What is Valentine’s Day like for a member of the LGBTQ+ community living in a heteronormative world?
For me, Valentine’s season is a time to retreat from the online space, block those cringy couples on Instagram, turn off my Twitter notifications and unplug myself from the heteronormative world that tries to remind me that my love isn’t “real love”. Call Valentine’s Day whatever you want; call it a commercial and capitalist holiday created to rake in money from couples needing to spend more and more money in order to remain socially accepted; or, call it a holiday truly about love, an occasion created to honour your significant other for all the good and bad times that you’ve been through together. Being single during Valentine’s Day is recognised as notoriously difficult and businesses have jumped at the chance to capitalise on the human need for connection, with lunch deals for Galentine’s Day or third wheeling packages for you, your loved one and that single friend that you can’t quite shake off. Yet Valentine’s Day is just another opportunity to feel ostracised from the festivities if you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
When I was younger, before I came to terms with my sexuality and felt comfortable enough identifying as bisexual, social pressures around me reinforced both gender and heteronormative stereotypes surrounding Valentine’s Day. It started off as parental pressure, with my mother or father asking me who I was interested in, which was seemingly innocent enough in the beginning. They were just being typical nosey parents wanting to find out if I had a secret girlfriend because, if I didn’t, then the assumptive position of being straight was shattered. It felt like I didn’t have a choice but to be straight, not with the pressure I thought my parents were putting on me. So to get them off my back I got a girlfriend and entered into a contractually obliged lie. It became my job to look after her and when Valentine’s rolled around it was my job to buy her a gift, to buy her flowers and chocolate, or book a fancy restaurant to treat her like a real lady. I hated every single minute of it. Wandering around the card shops I’d be constantly bombarded with heterosexual couples on cards in a loving embrace, teasing and mocking me about the seclusion I feel from the heteronormative world. I couldn’t see one gay card, one pride card, one celebratory card that reminded me of all the struggles the LGBTQ+ community have overcome: and not much has changed since. Any form of romantic imagery began to turn sour and vile, creating a real distaste for this “holiday”, filling me with the urge to renounce all feelings of love and remain a hermit forever. I left feeling disappointed and especially unwanted.
Even when I was in a relationship with a guy, the thought of going out for dinner with him on Valentine’s Day made me sick to my stomach. Being in a queer relationship, I felt as though I was over analysing every action, every touch, every kiss, every intimate moment because we didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves. The season of love was reserved for straight people. Other weekends we could go for dinner just fine and it wouldn’t seem like such a chore because I just wanted to be with him, but the pressure of Valentine’s is a reminder that in a crowded restaurant you are the queer ones; the odd ones out.
Valentine’s Day is coming up and once again I can feel the pressure pushing down on me to “sort out” my queer identity, to be aligned to one gender and not lost somewhere in the middle but I am fighting for this year to be different. For Valentine’s this year I’m rediscovering my love for anything and everything queer. So I urge you to try and do the same as me, to grab your gal pal and reclaim the night for yourselves! Go out for dinner with your gaggle of friends, watch that empowering gay film (I recommend Pride, it is an emotional masterpiece) and rediscover those queer activities that have become normalized to you. This year I’m refusing to avoid the celebrations and I’m throwing myself headfirst into the season of love. If you are feeling lost or lonely, I hope you can find connection within the community, through new friends or new romances and know that the LGBTQ+ community will always have your back.