I bought a CD from an op-shop yesterday; a Britney Spears Greatest Hits collection. Back in the car, I held the CD in my hands. It was a strange feeling; I hadn’t listened to Britney for years but something compelled me to buy it.
Looking at this album reminded me of my seven-year-old self who loved Britney; I knew every move and every word to every song. I also had a plethora of Spice Girls posters on my wall at the time, accompanied by Spice Girls dolls and Spice Girls doona covers. To me, in a way, this CD in my hands was a snapshot of my childhood dreams.
When I was seven I would always make my father swap the boys' Happy Meal toy with the girls' toy at McDonald’s. When I was seven I tried ballet, as the only boy in the class. When I was seven I decided that I wanted braids in my hair whilst on vacation in Fiji. “I saw a girl with braids,” I wrote in my diary at the time. “We went to see if the braids lady was there. But the braids lady was not.” Eventually, I returned with my father and got them. I was so proud and went to the beach to show them off. There, a group of boys called me a girl and threw sand at my face.
That year, a kid asked me if I was gay. I shut off.
“I absolutely hate school,” I wrote at the age of nine. “I really hope it gets better because I don’t want to go through hell for another eight years. It has been so overwhelming for me and sometimes it’s too much, but that’s life for you, it’s made to keep you stronger. ALWAYS be who you are and the rest will come.”
Somewhere along the way, I guess this idea escaped me. I was growing older. My pages were covered with “piss off”, “danger”, and “seeing double, getting trouble”. Pages were ripped out.
I was scared. I didn’t fit in with the other boys. I had different interests; I didn’t want to play footy, or skate, or play soccer. I tried to listen to their music. I worked hard to subdue my flamboyance; I watched what I said and how I said it. I was ashamed of that seven-year-old boy who had Spice Girls dolls and Britney albums. I wished he didn’t exist.
At school, the word “gay” was never mentioned in the classroom, unless it was an insult. As a member of the Safe Schools program, I saw little action from them. In fact, in thirteen years of schooling, not one class was dedicated to LGBTQIA+ identity, or even gender and sexuality in general. Despite priding themselves on tolerance and liberality, tough rugby was favoured over participation in a Pride march. My school would later come to say, after I’d left, that they didn’t “want to be seen as promoting homosexuality”.
When the school formal came around, I asked a girl.
By 18, I'd discarded every passion and interest that I’d had during childhood; writing, singing, and tennis has become distant memories. I struggled; I had lost that seven-year-old boy. I had become an insecure, blank canvas. I had no interests and no feelings. I hated myself. I had become someone else.
And then I hit rock bottom.
I was anxious and depressed, and I was drinking a lot. I asked myself where I’d gone wrong, looking at the bare, poster-less walls of my room. How did I get to this point? Who was I, this fractured product of adolescence? What happened to that boy who promised to always be himself?
This prompted me to start talking about my feelings. At 19, I began re-reading my childhood diaries. I started to wear what I liked. F--k, it was hard to get to that point. But, as I said when I was nine, that was life; it would only make me stronger. Day after day, I did just that; I started to be unapologetically myself.
Now, back in the car, I looked at the Britney album in my hands. At 20, this was so much more than a CD.
In a way, everything had led to this moment. I felt like I’d finally come full circle. My mother often said, quoting an ancient proverb, “show me the boy at seven, and I’ll show you the man”. I guess she was right; at 20 I was reconnecting with that seven-year-old boy, before school and society and heteronormativity and mental health got in the way. I felt like I was reuniting with that seven-year-old boy who had been lost for 13 years.
This Britney album meant something yesterday. It was a nod to my seven-year-old self, in some way symbolising a form of reconciliation with the past. It was also a sign of the struggle to legitimate my identity. I tried to imagine myself as a boy, throwing out the Britney and Spice Girls albums against his own will.
Now, with this Britney CD in my hands, I felt like I finally knew him again.
I smiled, thinking of myself as a boy. I wasn’t ashamed anymore.
I turned up the volume, rolled the windows down, and blasted Britney from the car speakers. Adulthood and childhood reconnected. Boy and man combined. It felt good to be me again.
Louis Hanson is freelance writer, student at the University of Melbourne, and LGBTQIA+ youth advocate. Instagram: @louishanson