when did you tell people?
I did the classic thing all young Irish people do. I disappeared off to Australia for two years where I started kind of I cut my hair off. My mother went mad, but I cut my hair off. I started using a different name in Australia where no one really knew me. But then I came back and I had to go back into the closet and I was so unhappy. Then I just said, no, I’m after spending a year or two living as the person who I am and now being put back in this box.
And I got really, really down. And I decided after a night out in the George sitting having a three in one in charlie’s. At about three thirty am with a friend curry sauce on my chin and ended up just saying to my friend, you know, I’m transgender. And his response was just but you’re really good at doing makeup.
I think, if that was the response, I mean, I can’t wait to tell everyone else. And then after that, I kind of just wanted to shout it from the rooftops.
And of course but then people have different reactions, family members, friends, neighbours, whatever. So I know from talking to before it hasn’t all been easy. And, you know, it’s not like you decide one day and then everything’s good.
No, I mean, especially for people who knew me before I transitioned. They come on that journey too in a sense and there’s a transformation for them, too. And, you know, they’re getting used to calling you something or referring to you as a certain pronoun their whole life or my whole life. And it can be much more difficult for the people closest to you to understand, you know, the people close to me, we still have some issues with it.
But I mean, I’m just hoping with time, things like that. But I have to say, the majority of people are excellent. My queer family are my family. And you know, they’re my best friend.
I know some of your queer family. They’re always looking out for you and I’m going to come back to you about some other stuff later. Melina I want to come to you.
So we’re recording very near where you grew up, although you moved out the suburbs, didn’t you?
Yeah. So I grew up in charlemont street flats just around the corner. For about sixteen, seventeen years I lived there.
So I moved in there with my family when I was one.
What year did leave there?
I think it was 2012.
God you know, because I lived in Charlemont Street while you were still there.
Really. Oh my God.
Now you are beautiful. I’m sorry to keep mentioning it, but I just. You are beautiful and you are part Greek.
Yes. So my mom.
Because you can sort of see your beautiful olive complexion coming through and all.
Yes so my mom is half Greek. That’s where my name comes from. That’s what her real name actually is. She found out when she was 21, when she got her birth cert that her first name is actually Melina. So everyone called her Linda in Dublin.
She grew up in Cabra and she was raised by her grandmother, who was Irish, and she never knew her Greek father. Her mother passed away then as well.
And so she was raised by her Irish family and they kind of just didn’t think that it was important, you know what I mean?
Which is crazy. And I think they were a little bit like the name Melina is a very, very unusual. It’s kind of too far for Ireland you know what I mean? just cause their middle name is Linda.
That’s why everyone called her Linda, which is why she didn’t know for years that her real name was Melina. And then she just loved the name so much that she passed it on to me.
Well it’s a beautiful name, And what do you know about your Greek background, or do you care?
Very little, to be honest. My mom tried to find out as much as she could,So they lived in London, my grandparents, my mom’s mom and dad. And she they were battling a lot of addiction problems and I think a lot of mental health problems as well.
So she kind of like left the family and nobody had really heard from her in years.
When you were growing up, the Greek, you know, part was not really part of your family stuff, but you clearly have some interest in it because the way that I first discovered you is from your version of a famous Greek song.
Tell us about that. And then we’re going to hear song.
Yeah. So the song that I incorporated into my own music is called Ti Ein Afto.
Well, the full name is Ti Ein Afto Pou To Lene Agapi, and it’s a famous Greek folk song that they use a lot for belly dancers.
Yeah, Sophia Loren in a Boy on a dolphin. It was also used in the film The Lobster recently.
And yes, I haven’t seen it but I heard that. Yeah.
And it’s absolutely gorgeous. So I was trying to find something different, something unusual to try to bring to college. And I found this song in Greek and it just completely spoke to me when I heard it first.
And because obviously when I showed it to my mom, she couldn’t believe it. And so I just said I learn it for her. I picked it up pretty easily. I obviously don’t speak Greek but yeah.
Anyway you’re going to do the song for us. And Steven is going to join us to accompany you.
All right. Let’s hear it.
Melina Malone performs Ti Ein Afto
Thank you so much. That was wonderful.
Nidhi I want to come to you. Your story is actually. It’s one of those it’s hard for other people to even grasp because.
Well, you’re born in Bombay or Mumbai.
Let’s start there.
The briefest version. so my before I was born, my my family was based in the Middle East because that’s where my dad worked. And when I was born, someone, both my parents are from India, but they’re from different parts of India.
So when I was,
Do they speak the same language?
No, they don’t speak the same language. So the only language they had in common was English. And in the Middle East where my dad was working, it was an oil and gas thing. Most of the employees were British. And so there was only one school it was a British school.
