Tag: Bubblegum

Those Who Dream’s Hazel Meyer is the beam of trans light Australian pop needs right now

It was on November 30th, 2022 that Hazel Rue Meyer – one half of Perthian alt-pop powerhouse Those Who Dream, and one of the Internet’s most underrated shitposters – came out to the world as a transgender woman. For most of her fans, this was not entirely surprising: Hazel spent much of last year performing in feminine clothes, her hair growing longer and her makeup becoming bolder and more ambitious with every new photoshoot. As one commenter so elegantly put it, the closet for Hazel was made of glass.

My Spidey senses first tingled back in April, when I saw Those Who Dream open for Short Stack in Naarm/Melbourne. Hazel played in a twee green sweater – the kind a Disney Channel magnate in the mid-2000s would flip her shit over – with her cheeks soft and tinged with blush in the unique way estradiol seems to make them in the first few months of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). I remember writing my review of that show and feeling stumped when it came to the paragraphs recapping the duo’s set: I wanted to spotlight Hazel by name because she absolutely stunned with her performance, but it felt wrong to use masculine pronouns or prefer to she and singer/guitarist Josh Meyer as “brothers”. At the time, the drumming Meyer had not identified herself as anything other than a cis man – but it was very obvious the person onstage thrashing up a storm alongside Josh was not a cis man.

Though Hazel hadn’t yet told anyone she was trans (aside from the care providers that facilitated her HRT), she’d been on hormones for roughly three months. It was also then that she started road-testing the name Hazel. She tells me: “I was in Melbourne for a couple of weeks, and I went to Starbucks every day. So when they asked for my name, I would say, ‘Hazel,’ and they were like, ‘Yeah, cool, Hazel’ and write it on the cup. And I was like, ‘Nice. That looks great, sounds great… I like it.’”

Hazel’s egg-cracking came at the turn of her 20s, immediately after she’d watched an episode of Euphoria and inadvertently connected to Hunter Schafer’s (openly trans) character Jules Vaughn. “I walked away from the TV,” she says, “and then my jaw just dropped and all the explosions started happening. I was like, ‘Wait a damn minute!’ And then chaos ensued.”

The subsequent reckoning was “a layered explosion”, Hazel says, noting that “so much of [her] life started to make sense” after being walloped by the bombshell revelation that she was a girl. “I always assumed there was something fruity going on,” she says of her budding sense of self as a child, “but I just didn’t know what it was. For so long, I was thinking, ‘Am I queer in some way?’ And the answer was, ‘Yes, but in what way?’ And then eventually, I came to the realisation that [my queerness] had nothing to do with sexuality and everything to do with gender… One of the first things I thought [when I realised I was trans] was, ‘Oh, that explains my literal whole life. That explains why I only ever got along with girls. That explains why I always wanted to wear women’s clothes, but not in a boy-wearing-women’s-clothes way, like in a woman-wearing-women’s-clothes way.’”

Reflecting on her earliest memories of gender as a concept, Hazel says she spent the bulk of her youth feeling “confused”, and quickly learnt to repress her wandering thoughts about a possible life outside the masculine binary. While the Meyer household itself wasn’t conservative, Australian society at large had (and still has, to a slightly lessened degree) a palpable repulsion to visible queerness – particularly when masc-coded people show any kind of femininity. “When I would like things that were feminine,” she says, “I would be called ‘gay’, and I saw that as an insult, so I just started repressing [my femininity]. And every time the questions came up in my head, I would ignore them and be like, ‘No, that’s not what’s happening.’”

As a time-honoured coping mechanism for a litany of traumas, repression served Hazel well in her youth… Until, of course, it didn’t. “Something I learned about repressing things is that you don’t really have a choice when it comes to the surface,” she says, explaining that her metaphorical pipes started leaking metaphorical backwater at the literal age of 14. “Little bits were coming out,” she continues, “and I was going, ‘Well, maybe this is a sexuality thing. Maybe I’m bi or something?’ And then I thought, ‘No, that can’t be right,’ and just kept ignoring it. I thought, ‘This is a journey I will get to someday, but right now I cannot be bothered doing the self-work it would take to understand this.’

