As a lesbian, I often feel the urge to be vocally happy in my engagement to a woman. It's a spiteful parry to a book I keep on my shelf as a joke: "The Unhappy Gays," a messy assortment of Christian ramblings about how queer people are actually miserable, pilfered from the collection of my deceased grandmother.
When seeking visibility, common romantic holidays and traditions are great in reducing the 'gal pal' effect — when people assume a sapphic woman is out with a friend, rather than a lover.
What better than Valentine's Day to be obnoxiously, wonderfully gay?
Too bad my impressions of V-Day have been … let's say, soiled.
In February of 2009 I was 17 and working up the nerve to break off my abusive relationship with the adult man whom I'd been dating for two years, long before I was able to come out as queer. This Valentine's Day will be the 10-year anniversary of that decision. I still have nightmares.
As time passed, I looked forward to V-Day, hoping one year I would finally have a happy relationship. Some years, I dreamed of the mind-numbingly perfect date of rom-com legend; the kind so good you still remember it when you're old and crusty. While some years I looked forward to discounted boxed chocolates. There were others where I was in a relationship, but contrary to my hopes, though, I don't remember anything but the disappointments.
This year, finances allowing, I'm getting married to a woman who makes me feel like the hurt and abuse and neglect I went through as a young adult is finally behind me. If there was a time to plan this magical Valentine's date, it would be now.
Except … I'm just not feeling it.
Is it giving up? Am I losing something by letting a romantic holiday be ruined by my trauma?
For some, the decision might be easy. Many feel that Valentine's Day is a corporate scam that has nothing to do with St. Valentine — whose historical significance is convoluted and highly dubious anyway. It's not hard to opt out of the celebration.
Say whatever you like, but that doesn't bother me. If I want to have a nice time, I'm going to have a nice time. It's not like my individual abstinence will stop other people from participating in a holiday, and I'm not a big spender anyway. The value to me is the experience and atmosphere. Or, at least, it would be.
The question for me is: "Is it worth it?" I don't think it is anymore.
Is it worth dredging up traumatic memories in hopes of planting new and better ones? Unearthing trauma in therapy is one thing — digging through the dusty box in the back of your attic just to find societal approval borders on self-harm.
It leads me to question why I desire acknowledgment from straight, cisgender people in the first place. The assumption that a gay couple is just two "besties" is invalidating, but deliberately seeking out opportunities to challenge that might be going too far … then again, I'm totally the kind of person who would kiss my fiancée in front of homophobic protesters. (Another act of defiance from the days when a girlfriend and I had bottles thrown at us while we were walking down the street holding hands.)
I don't think it's wrong to loudly challenge lesbophobic and homophobic attitudes about us, but doing it at the expense of my mental health is a rather poor idea, and even worse in practice.
At this point in my life, I'm okay with Valentine's just being another day on the calendar. I can make other meaningful anniversaries with my beloved; I don't need the validation of a dead white man who may or may not have actually existed to be a happy, visible lesbian. It helps that my fiancée doesn't celebrate V-day or care about the cultural performance involved.
Maybe I'll change my mind in the future. Maybe another decade will pass and the wounds will be healed, and I'll be able to take this silly Hallmark holiday out of the recycle bin, rinse it off and enjoy it again. I can't say that I won't.
This year, though, I resolve to let Valentine's Day to be just another day. Boring, meticulous and intimate in its own special way; she and I sitting in the same room working or idling, speaking occasionally and enjoying the intimacy of the mundane. Seems like a much more positive way to heal from the ghosts of relationships past.