And, um, I was the only non British kid there. Me and my sister. So when I was I was I was born in India. My parents wanted us to have Indian passports. And both my parents family still lived in different parts of India. And then I was just born there. And then we were taken straight back to Abu Dhabi at the time.
Your mother, wildly pregnant, flew back to India. Just to make sure you had the passport.
Yes. So part of the issue is that you couldn’t really get citizenship and you still can’t get citizenship in Middle Eastern countries if you’re a foreign resident. So my parents, my dad moved around a lot with his job. And then in 1991, the Gulf War started the first Gulf War. So we were evacuated and sent back to India. I was maybe seven or six at the time. And then we were kind of thrown into this.
We were partway through the school year. Nobody was going to give us admission. We didn’t know how to speak their language. You know, it was it was a very strange situation.
So you’re kind of thrown into a Hindu school where they taught in English, but that Hindi was, you know, a very prominent part in this.
Well your education and schooling is something that really piques me, because on this show, I’m thinking we’re talking about transformations and you would be sent to an ashram.
And this really struck me. So the the the monks would swap the names.
You would have to swap your name with somebody else with one of the other students, and then you have to answer to their name. And so in a way, they made you swap identities. Well, why?
Well, so one of the practices that we had was in our community in Asanga, we had to we had to swap names with someone else for a week, and you’d have to answer to the other person’s name and they’d have to answer to yours.
And we all had to do these kinds of little jobs around, you know, community things. So you’d be either cooking or you’d be, you know, doing stuff in the garden and things like that. So in a way, it didn’t really matter whose name was being called because you just had to do the thing that had to be done.
But see to me now that really struck me, because in some ways, I mean, maybe I’m totally reading the monks wrong and they would be horrified at my interpretation of this.
But mine is that they were teaching you to let go of all of the trappings of identity in a way which is something, of course, that I’ve said I’m doing and I’m interested in.
And yet identity is so important to people. It’s so intrinsic to people, how we see ourselves and how other people see us. Labels are very important to people.
And and in a way, I felt that the monks were teaching you to just not care about it.
And am I right or I might have. I got that all wrong?
I think you’re right. I think in a way, when you look at someone, you’re not seeing them. You’re seeing. Sort of a projection version of you, so you never actually ever seeing anybody really or hearing anybody really or feeling anybody really. So it was an attempt to sort of move beyond that, you know, that very sensory kind of perception that that in many ways is extremely flawed, the ways that we frame a narrative in order to make ourselves feel comfortable in a place to make ourselves feel like we belong.
Yeah, but then your name that you use professionally as a writer, you punctuate it, but you’ve taken this as a slash in the middle of your name. So can you explain that to me?
Yeah. So my full name is Nidhi Zakaria Eipe, Zakaria Eipe is my dad’s name. So you take on your dad’s name. So what I did is put a slash between the Zak and the Aria. So now people either think it’s it’s two people or it’s my alter ego or.
I heard that sometimes you arrive at events and you people have to chairs to sit in for you. So is it an alter ego kind of thing?
There’s two reasons why I did it. One was because I didn’t want to become attached to to the name and to the things that it brings with it, because I think once you have a certain amount of recognition and once your name becomes public in a way, people start to attach things to it. And I think you can get attached to that, which for me is not a version of who I am. So I didn’t want that to be a thing.
The other reason is because one of my favorite poets CZESLAW MILOSZ wrote a poem called Ars Poetica. And in it one of the lines says the purpose of poetry is to remind us how difficult it is to remain just one person because the doors of a house are open, there are no keys and invisible guests come and go at will. And for me, that always resonated because I think this idea of of being one identity in oneself is quite a myth.
I think that, you know this especially with how the media kind of goes about their definition of integrity and authenticity. And it’s like, well, if you hold two conflicting opinions in your head, you you’re not being a person of integrity. And it’s like, no, you’re just being human. That’s what we are as humans. We’re conflicted. You know, we we’re contradictory sometimes. You know, I think it allows you to be vulnerable in a way that you can’t be when you are just seen as one monolithic being who could never change.
Everyone is capable of change and do change. And the person you meet today is not the same person you meet next year.
Your work is beautiful and you’re going to do a very short but well, I would say almost perfect little piece.
First, you want to tell us the background to this, because it does connect the monks we were talking about.
Yes this is this is a more personal poem that I wrote about my childhood and it’s talking about desire. And it’s looking at how we can never really hold on to anything but that there’s also a sort of beauty in that. So this poem is called loss.
When I was still little. I had a teacher, a monk. Sometimes I’d really want. Some thing some body to stay. I’d shy up to him. Ask, What to do with this desire? He would take my hands in his. Cup them as a single heart, say, what are you trying to hold on to? Loosen your grip, see? The whole sky resting in your palms. Now, Sometimes still I walk outside. Palms spread eagle to sky and watch. And everything that I have loved falls through. My fingers. Like silk.
