“Are you guys roommates?” says the dog shelter volunteer to my girlfriend and I as we sit petting an adorable pitbull mix. We’re in the middle of our favorite weekend activity: Visiting rescue animals and dreaming about an apartment we can actually own one in.
“No, we’re together,” my girlfriend replies.
“Oh, like friends?” says the volunteer.
“Like, girlfriends,” I say.
“Like girlfriends or girlfrans?” she says, and at this point I’m already laughing. The inability for her grasp that the two women in front of her are dating is pretty comical. I’m tempted to say, “We fuck each other,” but I stop and repeat myself instead.
Her eyes finally register what we’re saying and she attempts a recovery, telling us how “cool” that is a little too enthusiastically.
When conversations like this happen, especially right before Valentine’s Day, I start to fantasize about the modern-day tech innovations I’d like to create to solve the micro-aggressions I encounter as a bi woman dating another woman.
For example, I’d love a section on Yelp that tells me whether or not a restaurant is a bad place to be on a date as a same-sex couple. Will the bartender send us free drinks and a predatory smile? Can we hold hands without the people around us looking at us like we brought a teacup pig into the restaurant? Or worse, can we hold hands without them looking at us with eyes that say, “how brave”?
It would also be fantastic to have, say, an Uber setting I could switch on that kindly asks my driver to maybe not hit on my girlfriend and I while we sit in the backseat holding hands.
It would be even more ideal to live in a society that didn’t merit a need for my Zuckerburg-level solutions, but I guess we’re not quite there yet.
Valentine’s Day can be a nightmare regardless of what relationship you’re in: Restaurants are packed, emotions are high, and it’s a subtle reminder that capitalism owns us all (sorry). But as a bisexual person who has experienced Valentine’s Day with both men and women separately, I find that planning the night when I’m in a same-sex relationship is even more anxiety-inducing.
While I’d love to focus on how amazing the beef bolognese on the prix fixe menu sounds, I find myself mapping out all the ways in which our night could be thwarted by outside people. Sometimes it’s someone saying we look like sisters, or a dude assuming we’re only out in the world in search of a big, manly third, or sometimes it’s a well-intentioned stranger who tells us that they too know a queer person as an attempt to give us their unprovoked stamp of approval.
These micro-aggressions are not new, and after almost two years with my current girlfriend, they barely surprise us anymore. Like a callused hand, we’ve learned to sustain a certain level of discomfort.
But when they happen on Valentine’s Day, it just feels so unfair. I consider myself a romantic. I smile when I read cute texts, and I watched the Spiderman kiss scene from The O.C. no less than 43 times. Hell, part of me still hopes for my own impromptu rainfall kiss. Like most folks, I grew up wanting a deep, fantastic, sometimes gut-wrenching, love. (My therapist has since told me this isn’t super healthy – but still).
My point is, as much as I wish I could not care about a made-up holiday like Valentine’s Day, there’s some part of me that simply just buys into a day dedicated to love.
For at least that one day, I want to hold my girlfriend’s hand on the street and not wordlessly part ways when we see someone approaching who looks physically threatening. For one day, I don’t want it to surprise others that the two women dressed up at nice restaurant are there together.
For one day I want us to be us in public.
And maybe this year we will be. Maybe this year we won’t get second looks or uncomfortable questions. Maybe our Uber driver will wish us Happy Valentine’s Day as we exit the car without question, and the person at the host stand won’t internally pair us with the men standing distantly near us.
But maybe this won’t be the year that happens. And that’s something I factor into my Valentine’s Day prep: our contingency plan. The plan that says if everything goes to shit, the day can still be about us. The plan that says if we can’t be ourselves everywhere, we can still be ourselves in the spaces it feels safe to do so. The plan that consists of brushing it off when we get a lingering stare, and deciding that maybe tonight isn’t the night for teachable moments like in the pet shelter. Tonight is for us.
I try to remember that this plan is more of a privilege than our predecessors were afforded. And it’s more than many queer folks, especially people of color and trans folks, still have today. For other queer folks, it’s not just dates that are a source of anxiety, but moving through the world every day. They don’t just ask the question of “can we be us,” but “can I be me?”
So I’ll hold my girlfriend’s hand on Valentine’s Day, and I’ll kiss her in the back of our Uber. I’ll touch the small of her back at the host stand and I’ll get excited over that bolognese sauce. I’ll control the things I can, with the person I care for, and hope that doing so will make things slightly better for the hopeless romantics who come after me.
Because at the end of the day, I can’t control outside forces and I can’t cause impromptu rainfall, but I can still be myself.