Writing by and photographs courtesy of Ajay Banks
Photograph of Ajay Banks Photograph of Ajay’s mother
All my life I have surrounded myself with strong and beautiful women. I would love to say this was a choice, but like so much in my life I feel it was pre-destined. From the beginning, like most gay men, I had a close relationship with my mother, but like all 15-16 year olds, I believed the whole world was against me, including my parents. So you do all those childish things like slamming your door and telling them you hate them, that they’re ruining your life. Looking back, I realise now that it was my experiences with my parents that helped shape the person I am becoming.
Almost two years ago, I watched my mother lose both her parents within six months. My grandparents were the very core of my family, connecting everyone to each other. Then they were gone. I found myself looking at my mother in an entirely new light. For a long time, it seemed like she had lost her glow, and it frightened me. It forced me to accept that eventually, we all become parentless—a terrifying notion to entertain at any age, let alone 23. Although my mother’s glow dimmed, I saw something else emerge, something stronger and entirely more tender. She became a person who refused to let the loss of her parents destroy and define the rest of her life. She became, alongside my father, the kind of person who turns their grief into something positive and beautiful.
My parents decided to set up a “home stay” for families suffering through cancer. They renovated a beautiful cottage, “Bella Rose,” in their home town of Mansfield, at the base of Mount Buller in Victoria, to allow families a break from their daily lives. My mother also donated a “cuddle cot” in my grandparents’ name to Bendigo Hospital, a type of crib that helps stillborn babies to be preserved for longer by regulating their body temperature, allowing their grieving families to spend more time with them. The next step in my mother’s journey is undertaking a Certificate in Health and Home Care so she can be accredited to visit and take care of people who are sick, allowing them stay at home longer. This is the woman my mother has become. Don’t get me wrong, she has always been a supportive and amazing mother. Her loss just allowed her to become an even more selfless person, who pushed her grief in the direction of love and giving back.
After the loss of my grandparents I read the most amazing novel: Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I continue to recommend it to anyone who has gone through grief, loss of a loved one, or even the loss of self. It not only helped me to deal with my own grief, but also strengthened the respect and love I had for my mother. The author states, “I would want things to be different than they were. The wanting was a wilderness and I had to find my own way out of the woods.” Sometimes, we let our experiences define us—my mother was someone who was lost in grief, and she realised it would be better to help as many people as she could whilst finding her way out of her grief.
My oldest sister went from being my best childhood friend to a mother herself at 19. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realised how much it had unnerved me. We are only 16 months apart, yet she had done this incredible, amazing, and selfless thing: she brought another life into this world. This life would completely redefine our family in the best possible way. I strongly believe that my nephew strengthened my family in so many ways; he was the one thing missing from our family that we didn’t even know we needed.
Like most siblings we spent a lot of our youth together and then casually drifted apart. It happens. But I have watched in awe as my sister went from being a struggling, single mother, raising the most incredible son, to this year forging her own path in journalism at the age of 26.
I believe the strength my siblings and I possess was inherited from our grandmother. On the eve of the anniversary of her passing I find myself constantly stopping and giving thanks to her for everything she has taught us in both her life and death.
It seems that 2016 (the year of change, I am told) has allowed me to work with some of the most incredible female writers, directors, and creators. The women I have been working with have revealed and taught me so much about myself and my acting.
Earlier this year I worked on a short LGBT film entitled “Kiss 20/20”, a film about two straight best mates who, after kissing, realise they are in love with each other. The director Natalie Spence was an absolute pleasure to work with. Though it was the most intense set I have worked on, it was also the most calm, professional, and tender. I credit all of that to Natalie; she encouraged me (and the other actors), cradled me when necessary, and pushed me to the best of my ability. I cast quite early on in the project (as one of the two mates), so I was fortunate enough to witness much more of the process than I normally would have. We had numerous meetings about what she and I both wanted and needed from this project. She valued my opinion and I was in awe at how much passion she had not just for this story but the reasons behind it. I was also involved in the casting of the other lead actor (it felt wonderful to have the tables turned). Natalie wanted the chemistry between us to feel completely natural and it felt so wonderful to have my opinion be so valued. The film’s main message is you can’t help who you fall in love with, and I wholeheartedly agree. It’s such a lovely film and I cannot wait for everyone to see it. We are hopefully working on another project before this year is up.
I am so thankful to be surrounded by so many strong and beautiful women, both personally and professionally. I thank them for everything they have, and will continue, to teach me.[share]