My mother is the hardest working, most caring woman I know. She left her rural hometown in Victoria to study science at a time when it was rare to see a woman in a degree overrun by men. She instilled in me from a young age that I could be whoever I wanted to be.
When I told her I wanted to start ballet, for example, she’d take me to a ballet class. She loved hearing me sing and would help print out Spice Girls posters for my wall.
I recently asked Mom what fears she had as a mother when she knew, early on, that she had an effeminate son. I mean, it wasn’t that hard to see; at kindergarten, I was a fresh-faced, pink-loving, sometimes-piggy-tail-wearing boy surrounded by my best girl friends.
She told me that she just wanted to protect me from the outside world and equip me with the skills to cope.
Looking back, I have always relied on women for support through every chapter of my life. When I first heard “gay” in the playground in primary school and had no idea what it meant, the girls told me not to listen to the noise. In high school, I felt like I could be more of my true self around girls. I didn’t have to groom myself as much, watch what I say, or have to keep up any type of macho act — I felt comfort.
“All I could do, through those years, was just be there. Keep you well. Be really supportive of everything you do,” Mom recalled. “But there were times when you obviously weren’t happy, and I kind of put that down to teenage angst.”
“But it wasn’t up for me to say ‘Louis, do you think you’re gay?’” she added. “There are a lot of effeminate people in the world who aren’t gay. So you can’t pigeonhole everyone.” I’ve always been proud of her liberal-mindedness, but we both agreed: I had to figure things out on my own first.
Louis Hanson and his mom.
The first person I came out to was Ashley. It was such a beautiful cliché: I wrote a letter and gave it to her down by the beach. Ash was patient and caring and we just sat there, talking like nothing was new. The next few people I told were also girls, each encouraging me to speak my truth and embedding me with more self-confidence.
“When you did come out,” Mom remembered, “all these memories of this beautiful boy flooded back. You know, I’d go to balls and you’d come up and you’d wrap yourself in the folds of my dresses.”
“You had that sensitivity that was always there,” she continued. “We’d go on dates. After school, we’d go to that chocolate shop and get a hot chocolate. I read to you all the time; you loved books. You were always really patient, and good for me.” I’d like to believe that, but I know she was the patient one.
My auntie had the same compassion for my cousin Damon. “She let me dress up in all her clothes and would laugh and tell me I looked pretty,” Damon said. “She would never think twice about me wanting to play with dolls or playing with her makeup. She was the one that pushed me to start dancing, even when I never considered it.”
They would drive around together singing to Kylie, Madonna, and Britney. “She let me embrace my femininity, and I thank her for that. This helped me when it was time to accept me for who I was and [to know] that this was okay. I was allowed to be the person I was.”
In a society bound by masculine constraints, women also encouraged me to embrace my femininity.
Women gave me a voice; a voice that, for many of us, involved the shattering of my own internalized homophobia and shedding the shame I'd been spoon-fed by society.
“Sometimes I think back and I get a bit melancholy,” Mom told me, “but, you sort of think… I’ve got to believe I did the best I could. I tried to give you as much as I could, to encourage you with everything. You had to work through a lot on your own… so hopefully you know we’re always here.”
I recently asked some of my close friends about moments when women helped them grow.
Louis Hanson with his mom and dad.
“I went to Adele with my Mom,” said one. “Adele told a story before her song about how, when looking at your newborn son, you’ll do anything for them to be happy and who they want to be. A week later I came out to Mum and she quoted Adele.”
“I remember when a relatively new friend just said to me straight up, ‘So you like boys, right?’ As if it was the most natural and non-eventful question,” said another friend, Oscar, “and it made me feel really comfortable in that being queer isn't abnormal.
For every queer man, there's a strong woman beside him who has empowered him to embrace his true self. We all have our stories and important women in our lives who have held our hands every step of the way towards self-discovery, so reach out to the important women in your life today — be it your auntie or mother or friend or teacher — and hold them. Hold them tight and thank them. I owe my entire being to women, especially my mother.
You gave me everything and more, Mom. I love you.
Feature image: Clay Waddell