I'm Proud of My Street Sex-Swap Role.It's Helping to Beat Bigotry

Article excerpt

WHEN actress Julie Hesmondhalgh was told she had been chosen to play a transsexual in the most sensational storyline in soap history she could have been forgiven for feeling a bit miffed.

What woman likes to be told she'll be playing a woman who is actually a man but who dresses up as a woman?

But for the struggling actress, who just a few weeks before was working as a cleaner and behind the bar in a London pub, the role of Hayley Patterson was a dream come true.

"I wasn't the least bit insulted they cast me as a man," says Julie - who looks 10 years younger and 20 times prettier than her screen character.

"I don't have delusions of grandeur about the way I look. But I DO know I look like a woman so it really wasn't a problem for me."

For the past week 28-year-old Julie has had the nation gripped with her sensitive and moving performance as transsexual Hayley, whose boyfriend Roy Cropper threw a wobbly when she told him she used to be Henry.

But her portrayal of the sex change character has angered Britain's transsexual lobby. They have slated it as demeaning and inaccurate, and claimed that the transsexual character is being made a figure of fun.

"That's just not true," says Hayley. "There's no way either me or Granada see this as a funny subject.

"I know the transsexual community have experienced terrible prejudice because of fear and ignorance, but this storyline has actually got people talking about a subject they might otherwise not have known about.

"I think the whole thing has been incredibly positive.

"It's always been my dream to play a character in a popular soap that carries this kind of responsibility, the kind of role that makes people think and maybe changes their attitudes.

"Someone even said to me the other day that their 10-year-old son and all his friends couldn't talk about anything else, and that's fantastic. Surely that has to be one of the responsibilities of soaps - to make a difference to the way people think.

"I know a lot of the transsexual community were upset that it was a woman playing the part of Hayley, and not a transsexual. They thought it was a cop-out.

"But we wanted the character to live and breathe a bit so that people could get to know her without prejudice.

"We didn't want people to be fearful of her and dislike her for the wrong reasons.

"Even before I got this part I had total empathy with transsexuals, as I would have with any group who've suffered at the hands of bigots and stupid people. Having talked to them I know they've had a tough time, but I hope that, within the bounds of what I can do, I can help people to understand. …