On Queering Valentine’s Day

I don’t hate Valentine’s Day, which might be surprising. As someone in a relationship, I think it’s cute to get all fancied up, go out for a nice dinner, and exchange gifts. I love gifts.

But let’s be real: Valentine’s Day as it exists in consumer culture is super heteronormative and kinda sexist. This is particularly relevant to me as a masculine of center woman who is dating a femme woman.

There are commercials and expectations about men giving women chocolates and diamonds and roses. I have yet to see a queer inclusive Valentine’s Day ad (holler at me if I missed something). Don’t get it twisted, I’m not “the man” in my relationship, but being in a butch-femme relationship can make it easy to slip into accepted roles of gender performance — especially on Valentine’s Day.

For me, the pressure to dote on my significant other is inextricably mixed with antiquated notions of chivalry. The concept of chivalry, however, is rooted in the idea that women need to be taken care of by men. I am a caring and giving person, which — mixed with the way I perform masculinity — can leave me blind to the dynamics this could create in my relationship. I like to carry things, open doors for people, and buy presents. Showering the people I love with attention and affection is something I truly enjoy about my relationships, romantic or otherwise. I need to be very intentional to ensure that how I choose to express does not create a sexist dynamic with my partner.

Subverting heteronormativity is my favorite activity, which is why I’m pumped that this year, I get to be treated to dinner. Since I was in charge of Valentine’s Day last year, my partner is this year. That’s one of the ways we try to actively make sure that we don’t allow heteronormative expectations to creep into our relationship.

Never am I more aware of my queerness and difference than on Valentine’s Day. I’m used to not seeing many queer people out and about, but going out for dinner with my partner on the most visible day for love is always nerve-wracking. Last year, we ate at a cute Italian place in suburban Cincinnati. We were the only queer couple in the room as far as I could tell (and I was also the only person of color). Being so visible is also to be vulnerable.

For me, feeling vulnerable is not always the same as feeling unsafe. The reality is that except for being in a room with a few, select people, safety is an unreachable feeling for me. I rarely feel safe, so to feel vulnerable is a heightened sense of exposure where others may be paying more attention than they otherwise might.

Simply showing up to a restaurant with my partner puts additional eyes on us in areas where LGBTQ people may not be otherwise visible. It can be difficult not to feel the stares in that space and let it ruin the night. Personally, I just try to say “fuck everyone,” but I also know that comes from a place of privilege.

Valentine’s Day is something that my partner really enjoys, and I like making her happy. I like sending her flowers and making her feel special. I would like for the holiday to be a bit more inclusive, but I suppose it’s up to us to make it so. What are some of the fun, subversive things you do on Valentine’s Day?

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Katie Barnes (they/them/their) is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer. While at St. Olaf College studying History and (oddly) Russian (among other things), Katie fell in love with politics, and doing the hard work in the hard places. A retired fanfiction writer, Katie now actually enjoys writing with their name attached. Katie actually loves cornfields, and thinks there is nothing better than a summer night's drive through the Indiana countryside. They love basketball and are a huge fan of the UConn women's team. When not fighting the good fight, you can usually find Katie watching sports, writing, or reading a good book.

Katie Barnes is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer.

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