Fitting Valentine’s Day into Queer Spaces

In celebration of more prevalent and available queer spaces, here is what it looks and feels like to be queer during a heteronormative holiday like Valentine’s Day.

Fitting Valentine’s Day into Queer Spaces (Getty Images)

Advertised as a day to celebrate love, lust and relationships, Valentine’s Day has come to represent a heteronormative cash grab by larger companies and brands that constantly isolate queer individuals and relationships. Heart-shaped candies, homewares, and jewelry that are typically categorized in shops under “gifts for him or her” contribute to this mass-produced idea that romance can only exist within straight cis relationships. With that, queer communities have often celebrated the holiday in private where they can find comfort in a safe and welcoming arena. As queer spaces become more available and popular throughout the country, queer celebrations of Valentine’s Day are finally beginning to change for the better. 

For many queer couples, sharing common struggles of identity and self-acceptance is a huge factor in romantic self-expression and relationship-building. Oftentimes, this trauma bond leads to a more intense and all-consuming love in which couples opt for incredibly heartfelt and unique gift exchanges and celebrations. 

The growing prevalence of queer spaces has seen an insurgence of crafty queer date nights like renting out a bookstore for a dine-in book-shopping experience or scheduling a Valentine’s Day pottery clay date. Many queer couples have also chosen to hand-make gifts like crocheted flower bouquets, handwritten letters, and customized CDs with individualized and special playlists. For the queer community, celebrating your love extravagantly isn’t exclusive to Valentine’s Day; it translates to an everyday expression of gratitude and deep understanding founded based on common ground and appreciation.

For Kenny Jones (they/them/he/him), a sapphic creative originally from Texas, a lot of their self-love comes from the comfort and safety they feel in their relationship. So much of their identity is built on having the space and time to find themselves and a large part of that internal growth stems from a happy, healthy relationship. 

“For us, Valentine’s Day doesn’t really include consumerism. It’s more about our love — not just for ourselves but for our friends as well. Amari and I often celebrate queer love by throwing parties or going to events that are very centered around love and community. There’s a lot of making sure there are always feelings of acceptance and comfort,” Jones said.

His partner, Amari Joiner (they/them/theirs/her), a holistic esthetician, feels similarly in that a lot of their self-love and appreciation comes from feeling comfortable with one another. While feelings of safety and comfort in public differ for each queer person and their experience, Joiner said that some of their peace comes from the strength of their relationship.

“Our relationship has really made me feel like a solid person. I am allowed to live my life and be happy and I feel pretty safe in knowing I am protected. I find peace in Kenny,” Joiner said. 

Being able to find that peace outside of your home can be difficult for many queer individuals and couples. Having openly queer spaces provides a feeling of comfort but also of inclusivity — something that still doesn’t always come easily with many big businesses. A queer-owned bookstore in Philadelphia, Giovanni’s Room, was founded in 1973 and has been providing the queer community with a hidden treasure trove of queer media for over 50 years.

Liam Brophy (he/him), the assistant manager at Giovanni’s Room, argues that part of the beauty of Giovanni’s Room is its ability to provide a safe place for queer youth to be able to make connections that weren’t so possible a few years ago.

“It’s a place of harbor and the kind of connection that forms here has always had an undertone that this is a space to connect and find community. What’s beautiful about seeing all these types of connections, romantic or even just friendships, is getting to witness all of these teenagers experience that bond when my experience had just been totally different,” Brophy said. “Seeing them just hang out and be able to discuss queer media is a connection I really love observing.”

As businesses evolve to mimic changing times and perspectives, the queer community continues to find spaces that will welcome them without a catch and it’s because of that motivated approach that Valentine’s Day can be slowly reshaped. Romcoms that have so traditionally centered around modern-day Romeo and Juliets and retailers that decorate their shops into forced heteronormative sections are beginning to parallel the growing “out” community and the pulchritude that is queer love. So this Valentine’s Day, support local queer businesses and celebrate queer love in the only way we know how: extravagantly and unapologetically. 

Rosie Marie Hendricks (they/them) is from New York City but is a Philly-based journalist who covers entertainment and culture. You can find them on Instagram @rosiehndrcks and on LinkedIn @rosiehendricks. 

Edited by Nykeya Woods

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