Real talk: I don’t think I know anyone who actually likes Valentine’s Day. Sure, flowers are pretty and who doesn’t love chocolate? (Disclaimer: I actually do know people who don’t love chocolate, but we’ve agreed to disagree about their sinful lifestyles.)
On the other hand, flowers die, chocolate is cheaper on the 15th, and don’t even get me started on the advertising that hasn’t left us alone since Christmas. (Seriously, capitalism. Ease up!) But the worst part is the representation, or lack thereof, in all of that messaging – a barrage of heteronormative, monogamous-romantic-sexual love-centric ads reminding us, as queer folks, that while we may have the legal right to bind ourselves to one person of our choosing, there is little to no space in society for us or for the way we do relationships.
With that in mind, we’ve curated a list of alternative ways to mark (or burn down) the day.
Tell capitalism to fuck off. It’s slowly killing us all (not to mention the planet) and it’s not doing much for our love lives either. Mark the day by picking up a copy of Kristen Ghodsee’s book Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism. In a recent interview in The Cut, Ghodsee talks about how queer relationships threaten capitalism: “Because the labor that a woman performs in heterosexual, monogamous marriage — where she’s the dependent — is labor that she provides for free, that otherwise the state might have to pay for. When women work in the home, there’s this incredible burden that’s lifted from society. When women end up in non-monogamous or queer relationships, it threatens the state and the society’s ability to exploit their unpaid labor. There’s a reason why conservatives are so unhappy about the breakdown of the family! Because they know it’s going to cost them money! People outside of the bourgeois, monogamous relationship — whether a monogamous queer couple or bisexuals or what have you — are already challenging capitalism.”
Celebrate non-normative relationships. Whether you’re non-monogamous and want to celebrate all of the loves in your life, or you’re asexual/aromantic and want to celebrate your platonic loves, or single and want to throw a kickass Galentine’s, make room for everyone important to you and honor all of the ways that you love them.
De-cliche your date night. Ditch the fancy restaurant. Who ever said that takeout on the couch in your pajamas and watching The Birdcage wasn’t romantic? Definitely not this kid. You could also just treat it as another day, and save all that money and energy for a night when you won’t have to wait 45 minutes for a table. If you still want to mark the day, make it something you’ll enjoy, rather than something you feel like you have to do – go to a burlesque show (Port City Peep Show anyone?), or treat yourselves to coffee and an afternoon at the museum. At the end of the day, it’s still all about your connection, not what society says you need to do.
Love yourself as your neighbor, to flip the script on the Great Commandment. Whatever that means to you – going to therapy, KonMari-ing your closet, or, well, loving yourself – Valentine’s Day is as good a day as any to remember that your relationship with yourself is the longest-lasting one you have, and it should be nurtured every day. Make a list of things that you love about yourself, and read it as if someone else you love was saying those things to you. Move your body in whatever way you can, and don’t judge it for its limits but tell it that you’re thankful for what it can do.
Support queer business. As much as we can rant and rave about how terrible Valentine’s Day is, there are folks among us who love every bit of it. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Find some local (or Internet-based) queer-owned businesses to give your time and money to while you’re celebrating your love.
Make some real romance. I love gestures that demonstrate that my partner actually knows me — whether it’s a material gift like a book I’ve had my eye on, or a gesture such as beating me to a chore that I’ve been meaning to do. (Not the cactus I got for one V-Day, though. There’s nothing romantic about a cactus. That’s a hill I am willing to die on.)
Love without limits. My favorite thing about V-Day in Portland is the Valentine Bandit. Those printed red hearts seem like such a small gesture, but it brightens so many folks’ days to see them scattered on windows and doors all over the peninsula. What if we were all the Valentine’s Bandit? Buy some of those Valentines we passed out in the classroom as kids — or make your own! Give them to your baristas, put them up at work, or hand them out on the street.
Recalibrate your expectations. The narrative around Valentine’s Day is always the same: Flowers! Chocolate! It’s all about socially constructed notions of romance, without any of the complications or work that go into actual relationships. While everyone else is making googly eyes at their partners, have a check-in with yours. What’s working in your relationship? What needs some work? Are you on the same page about what you want and need from each other? Communication is more romantic than it gets credit for.
Smash the patriarchy. Call out patriarchal BS. Subvert gender norms. Pick a rom-com on Netflix and deconstruct the anti-feminist narrative. (Yes, the Netflix original “Set It Up” is still a quality film, and I love Lucy Liu, but don’t get me started on that relationship, or on the way she’s seen around the office for being a strong, independent woman.) Get involved with Eve Ensler’s One Billion Rising, finding or putting on a production of The Vagina Monologues.
Be extra, unapologetically queer, in whatever way feels good to you. Whether that’s finding a new, creative way to express your identity, or just publicly (with their consent) displaying your affection for your sweetheart, if we’re going to have a whole holiday that revolves around relationships, desire, and sex, and society is going to continue to obsess over those things in our lives, then I don’t see any reason for us not to reclaim it. Consider that Saint Valentine was martyred for officiating marriages that weren’t condoned by Rome. That seems pretty queer to me.