For hundreds of years, the tradition has been upheld to shower your partner in affection on the 14th of February, but since its foundation in A.D. 496, Valentine’s Day has been a predominantly heteronormative commercial celebration, commemorating a traditional unity in a binary gender system. Thankfully, this is seeing a steady and positive change.
A Brief History of LGBTQ+ Valentine’s Marketing
Whilst gay marriage was legalized in 2014, same-sex cards and Valentine’s Day merchandise widely remained absent from the shelves after the law was passed. On the high street, you will struggle to find any tailored same-sex couple cards unless you settle for generic cards which do not depict characters or illustrations. Luckily, most Valentine’s gifts like flowers, bears and jewelry are ungendered, so can be regarded as a universally safe present for anyone on the LGBTQ+ scale.
Still, there exists an importance for specifically women-love-women and men-love-men products – the reason: societal validation. Growing up as a questioning queer woman felt pretty alienating. During such a formative part of my life, I felt very unrepresented in all forms of Valentine’s Day commerciality – that was until recently, when I discovered the abundance of products available for purchasing online. Additionally, I’m glad that adverts such as Swarovski’s Valentine’s Day 2018 and Hallmark 2015 began to make their way into mainstream television around the romantic season, amongst many others in the following years. Without these, I worry that I, amongst many others in the same position, wouldn’t have had anything to identify with when I was younger. The crew behind these commercials should be proud of themselves for creating depictions of LGBTQ+ couples, particularly when media like this was scarce.
Where Are We Now And What Can We Do?
Even though we have made plenty of progress, there are still issues that can be identified in our current Valentine’s Day commercial setup. Whilst I identify as a cis woman thus cannot speak on behalf of all of the LGBTQ+ community, I imagine that the popular “gifts for him” and “gifts for her” sections you tend to find online and in the supermarket aisles could be detrimental to the esteem of someone who identifies as non-binary, as this forces them to comply to a rigid stereotype within society, boxing them into a dichotomous this or that gender identification. In a similar sense, someone who is undergoing a transition might still have a partner who is struggling to understand their choices to change gender, hence buys them a gift from the wrong category. This could be avoided if there was a new section, perhaps, which encompassed Valentine’s gifts that were not gender specific.
Even if we are still facing an imbalance of products available on the shelves, the community has come together to conquer this problem themselves. The widespread presence of private sellers, such as those who produce handmade products on Etsy, eBay and Depop, has helped the LGBTQ+ population to find a market for Valentine’s Day gifts, even if these are not available in the stores, chances are you will encounter them in your local town centre.
As an example, just look at how cute this self-manufactured card is by HanFranArt! For those who don’t know, it is a reference to the archaic tendency for women into women to live under the guise of “companions” or “best friends” in literature and historical documentation, and due to the annual lesbian historical drama films we tend to get – we’re talking Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Ammonite here – silly, witty cards like these are my personal favourites.
My overall perception on modern commercialism is mixed, but I feel a strong sense of hope and positivity towards it. We have finally got to a point as a society where being a same sex couple on Valentine’s Day is not debilitating, where you can enjoy your day feeling both lovingly accepted by one another and noticed with a dignifying sense of equality by the media too. And even if it is harder to stumble across commerciality on your local supermarket’s card isle, there are certainly plenty of alternatives now for the community to choose from. Shopping just involves a more tactful approach, which is significantly easy in comparison to the other milestones the community has had to overcome through in the past.
Have a lovely Valentine’s Day for all those who are celebrating, whether that is with yourself or with your partner, and utilize it as a time to remember how far we have come.