Hazel was a newly minted adult when those metaphorical pipes burst and flooded her brain with metaphorical debris. Jules Vaughn was not the first transgender character she’d seen represented onscreen; that was Laverne Cox’s Sophia Burset in Orange Is The New Black. But especially in earlier seasons of the dark-dramedy, circa 2014 when Hazel’s egg had taken its first hairline fractures, the character of Burset (and by proxy, Cox herself) was not exactly celebrated as the trans heroine she was. As Hazel puts it: “The representation was like, fine – it was good, but there was also a lot of negativity that came with it, so my takeaway from that was, ‘Okay, being trans is bad and you will be bullied and beaten up for it.’ So I definitely wasn’t thinking, ‘Oh, that could be me’ – I just thought like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting…’”

Euphoria, meanwhile, handles Jules’ transness with incredible tact – not even in contrast to OITNB, but (mostly) just in general. Most crucial is that her identity is very rarely used as a narrative device, and when it is, it’s because it’s relevant to the overall story and her admirably dense, multi-faceted character arc; like virtually every character in the show, Jules endures a seemingly unending ream of trauma – but never explicitly at the expense of her transness. She laughs and fucks and hangs out with her friends – thrives – as a girl first and a trans girl second – and seeing this opened Hazel’s eyes to the fact that transness does not, by default, equal ostracisation. Cue, the aforementioned pipe-burst.

“It felt like I was having a conversation with my brain,” she says of that formative moment. “My brain said, ‘You’re a girl,’ and I said, ‘No I’m not.’ And then my brain said, ‘Yeah you are.’ And I said, ‘Oh? Oh! Oh shit!’ And then my brain was like, ‘Yep… Have fun with that.’ And I was like, ‘Wait, doesn’t society, like, hate trans people? …Fuck. I’m fucked. My life is about to be really bad – I don’t think I want this.’ And then over the next few days, I was just trying to rationalise why maybe I wasn’t trans; I was like ‘No, there’s… There’s got to be something else going on! This can’t be true! This is not where I saw my life going!’”

What followed was a few weeks of veritable agony, followed by gradual acceptance – “I thought, ‘Well, this is my reality. I can’t choose to not be trans, and if I repress it, I think my life will be even more horrible’” – and then a spiral into dysphoria when she “looked in the mirror and realised that how I felt about myself [didn’t align with] what I was seeing”. That lingered once she’d eventually learned to embrace her womanhood – when she “realised I had to live in a body that didn’t reflect that [womanhood]” – but after “a few months of pain and dysphoria”, Hazel took a forcible step forward to kick her feelings of self-hatred. “I sort of had to learn to love myself,” she says of the process, “and be comfortable with a lot of things that I’m not necessarily happy with, but have to live with for now. I could change what I could, and do little things like book doctor’s appointments and buy cute clothes… I could give myself little bits of joy to hold on to.”

One of those little bits of joy, as noted earlier in the anecdotal mention of her crippling Frappuccino® addiction, was her newly adopted name: Hazel Rue Meyer. She initially planned to transition under her given name, because the prospect of eschewing from it – something so innately linked to her identity (or at least the first 20 years of it) – was a “total culture shock”. She explains: “It was another thing that was really hard for me to get my head around: ‘Not only am I a different gender to what I thought, but I have to go by a different name too?’ I didn’t think I was going to do it. But my [birth] name started giving me a lot of dysphoria, and I started feeling less and less connected to it.”