So beautiful, you know, and so this show like I say, vaguely about, you know, transformation.
And now Úna, yours again is very different. And you’ve spoken very publicly about what happened. But for the benefit of listeners who may not know, for example, you told Ryan Tubridy using unflinching, brave detail, we don’t need to do all all of that.
Again, I’m projecting and you can correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like so when you were 21, you had an incredibly horrific, awful and violent, awful rape.
And it changed you. You weren’t the Úna that you had been and then took you time to find a way back to Úna. And who you are now.
Well, I have done a lot of work to get to a point where I am now. And I kind of felt that there was a little bit of shame left in the corner. There was a bit of. Yeah, but you’re not really good enough. You’re not really you know, you can’t really just go out there and show yourself. You can’t just be yourself without putting all sorts of obstacles in front of myself and complicating. So I would hide.
I have overcome that. And I think it was a brave thing to do to share, because it seemed to think, even though I am shy and quiet in myself, I felt it was important to do that. And I cleared the decks.
And you were 21 at the time and you were in France and you’d been working in a bar and you were cycling home and you were attacked by a stranger.
It was violent. It was just the worst possible. And you were completely alone. And you didn’t tell anybody?
No, I went in to myself and it took me seven years to tell anybody about it.
Not a single soul?
Apart from the clinic I went to just to get there the morning after pill.
And did people close to you think you notice that there was something different about you? Wrong with you?
Yeah, they did. But I, I’ve always been quite, somebody who’s lived in my own head anyway, so. Yeah, no definitely they noticed but I was good at hiding it as well. However I think what is important is you talked about how people can change and I’ve grown to a point where I’m not afraid to show my imperfection. And for a long time, like Elizabeth Gilbert says, perfectionism is fear in high heeled shoes.
Well look at my makeup and clothes, I’m not that perfect. Yeah.
I mean, Even just talking a few months after having spoken to Ryan and the amount of women, especially men too, who just came up to me and hugged me and said, you know, I’m going to the rape crisis center now. After that, I really that’s really moved me. So I’m glad from that point of view, I have an amazing family. I’m very lucky. I grew up in a loving family, great friends, but I am quite a stubborn person.
I didn’t like to show my vulnerability. Now I’m all about vulnerability.
I mean, I totally appreciate that part of it because I was that way. I don’t like to show weakness. And I, and I know that that’s all has, you know, prevented things in the past, you know.
But as a woman, it’s taken me a long time to come into my feminine and to show to be comfortable with my sexuality.
Yeah, well, your goals, because you were very young when the attack happened and inexperienced.
Yeah, and I suppose when you’re dare I say when you’re attractive as well, it’s it comes at you. There was so much I couldn’t I didn’t want to be defined by the experience, so I shut down many aspects of myself. And what helped you? What helped me was a number of things, I suppose, and learning to really love myself.
It’s nothing groundbreaking. It’s messy. It’s, you know, there’s nothing tidy about it. But for me, music has always been a very big part of my life.
Well you are going to do a piece for us and I mentioned a typewriter because you do use,
Yeah and you’re kind of multi dimensional in that there’s projections and you’re unafraid to try things.
I am. I’m really into trying things now. And it’s yeah. I think it’s exciting. And it’s I feel very lucky actually, aswell, because I was able to become a mom finally two 1/2 years ago to my little Willow.
I hate to go on about age but she’s 46.
You look incredible.
Now tell us about the piece you’re doing for us. And this is the typewriter thing. So I’m. Mildly curious.
Yes, this is piece called Typewriter Song three, because there was two others. Exactly. And there’s definitely an element of improv to this. That’s what I love about it, but I will just I’ll type. It’s an industrial it’s an old typewriter. I got in Oxfam home furnishings in Francis Street for thirty euro.
It’s giving me Dolly Parton 9 to 5 immediately, of course. Let’s hear it.
Úna Keane performs Typewriter song three
Gorgeous, Well Noah, I want to then come to you here, too again, because now you made a very difficult, huge, big decision to have surgery.
And not every trans person does. But in order to have your surgery, you had top surgery, you had breast removed. You had to go abroad. You couldn’t get it done here.
So tell me about that, because that is a huge thing for anyone to decide.
Yeah I mean, I knew from the get go from when I came out, it was like one of my ultimate goals. I you know, I had a very, very large chest. There was no hiding that even with a binder. It was very difficult.
If you don’t know It’s like a corset for your chest. Basically, it pulls all your breast tissue in and it’s very, very tight it causes a lot of trouble with your spine, your lungs, ribs, you name it. And so I did that. I was binding for years and I just said, no, I have to do this. And like you said, unfortunately, there is no surgery options for trans people in Ireland. So I had to travel to Poland last October to have a double mastectomy done.
