How To Navigate Heteronormativity When You're Gay On Valentine's Day

by Alan Jude Ryland

When you’re gay on Valentine’s Day, you are constantly reminded of the lack of representation of men and women just like you in advertising, marketing campaigns and even in the terrible shopping catalogs that get sent to your apartment.

When you’re gay on Valentine’s Day and are bombarded with heteronormative scenery — from the couples kissing in the street and holding hands to the men buying gifts in the form of oversized teddy bears and chocolate — you look at yourself and wonder where you went wrong.

When you’re gay on Valentine’s Day, the reality hits you.

You realize there is rarely a day as successful as this one at highlighting every single sad story you’ve ever believed about yourself.

And the biggest one you tell yourself?

That the probability you’ll be alone forever is in danger of proving itself 100 percent true.

That’s not reality, but it may seem that way.

What can I say to ease the mind of the gay man living in areas nowhere near as privileged as my own?

I live in New York City, a mecca of fun, enlightenment, parties, bar-hopping, culture, food, passion and love.

You, dear reader, may live in a small town with few options.

The nearest potential hangout spot might be a gay bar or club many miles outside your city’s limits.

For all I know, Grindr may be your only point of reference.

But, I can tell you that much of the disappointment and disillusionment is the same.

I’ve been there, and so has everyone else.

At some point, however, you have to see the holidays as just another day.

One day, you woke up and realized you didn’t need a huge pile of presents underneath your Christmas tree.

A pair of socks may have filled the gap for their practical, lasting value, not their monetary value.

By that same token, a boyfriend or girlfriend operates in the same way.

They’re material possessions to be had.

There are entire romantic comedies constructed around the concept of finding someone just in time for the big day.

You know that’s shallow, so why should you accept anything less?

Is it because it is ingrained in us to settle?

Is it because for so long, our governments, the people around us and even the greeting card companies have done their best to make us obsolete?

On the other hand, if you know how shallow it is and just want the company, then by all means, go out and find someone.

There is an endless supply of company out there.

Sex is easy, and f*ck buddies are abundant.

There's nothing wrong with that, and whoever says he or she can’t appreciate that is a liar.

However, sex may be easy, but connections take work.

My cousin and I are both gay, though he is 17 years my senior and has had — I presume — more time to figure himself out.

I bring him up because I distinctly recall how much I irked him, how he could look at me and know I was different, though it would have been beyond him to voice his suspicions.

Certainly, it would have been beyond me to articulate them, let alone confirm or deny.

The difference between the two of us is that I — as the voracious reader that I was (and still am) — would have reveled in a newfound method to express myself.

I would have played with language for hours like you would a toy, and he would have continued to retreat into himself.

I was already an awkward teenager by the time his sexuality was confirmed.

By then, however, I did have the language to convey how I felt.

I could only conclude that I reminded him of himself, or shall I say, the person he could not bring himself to be.

“If you don’t want to be alone for the rest of your life, then stop that,” he said.

I was humming along to the latest music video from Madonna. (Ray of Light was making waves at the time.)

But, I haven’t been alone.

I even had a fiancé once upon a time.

It didn’t work out, but it happened.

The possibility was there, and I grabbed it.

Isn’t that more than I could have dared to dream of as a sullen teen?

I accepted that I drown in my reasons.

We all have reasons for the things we do (or don’t do), and much of the time, they are the lies we tell ourselves, ingrained in us from childhood.

They keep us from going the distance or qualifying our lives.

We end up quantifying them because the universe does not tolerate empty space.

So, if you’re gay on Valentine’s Day and have someone to love, I am more than happy for you.

I’ve been there before.

I had several years with a great man, and I trust that I’ll find something like it again.

I trust that I will find it again, even with the pain that came before him and the pain that came after him.

I say this because I know I am not immune to the weight of my history.

Neither are you.

But if you’re single and gay on Valentine’s Day and feel the familiar pressure once again amidst a sea of commercialism gone awry, share yourself openly with your friends, your family and your neighbors.

Even if you go to dinner alone, enjoy that dinner because you’re paying for it, and you’ve earned it.

While you’re at it, take a look at the great big world around you and know there’s more to life than the space you occupy.

Give yourself to the world, and watch the size of your heart multiply faster than you could ever know what to do with it.

Because then you'll stop being gay on Valentine's Day.

You'll just be single and okay with it.