Names are a fickle thing: sometimes our parents give us certain names because they hold a deep personal meaning or have rich familial ties – and sometimes we’re named random shit just because it sounds nice. Sometimes it’s a mix of both. Equally variable is the process of choosing a new name for yourself. Some trans people spend years mulling over potential options, backups and spellings – I, for example, spent about a year on mine, and road-tested one other name before landing on ‘Ellie’ (a name with ties that are deeply significant for myself, but in short, comes from The Last Of Us). Some fans of Hazel’s have linked her new name to her features – she has warming brown eyes and luscious brown hair – and her middle name could nod towards her love for Euphoria (Rue being the name of the show’s Zendaya-played protagonist); truth be told, though, both ‘Hazel’ and ‘Rue’ actually came from baby-naming websites.

The ‘shortlist’, as it were, started at a solid 100 names – “I’m a perfectionist,” Hazel quips. “But then I narrowed it down to like 50, then to about ten, and then about three. I tried a few different names – just saying them out loud and writing them down on paper – and my two favourites ended up being Hazel and Rue, so I decided to make Rue my middle name and Hazel my first name. And once people started calling me that, it just felt right.”

Next came the medical aspect of transitioning – the importance of which, it should be stressed, is entirely subjective and not at all essential to “the trans experience”. It was and is for Hazel, though, as she beams that HRT has given her “everything I could have wanted and more”. She says of the journey thus far: “It was never really a question for me, if I was going to do it or not – it was just a given – but I had no idea what I was getting into. I didn’t expect nearly as much of the emotional turbulence. I mean, you’re pretty much going through a second puberty, so you’re just a hormonal mess. And I really wasn’t prepared for that, because I was also going through so much else – you know, getting ready to come out, and just transitioning in general, it’s a whole mental mindfuck – so to have the hormones going crazy on top of all that… It was a lot.”

Because she’d started HRT before she told anyone she was trans, Hazel’s coming-out timeline was not something she had complete control over. Playing in a band with her brother, for example – someone who knew Hazel better than virtually anyone – it was inevitable that Josh would eventually grow suspicious of his sister’s physical evolution. He and their sister Ashleigh were the second and third people Hazel came out to (following her girlfriend at the time), and she tells me that Josh in particular “wasn’t very surprised”. She chuckles: “I told him and my sister at the same time, and both of them said they knew something was coming. I mean, look, I was on hormones for a long time, and it was getting pretty obvious. But they were happy for me!”

Having always been so close with his sister, though, Josh went through somewhat of a reverse metamorphosis: though he was strictly “amazing and supportive” at first, Hazel says, her brother’s perspective shifted slightly as he fully processed it. She elaborates: “We’ve always told each other everything, so he was just taken aback by the fact that I kept this from him for so long. But that led to us being more open with each other than we ever had been, and I think the whole experience has strengthened our relationship so much more.” 

After telling her (now ex-)girlfriend and siblings Josh and Ashleigh, the obvious next step for Hazel was coming out to her parents – the “scariest” step in the journey, she says, but one that her siblings “hyped [her] up and gave [her] the courage” to take. “Josh literally had to start the conversation for me and fill in the gaps where I couldn’t get my words out,” she says, assuring me that her parents have been “very supportive” of her transition, but noting that she “didn’t really take into account that it would be a very emotional [process] for them as well”. 

“There was a lot of mourning and just coming to terms with it all,” she elaborates, “which is totally fair enough. I didn’t really predict how tough it would be for all of them, or that it would bring a lot of turbulence to my relationships as everyone processed it in different ways. It’s almost like I needed to reintroduce myself to all of them – to let them know that I’m still the same person… But also that I’m not? It’s a really difficult thing to put into words.”

As a public figure, Hazel knew that at some point, she’d need to come out to tens of thousands of people at once – a prospect so daunting that most of us couldn’t begin to comprehend its gravity. But in the weeks leading up to November 30th, Hazel’s prevailing emotion was “just eagerness”. She did endure a brief cycle of catastrophising (naturally), but admits that after a few weeks of wading through those mental rabbit holes, “I was just like, ‘Oh my God, can I do it already!? I’m so bored of being closeted, I just want to be myself!’”

