Queering Valentine's Day

posted by Madame Bubby

I've written about “this day” in a couple of past blogs, including this one on our website. Sigh. I even posted a tweet on my personal account that I “had no plans,” passive-aggressively playing for sympathy (or maybe a date?).

An article I came across in a student publication called the Miami Hurricane makes a strong point, almost a manifesto, “the fact that the day went from one about beheading to betrothing is proof that we have the ability to radically transform this day into anything we want. And transform we did.” To some extent, yes. A day commemorating an early Christian martyr was also proclaimed as the day birds began to mate and is now essentially aisles in retail stores filled with items in various shades of red and pink.

 

Valentine's Day aisle

But is that its end: Hallmark, kitschy images of cupids and teddy bears, overworked florists walking on floors covered with stem cuttings, angst about making restaurant reservations in time and buying the perfect gift?

The article I reference above mentions how some campus organizations are making the holiday more gender-inclusive and include queer narratives in its celebration.

It's interesting though, that queer narratives that either code implicitly or explore explicitly romantic relationships (with varying degrees of intimacy) don't subscribe (because they have to) to what is essentially a kitschy bowdlerization of Victorian sensibilities about gender relationships (which were perhaps more idealized than real).

In fact, in the heady days of LGBTQ liberation in the 1970s (essentially the product of social changes that began in the 1960s), an era that rejected aesthetically (and culturally to some extent) the “hearts and flowers/moon and June” sentimentality of previous eras, gay erotic filmmakers produced work that probes tensions in romantic, intimate relationships on so many levels. Marginalization in this case, as with much groundbreaking art, becomes the space and time to bend and even break conventional social boundaries.

For example, in Andrew Herbert's Song of the Loon, in the 19th century, Ephraim, a white man, has left his lover and taken up with a trapper, Cyrus. Ephraim wants to settle down to an outdoors life of bliss as the object of affection of only one man, but Cyrus knows that Ephraim isn't dealing with his own, or his lover's, emotions on a realistic level. He takes Ephraim to an old Native American medicine man, who imparts the wisdom of the ages to the young blond buck (through words and hallucinogenic visions): Sex and love are not one and the same.
 

Images from Song of the Loon
Song of the Loon (1969)

And in Tom DeSimone's The Idol, an young athlete's (played by Kevin Redding) struggles with coming to terms with his sexual orientation shows how sexual activity and intimate relationships are not mutually exclusive. In fact, no “one” person ends up being the ideal/idol in this film for its protagonist.
 

Images from The Idol
The Idol (1979)

Steve Scott's Track Meet parallels the story of The Idol, focusing on a young track star's (played by Gavin Geoffrey) tension in coming out and accepting himself. Romance, strength, affection, and lovemaking are explored by Gavin as he discovers himself and the world of gay sex.
 

Images from Track Meet
Track Meet (1976)

What's interesting is the coming out narrative present in these films, because of how its complex psychosocial dynamic of fear and repression but, more significantly, self-discovery and self-acceptance, and, ultimately, liberation, subverts the cloying and also creatively bland Valentine's Day sensibility.

Yes, of course, times have changed, but I do wonder if more LGBTQ-themed Hallmark Valentine's Day cards is the blessed fruit of liberation. The struggle of the past should have taught LGBTQ persons to expect more; that the hearts and flowers are transitory and superficial, and that the end is not finding the “One,” but the glorious and at the same time heartbreaking day-to-day challenge of loving him/her/they.

For highlights from more of our romance-oriented films, also check out this video on our YouTube channel.

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Valentine's Day Homosocial Sweethearts

posted by Madame Bubby


While doing some usual “retroing” (a verb I coined a couple weeks ago), I realized that the company, Necco, that used to make those tiny candy hearts, is no longer making them. Yes, the iconic Sweethearts will not be around this year, but next year. Apparently, Necco went bankrupt, and the company that bought them out is planning to continue the line, but not this year. Apparently, there wasn’t enough time to gear up to make the usual volume, according to one media source, The Miami Herald, 100,000 pounds of Sweethearts each day for 11 months.
 

Necco hearts

Now that’s an immense quality of tiny candy hearts with messages like “Be Mine” or “Crazy for You.” And what’s also immense, I think, is the dynamic of Valentine’s Day distribution that used to occur in classrooms when I was in elementary school in the 1960s.

Every year up until I think fourth grade (I am wondering if the cultural authorities of that age, still influenced by Freud, corresponded with the first rustlings of puberty), everyone would go the drug or department store and buy a big bag of small paper valentines. You would give one to everyone in your class, and I don’t remember, at least in my case, only giving them to girls. You gave one to every person in the class, regardless of gender, and in many cases, everyone got a bunch of those little hearts. Some of the more creative students, usually the girls, would even insert one of those hearts into the envelope with the card, that is, those who put their cards in envelopes.
 

1960s classroom valentines

Maybe the teachers and parents during that time were operating under the assumption that the children weren’t really thinking about gender relationships as being romantic, even though the wider culture was assuming Johnny and Sally were heterosexual and would in a few years establishing that orientation. Yet, in the prepubescent ages, everyone in the class was potentially the child’s platonic friend, and that’s what it was at that age. Ideally.

And, I could be wrong, but I think around ages 7-8, I remember the boys pretty much played with boys, the girls with the girls. Thus, the relationships on the playground were fairly homosocial, and the adults looks askance at boys who played with the girls and their gender-specific playthings and games and vice versa. Thus, perhaps, the genderless Valentine’s Day distribution kind of makes sense, even if at that age the “other” gender was often “yucky” or “icky.”

Yet, the children were running around at that time chanting, “John and Jane, sitting in a tree, ‘k i s s i n g.’ First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes John with the baby carriage. The man was pushing the baby carriage. Very interesting image in a time when everyone was assumed to be heterosexual, and the Father Knows Best world was the ideal: the man worked, and the woman stayed home and left it only to give birth and bring home another child. Well, at least love came before marriage, but not sex, in this ideal world.
 

195s man in suit pushing baby carriage

Ideal. Yet how many of those children knew they would not ever live up to this ideal, and thus they were “sick” and “wrong” The innocence of those paper valentines and candy sweethearts was ultimately illusory. Even the conventionally heterosexual youth weren’t just smoking or peeking at “wank mags” in the bathrooms and the woods and in their own bedrooms. And, looking back in with an admittedly jaded, cynical hindsight, remember those were the times when sexual transgressions against that ideal were often so secret and so heinous that one could not even name them, and when one thinks how many transgressions at that time were acts of nonconsensual abuse by family members.

When those small candy sweethearts appear again next year, maybe one could imagine them being exchanged in an honest, inclusive world where, even after the fourth grade, a boy can joyfully give another boy a valentine. And that world will not end. The world is more than we know.
 

Gay valentine
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