Valentine’s Day is possibly one of the most commercialised holidays that isn’t even an actual holiday. It receives a great deal of media attention – press outlets share stories of couples proclaiming their love and commitment for one another, and the loudest of them all are advertising campaigns making it their mission to ensure that anyone who is not celebrating 14 February the way that they deem is acceptable feels as if they are somehow failing in life or missing out.
However, upon shaming anyone who may be single, another group of society that V Day marketing tends to exclude are the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual and/or ally (LGBTQIA) couples, as they are noticeably omitted from Valentine’s Day media coverage. While Sri Lankan society is already discriminatory towards LGBTQIA persons, Valentine’s Day can serve as a reminder of the status allocated to those in the community in our society.
Considering the marketing language used to describe couples in Valentine’s Day promotions, where it is assumed that all couples are heterosexual and does not at all acknowledge even the existence of LGBTQIA couples, it is clear that these relationships are largely excluded. Certain promotions/programmes even prohibit entry to couples other than those considered “straight”; this kind of marketing excludes non-traditional families and, to many, seems to be subtly endorsing opposite-sex relationships while marginalising same-sex commitments.
There’s no doubt that Valentine’s Day has historically been a heteronormative holiday that exploits human intimacy in order to sell commodities, and amongst both straight and non-straight couples, there are those who actively oppose what it stands for. Speaking to Brandon Ingram, cast in Deepa Mehta’s Funny Boy, as someone who identifies as part of the LGBTQIA community, he shared with us that he falls into the category that does not celebrate Valentine’s Day on principle.
Brandon said: “I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. I think it’s a bunch of commercialised propaganda that teaches youth to romanticise everything without actually spending any time searching for the meaning of love.”
However, referring to the LGBTQ community in general, he added: “I don’t think the LGBTQIA community celebrates it any differently than everyone else who is caught up with the idea – there are dates and chocolates and candles and kisses. Perhaps it’s time to look past a ‘them and us’ way of doing things and see that it’s all pretty much the same. I think the hashtag is #loveislove.”
We spoke to several other LGBTQIA community members, who also shared their thoughts on the matter, with many of them stating that while it’s become almost a tradition for most straight people to whine and moan about not having a Valentine, or being single on 14 February, the obnoxious marketing, advertising, and incessant touting of “acceptable” forms of love are yet another reminder for those who do not fall within those categories that they are “other”.
Aasif Faiz shared that when it comes to Valentine’s Day celebrations, it is an entirely different topic for the LGBTQIA community in Sri Lanka, considering how acceptable it is to be in public with a person of the same gender, i.e. your partner or your significant other, and whether you want to subject yourself to stares and looks and judgmental eyes. “You always see these marketing materials where people advertise these offers for getaways, dinners, buffets, gifts, his-and-hers this and that; you will be hard tasked to hear anything that suggests otherwise or is even slightly supportive of same-sex couples,” he said.
He said that in his experience, people are generally not willing to be seen in public with a same-sex partner because of the surrounding stigma. And when it comes to the design of certain offers, goodies, gifts, etc., they are not geared towards same-sex partners, as they are exclusively “his and hers”-type offers, he reiterated.
Because of this exclusion, celebrating Valentine’s Day for the LGBTQIA community here is something that doesn’t happen. He said that from personal experience, he can assure that it is largely a very private celebration and not at all done in this commercialised way. He also added that “this day tends to be a constant reminder of how we are treated as the other or how we are put in a different bracket of love; how we cannot even celebrate this one day that is dedicated to love but realise it is dedicated to only a socially acceptable form of love, and this fact is put on display through the marketing, advertising, and promotions; i.e. how unacceptable society deems you and your existence, in a way, it is not the happiest of thoughts.”
Adding to the conversation, Prabhashana Hasthidhara, another member of the community, shared that while they do enjoy all of the offers that are available, even the offers that are accessible and aren’t exclusively geared towards “normal” couples, Prabhashana mentioned that it really is not a great feeling to be excluded the way that they are.
“It kind of sucks. Unless you’re well off financially, queer-friendly date places aren’t as abundant as you may think. But I feel as though we’ve learnt to make the most of it; we still kind of celebrate it with the aspects of gift giving and whatnot, but the fact that PDA (public displays of affection) is a big no is an upsetting situation,” they said, adding also that while all this is not limited to Valentine’s Day, the day itself serves as a glaring reminder more than usual.
“The inability to hold your partner’s hand in public or show affection like any other straight person without getting death stares of judgment from aunties and uncles, is just sad to me. And this sort of goes both ways. Even in ‘queer-friendly’ places, I sometimes have a hard time showing physical affection or ‘visible affection’, because most of my life, that would have been something that’ll get me in trouble. So it’s sort of ingrained in me even as an out person, that I could be attacked for showing that affection,” they said, adding: “Also, I don’t think that on a day of celebrating your love in whatever shape or form it may be, a threat to your safety should be on your mind.”
With regards to the availability of neutral or more inclusive offers, we did speak to several outlets about their Valentine’s Day promotions and they shared that their policy is that love is for everyone, and that they do not bar you from coming in with your siblings, your parents, or your friends. Noticeably, they refrained to mention “same-sex couples”. However, there was an implication that it is not only for a man and woman involved in a romantic relationship.
The nervousness as a reaction to our questions about LGBTQIA persons and their love was palpable, and led to service providers informing us that they are not available for specific comment. However, at least in some places, there is a general understanding that if you wish to celebrate a “different” kind of love, you are welcome to do so.
Valentine’s Day can be especially difficult for certain people, and while some may not even notice its passing, society demands you pay attention to the day, and while, within the confines of our social and economic order, Valentine’s Day has given joy to many couples, for other couples who have to live in the closet, those who are not permitted to openly celebrate without fears of repercussions, it stands to be an unpleasant experience.
Love, romantic or otherwise, is an incredible force in our world, and it is unfortunate that for those in certain minorities expressing love on a day dedicated to love’s celebration is still a distant dream. Perhaps as time moves forward things may change, but for now, irrespective of it being wrapped up in consumerism, we wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day, regardless of whom you choose to love.