There was no real significance to the date on which Hazel came out publicly – the only prerequisite, she notes, was that she did it before heading out on the Good Things tour at the start of December: “I had packed my suitcase and it was full of dresses and skirts, and I couldn’t turn back.” She says of that turning point: “I was ready to be onstage as myself. And then it got to about three days before the first show and I still hadn’t come out, so I was like, ‘…Dammit, I guess it’s time.’ I had the photos ready. I drafted the caption – the first draft just said ‘am girl lol’. But the moment itself… I was in an Uber, I clicked ‘send post’, and then I dropped my phone and just turned it off, and didn’t look at it for like an hour – and then I got back to where we were staying in Melbourne and had a big cry. I meditated a little bit – I put some headphones on and just did some breathing – because I was just so fucking… It was a lot. It was a lot of emotion.”

Once her adrenalised surge of emotions settled, Hazel felt “just so fucking relieved” to be out. It helped that her friends, family and (of course) fans all rallied around her with rapturous aplomb: “I expected people to be nice, but not that nice,” she says, still a little shocked by the unremitting wholesomeness her coming-out attracted. “I expected at least a couple hate comments, but I didn’t get any. I knew that most of our core fanbase is queer, so I didn’t have any doubts about them [being receptive to the news], but we also have a lot of casual listeners and people who aren’t necessarily super-fans, who I know would be less experienced with this kind of thing.”

Particularly daunting was the crowd at Good Things – a festival of predominantly hard-rock, punk and metal-adjacent bands, where Hazel would be one of nine women on the bill (contrasting 121 men), and one of just two non-cis people. Hazel was understandably terrified by “all the metal dudebros” she’d be surrounded by all weekend, but quickly found that they “were actually some of the sweetest guys” she met on the trek (citing members of The Gloom In The Corner and Polaris as notable legends). To boot, all the festival’s crew – some of the toughest-looking motherfuckers in the industry – were nothing short of lovely. “It made my heart happy,” she says, describing her overall stint at Good Things as “such a special experience”. 

As for Those Who Dream’s sets themselves, Hazel considers them some of the best she and Josh have ever played. Her cheeks crease with the weight of her big, dorky smile, growing more as she reflects on the “incredible” euphoria she felt upon darting out onstage. “I knew it would be special,” she says, “but it definitely exceeded my expectations. Just seeing actual people in the crowd, seeing them seeing me for the first time, it felt so good. It kind of felt like a press tour, re-presenting myself to the world and being like, ‘Hello, look, it’s me! I’m wearing a skirt!’ I can’t wait to keep doing it.”

I didn’t get to see Those Who Dream play at Good Things, but I did see approximately 2.8 million Instagram Stories from their set, all of which showed a band in their truest, most energised form. Especially life-affirming was how the bulk of those focussed on Hazel and championed her in those moments, celebrating that she was finally able to perform as her true self. It was no small moment for this legion of young Australian music fans – most of whom identify as queer themselves – because they’re able to connect with Hazel on a unique level. This “scene” does have a healthy cohort of transfeminine idols, but Hazel’s character makes her stand apart from her peers: she’s a role model for Gen Z’s class of shitposting alt-pop fanatics, and she adores having that role.

“I get to be the representation that I didn’t have growing up,” she beams, tearing up when she notes: “People have messaged me to say I’ve helped them on their journeys to discover who they are, or given them the confidence to come out.”

Like most in her position, Hazel wasn’t briefed on the ins and outs of being a perfect role model – “I’m a little scared,” she admits – but that’s part of the process in helping her fans figure themselves out: she, in realtime, is figuring it all out for herself. “I will absolutely take that torch [as a role model for trans women in pop music],” she says proudly. “I mean, role models usually say a lot of amazing things, and that feels like a lot of pressure – but I will happily take it on, because I just want to be that [role model] for people so badly. And I think it’s okay to be imperfect as a role model, and just live your life authentically and publicly; I just want to show people that you can be trans and have a great life.

