Even before I came out as bisexual, I never liked Valentine’s Day. I grew up seeing couples giving each other boxes of chocolates, dollar store balloons and stuffed bears year after year — a reminder my loneliness. It also othered me in my queerness — my identity as a femme queer person of color influenced how I saw and moved through the world, isolated by everything that made me different.
Even now, Valentine’s Day remains the absolute pinnacle of heteronormativity and straight culture, and that’s not by accident. Look past the fun pink and red color palette, and you’ll notice who is allowed to celebrate publicly – and who isn’t – as dictated by social and political norms. Many people in queer relationships, especially visibly queer ones, still don’t feel comfortable holding hands in public, let alone engaging in other physical forms of affection.
This is obviously an issue in film and on TV, where depictions of straight couples are abundant. Still to this day, queer relationships in media are often a second thought or, even worse, only included for diversity points. Then there’s the dismal number of queer rom-coms that exist. Even with a film as groundbreaking as last year’s queer-focused “Bottoms,” we’re not adequately represented and included in the national conversation. No wonder so many of us haven’t felt like we could or should celebrate.
It’s not like we haven’t tried to make this day our own. I can’t tell you how many blog posts and guides I’ve read that share tips for how to celebrate Valentine’s Day as a queer person, or how many Galentine’s Day brunches I’ve tried to organize only to feel like I’m masquerading as someone I’m not. I know plenty of us would just rather say “screw it” and completely boycott Valentine’s Day altogether and, honestly, that’s not an invalid response to a holiday that has never tried hard to include us.
But I’d argue that when our rights are being debated and taken away on the political stage as is our current reality, when we’re not getting the representation we deserve onscreen, when the world would rather we be invisible or not exist altogether, there’s no better time than the straightest holiday of the year to celebrate ourselves and all the different ways we love — to reclaim this day as our own.
This year, I’ll be celebrating Valentine’s Day for the second year in a row with my partner. Among other things, being with him has helped me fall in love with Valentine's Day because it’s always unexpected. Last year included a morning at Chuck E. Cheese and an evening watching a horror movie and building a bouquet of Lego flowers. He’s the kind of person I can have fun with anywhere, which has completely shifted my feelings about this holiday.
We’re in a straight-passing relationship, so this day is complicated for me because it forces me to come to terms with my own privilege. I never have to worry about holding his hand or showing any other form of affection in public. I don’t have to pretend he’s just a friend to other people in my life. By all accounts, Valentine’s Day isn’t that hard for me to enjoy because our queerness is, to most people, invisible. Yet that also means that when people look at me, a major part of my identity is erased. I’m not seen in the entirety of who I am. I’m a pinboard of other people’s assumptions.
But as I’ve grown up and thought about the differences between perception and truth, I’ve come to realize that it matters very little what other people think about me or if they assume I’m straight, which has only ever granted me safety. If I’m going to embrace Valentine’s Day without feeling shame or uncertainty or embarrassment, I have to look outside myself and embrace the community that accepts me and celebrates me and loves me for who I am. It’s the community that keeps my faith because platonic love, especially among queer folks, is just as sacred and important as any romantic relationship we’ll ever be in.
So this Valentine’s Day, in addition to spending time with my partner, I’m also planning to write and send love letters to my queer friends. I will also organize an event at a local space for queer folks to write their own love letters. Maybe I’ll even organize a potluck dinner. If I want people to start looking at this day in a new way, I have to start by making it a safe and comforting experience to do so. Because the truth is that it’s long past overdue for queer people to reclaim Valentine’s Day and establish new rules for how we show up, rather than changing ourselves to fit. Being with our partners and being in community with one another is one of the most powerful things we can do. Because queer people, and all the ways we love, are worth celebrating.