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UP graphic by Noah Dawlearn
UP graphic by Noah Dawlearn

Henson finds self in love from other

Chance Henson, right, with Shawn Hare.
Chance Henson, right, with Shawn Hare.

Love is fickle. It’s strange and it moves in ways no one thinks is possible, and today is one of those days that makes or breaks love — Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day is widely celebrated, typically filled with roses, chocolates and love letters. But for some, love doesn’t always come easy.

LU alumnus Chance Henson is an international private charter flight attendant from Jasper who said his first Valentine’s Day was anything but happy.

  “My first Valentine’s Day was an awakening,” Henson said in an email interview. “I’d lived most of my life within the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as in the closet as a gay man.”

Henson said that when he finally came out to his congregation and friends at the age of 21, he was immediately disfellowshipped from the congregation, and later, by his family at the age of 22.

“If you’re unfamiliar with Jehovah’s Witnesses, this process includes being cut off from contact with all of your friends and family who are members of the organization,” he said. “In short, within a few months of coming out. I found myself entirely alone, except for a single friend, my best friend, who was not a member of that religious group.”

Henson said the coming out process was difficult, but he opted to see it as an opportunity to learn as much as possible about the world outside of the organization, which, consequently, meant being able to explore his sexuality. After six months, he unexpectedly met his now boyfriend, Shawn Hare.

“Meeting Shawn was unexpected,” he said. “After so many years of living in an oppressive organization, which not only managed all of my relationships but also lead me (and countless other queer people) to believe that I was somehow a broken person who should never love or be loved, I found it impossible to form romantic feelings for anyone.

“That first night, however, when Shawn walked through the door of Easy’s (an old tapas bar in Beaumont), I saw him from across the bar and thought, ‘I absolutely must get this guy to talk to me somehow.’ He was the most beautiful, charismatic man I’d ever seen in real life. Shawn is one of those rare people who can walk into a room with such confidence and charm that he completely fills it with his presence. We talked for hours that night, finding that we had this incredibly easy, yet intense connection.”

Henson said it was love at first sight, but, having never loved anyone before, it took him a long time to realize it.

“The catalyst was our first Valentine’s Day,” he said. “It was about a year after we started dating. I still had very little understanding of customs like Valentine’s, Christmas, or even birthdays — aside from what I saw on television. I’d never been exposed to these holidays, so I took them at face value and assumed they were simply as commercial as they appeared.

“I think that without a familial narrative to allay the foundation, it can be difficult for outsiders to access these sorts of customs.”

UP graphic by Olivia Malick
UP graphic by Olivia Malick

At the time, Henson was working a graveyard shift doing security at a local plant.

“That night, when I went to work, Shawn sent me an enormous bouquet of flowers, four-tiered-Valentine chocolates that stood at least three-feet tall and a beautifully written card,” Henson said. “I, for my part, had sent him nothing. I don’t think I even knew that it was Valentine’s Day. I just thought, ‘Oh, well that’s kind of fun,’ thinking that it was just one of those things people do around holidays that I didn’t really understand.”

Henson said he wondered if there was some sort of protocol for Valentine’s gifts he didn’t know about.

“It was all a bit confusing for me,” he said. “I dismissed the thought, assuming that Shawn would overlook my ignorance, as he had for so many things in the past year (including my being oblivious to his birthday). But not this time. For Shawn, it was a devastating realization.

“I’d crossed the line from being ignorant to being self-centered. When I saw him the next day, there was such an awful look of hurt in his eyes, like I’d physically stabbed him in the chest. I still didn’t know that I was in love with him, but in that moment — I should have.”

Hare broke up with Henson shortly after — and it was the best thing he could have done at the time, Henson said.

“It took me several months to finally realize what he had given me,” Henson said. “Each of the gifts, thoughtful words and intimate experiences he’d shared with me over that past year, which were new and seemed a little strange to me, were his way of healing me. He loved me, and he knew that I would never have happiness as I was. Shawn had spent our time together teaching me to love myself.

Chance Henson, left, and Shawn Hare, right, have been together for almost 10 years after the pair met in a tapas bar in Beaumont.
Chance Henson, left, and Shawn Hare, right, have been
together for almost 10 years after the pair met in a
tapas bar in Beaumont.

“It is the greatest gift anyone could have ever given me, and it changed the entire trajectory of my life. That realization hit me like a ton of bricks and forced me to acknowledge how precious his love is to me, as well as the horror of the pain I’d inflicted on him.

“His gift allowed me to emerge from the toxic fog of shame and self-loathing in which I’d been hiding, and in the confidence that comes from loving and being loved, I found pride of self — of being a gay man, but more so, pride that such an incredible man loved me.”

Henson said he confessed all of this to Hare when the two met again.

“Ten years later, that Valentine’s Day, and the explosive fallout from it, is a cornerstone in our relationship — a poignant reminder that love is a precious gift,” Henson said.

Henson and Hare currently live on a cattle farm in Orange, have been together for 10 years and are planning a wedding for next year. The two founded Beaumont Pride together and founded the original “Coming Out Ball,” which is now managed by PFLAG. Henson is also an escort and mentor for LGBTQ members for the upcoming ball, which will take place in May.

Story by Cassandra Jenkins, UP editor

Category: Features