“I guess the only way I can do that is just be vulnerable and honest, and not hide any parts of myself. I think I wasn’t a very good role model for a long time, because I wasn’t honest, and I wasn’t showing my true self… It’s hard to be a [prominent figure on] social media and post everything about your life. But I know I appreciate it when other people do that, so I think other people will appreciate it when I do that.”

In the way of her own role models, Hazel cites Hunter Schafer, Kim Petras and the late Sophie as three notable trans women who showed her it was possible to live authentically and thrive at the same time. She has a particularly strong love for Schafer, who she admits, blushing, “became [her] comfort person”.

“She just seems really happy,” Hazel says, “and she’s just living her best life. She has a poppin’ modelling career, a poppin’ TV career, and she gets to date Dominic Fike – she just makes me very happy and gives me a lot of hope. And her modelling career is just about her being a beautiful woman; it’s not like all these brands are going, ‘Look, we got a trans model!’ I think that’s really cool.”

For her formal coming out last November, Hazel (directly influenced by Schafer) organised a photoshoot to “debut” herself as both a trans woman and a model. “I’ve always loved modelling,” she says, “but I always struggled with knowing that I was meant to give off a masculine vibe, because that wasn’t something I wanted to do. In a lot of our earlier band shoots, when we had a makeup artist, I’d whisper to them and be like, ‘Do your worst.’ Like, ‘Glam me the fuck up – give me all the lipstick and stuff.’ So I got to dabble in it. But to fully be myself and do a photoshoot that is fully, like, ‘divine feminine’, embracing everything about that… It was really special. It was a really important project for me. It was just me, a makeup artist [Amelia Hart] and a photographer [Jarrad Levy, who is also queer], and there was just a lot of beautiful energy between us. And when I saw the photos, I just felt like I was me, you know? I’m really excited to do lots more of it.”

In those photos, Hazel has this celestial, pseudo-angelic glow to her; she doesn’t look into the camera, but keeps it peripheral – she knows it pines for her attention and relishes in teasing it. Herself fixated on something just out of reach, she occupies this grey zone between innocent and sensual, hovering ethereally and teetering on the edge of the bridge between fantasy and reality. Above all, she looks feminine. She’s delicate and tender and pretty and soft; she “passes” flawlessly, the way most trans women only ever dream they could. But the topic of “passing” brings a pause to our conversation – it’s a loaded topic for most trans people, and one Hazel is still dissecting the minutia for in her mind.

“I naturally want to pass,” she says, “like, I have a natural urge to want to. But I can kind of unpack that a little bit and understand that passing doesn’t have to be the goal. I do think the idea of ‘passing’ is kind of toxic to trans people, because it perpetuates the idea that cis-ness is the standard, and you should just blend in and look exactly like a cis person. But I love trans beauty, and I love seeing weird, alien-looking people. I think it’s really cool. I wouldn’t want everyone to just look cis, and I’m glad a lot of people can embrace being outside the binary in that way. For me, I do naturally just feel like I would like to pass… But I don’t think it’s healthy [to think that way], and I’m trying to work through that.”

Internalised transphobia is something Hazel struggles with in many ways – as most trans people do. “I didn’t expect that to be a thing,” she admits. “I don’t think anyone does. Because you’re like, ‘Well I’m trans, how can I be transphobic?’ But our brains are just hardwired that way, from how we were brought up and how the media treats trans people, to have certain thoughts.” 

In order to reckon with and process those thoughts, Hazel developed a mental exercise whereby they’re allowed to materialise, but not take hold of her perspective: “When I have thoughts that I don’t necessarily resonate with,” she says, “I can choose to keep them, or I can choose to let them pass by. And sometimes when I have those moments of internalised transphobia or misogyny, I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting… Okay, goodbye.’ And I just kind of unpack it a little bit and let it float away, because I know it’s not how I truly feel.”