And myself and one of my best friends Will just went over to Poland for 12 days and stayed nine days after surgery, travelled home very, very sore. But it was to date, you know, after coming, it’s, I think the best things I’ve ever done in my life.
You put a picture up on your social media of the first time in public you were able to, like any guy, has done a billion times taking his shirt off in nice weather.
Yeah and it was the first time I was able to you know, I got the surgery in October, so I’ve not seen any nice weather since I’ve had it done. But you know myself and Will, were sitting in Stephen’s Green Park and, you know, he took his shirt off and lay down.
I was like, oh, I can do that. Now, that’s something I can do.
And, you know, it was just it’s the little things. It’s things like being able to take your shirt off and, you know, And lie on the grass, it’s wearing a white t shirt. I could never, ever wear a white T-shirt because you could always see my binder underneath. And, you know, the first time after surgery, even wearing a white t shirt, I was like, emotional about and it’s just a white t shirt, you know what I mean?
But there’s lots of little things. I swam for the first time in about six years in January. And I just it’s, you know, all these things that nobody would ever really think about, even things I didn’t think about before I had my surgery that I can do now or things I’m not worried about anymore. So it’s even sexually too. I mean, it’s improved my life mentally, physically, sexually you name it, it was a hard decision, but it made me more me if that makes sense.
Now, Úna, you also, you know, made a big change.
I mean obviously, your getting back to yourself is just such a huge thing that I feel like. Yeah, that that’s your life’s work. But then you decided you wanted to become a mother and you did.
Yeah. It was something that was really Important to me,
Can I ask why?
It was it was important because it’s something I didn’t think I would be able to do once I unraveled that, I realized it was. The fear of intimacy, was blocking me. I decided I wanted to become a mum on my own. I didn’t want, well at my age as well because I was in my late 30s when I started trying.
And I realized that pretty quickly that I had fertility issues.
It was IVF. And I think we all know that’s expensive and it can be can be long and difficult. And was it for you?
It was it took it took every penny I had to. I went through four IVFs and on the fifth I finally got pregnant with a lot of help. And I went to the Czech Republic and I got a lot of help.
I did get a lot of resistance from those near and dear to me. They were terrified. You know what?
You both had to go abroad, you and Noah, like to get surgery. That was. Yeah.
But I’m so grateful that it’s there. And I mean, the love that I share for her and have for her, it’s made me it’s made me a much, much more connected person.
Melina, I’m coming back to you for two reasons, because I want to end on something beautiful and we’ve been to some dark places today.
I also want to say about growing up near here, it’s changed so dramatically in your lifetime.
And I live in a building it’s 40 years old. And I met a taxi driver there a couple of months ago and he told me he grew up where my building is, and I never even considered what was there before.
And his community was wiped out overnight. And I now feel guilty for living in my apartment. And in a way, you symbolize so much of that.
You’re twenty five from the flats here in the city center and now you’re struggling to be able to afford to live somewhere because everything’s so expensive and you have a boyfriend and you’re, you’re emblematic of a new cultural exchange.
You’re everything about the new Ireland. I’m saying to you.
I suppose I am. I mean, yeah, it’s incredibly frustrating that I’m 25.
And I think nearly everyone in my age that I know is still living at home.
Nobody can afford to go anywhere. And the places that we cherish are kind of disappearing in front of our eyes.
And I’m really hoping that this this time right now is kind of waking people up a bit and making people like we’ve known this, We all know that this isn’t the way we want things to be in Ireland, you know what I mean?
But I’m really hoping that this, like, instills a bit of action and and what do we want to return to?
And what do we want it to be?
What does what is the new normal? You know.
We’re going to bring Stephen back in because he’s going to accompany you again.
This is a song called Realize.
It’s about women and femininity and taking back your body, I think a little bit.
So kind of apt in a way.
It certainly is apt,
I hope you enjoy it.
Melina Malone Performs Realize
Fabulous, fabulous, you know, I’m not sure what’s more impressive, your voice are that incredible long hair of yours.
That is it for today’s episode of Pantisocracy. Thank you very much, everybody out there for listening. And thanks, of course, To our incredible guest, Louise Bruton, Noah Halpin and Nidhi Zak, Úna Keane and the beautiful Melina Malone. If you are listening to this on the radio, you’re missing out because if you go to the podcast, there’s much more it’s longer, there’s more stuff. And on pantisocracy.ie you’ll find videos of all of the performances and much more. So that’s it for today.
Please, if you want to join me next week for a very different group of people and a very different conversation. Goodbye.
What does it take to become the person you are born to be? In this episode of Pantisocracy host Panti Bliss meets five people who share their stories of becoming at home in their own skin. Joining Panti are Louise Bruton, Nidhi Zak/Aria Eipe, Úna Keane, Noah Halpin and Melina Malone who all share moments of intense change and transformation in their lives.