At 23, Hazel’s relationship with gender has blossomed into something beautiful. She’s no longer fighting with the binary, or trying to mathematically decipher her place within it. “I love gender,” she laughs, another genuine smile breaking through. “I was confused by it for my whole life, and I had a very, like, ‘Fuck gender’ kind of mindset. I was like, ‘I don’t like gender, because the one I have isn’t something I like. I just don’t like the concept of gender, I don’t like anything to do with the binary.’ But now that I’m so in touch with my womanhood, it’s kind of amazing to me. I love the binary. I love everything about being a woman… I mean, I still have so much respect for people who still say, ‘Fuck gender,’ and I still feel that on some level – but for me, personally, I’m very… Woman. Everything about it makes me really happy, and it just feels really true to me.”

As a career musician, Hazel’s personal life is intrinsically linked to her art; she and Josh have long used Those Who Dream as an outlet for their formative ruffles with mental health. Josh has long been the duo’s main songwriter, but as they earnestly chip away at new music, music videos and a short film, Hazel is “feeling more creative than ever”. As for how her transness will inform the project’s narrative, she says: “Our lyrics tend to mostly deal with identity and mental health struggles. I’ve always loved music that doesn’t shy away from talking about real shit… So yeah, I can definitely see us sprinkling some of my experience as a trans woman into our writing.”

That narrative itself, too, is set to expand with “some crazy shit”. Hazel teases an ambitious future for Those Who Dream, noting that she and Josh currently have “about 100 demos just sitting in a folder”, and a growing eagerness to share the fruits of their labour – first with a rip-roaring single called ‘Apology’ (which features an unexpected detour into thrashy mosh-pop territory) and then a follow-up to their 2017 EP Life In Cyan. “I think we’re just going to try and drop way more music and be way less perfectionist about it,” she says. “We haven’t really done that in the past, and we have so much music just sitting there – I think it’s time we just released a bunch of it. And our music videos, as crazy as they are, are only going to get crazier. The narrative we’re telling is going to come to a head, like the end of a season of Stranger Things.”

I watched Those Who Dream play their debut Melbourne headline show on Sunday February 5th. It was a powerful experience, partially for the band’s enthralling set – where Josh and Hazel bounced off and charged each other’s buoyancy, shining with the kind of ironclad chemistry that only siblings can – but also for how gratifying it was to be surrounded by so many other trans, gender-diverse and otherwise queer people, soaking in and igniting this eruption of celebratory emotion. There was a moment where Josh gassed up his sister’s recent coming-out – “Let’s hear it for trans women in 2023!” – and the crowd cheered louder than they had for any song. Hazel blushed and wore a 24-carat grin, but that wasn’t too notable – she spent virtually the entire set beaming, visibly enthralled to be living out her dream, trashing out onstage before a sea of adoring fans, as her true self. It was the happiest I’ve ever seen her. 

As a fellow trans woman in the very early stages of her transition, that gravitas cannot be overstated. Those early struggles in tackling dysphoria, getting your head around things like aesthetics and clothes and makeup, and societal pressures to pass a certain threshold of femininity – to say nothing of the confidence needed to be yourself in public, and the strength to weather seemingly endless pushback from the public… It can be a lot. But seeing Hazel thrive and live her best life, truly in her element and celebrated for it, assured me that I’m on the right path; that it’s more than worth braving those initial storms because what lies on the other side of them is more gratifying than any kind of safety “the closet” might offer.

That’s not to say Hazel’s journey is over, or even close to. Those Who Dream’s future, as it stands, is much clearer than Hazel’s individually – but that’s part of the fun, she notes in closing: there is no one definitive ‘trans experience’, and Hazel is making the most of hers. “For the first time in my life,” she says, “I’m actually excited for the future. I actually want to get out of bed, put on a cute little outfit, and present myself to the world. And that’s a crazy development for me, because I used to just want to hide away all the time. Suddenly I’ve gone from being too afraid to plan for the future, to having so much to look forward to. Sure, there’s a whole load of hardships and struggles that come with being openly trans in a world that is largely unaccepting – but I’d be lying if I said those weren’t outweighed by the absolute euphoria and sense of self-assuredness that comes with finally being myself.”

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