A Letter to the Editor from John East
Like many gay men, I find the traditional holiday season somewhat cold. Thanksgiving is a landmine of politics, in-laws, and the proverbial drunk uncle. Christmas is really for families with kids. My partner and I, even in liberal circles, are not totally accepted during these family-focused receptions. Even demonstrations of acceptance seem to prove the point. For many gay men, the holidays are bittersweet times.
Valentine’s Day is my holiday. It’s only about the person you love.
We’ve come a long way in a short time. Roughly 25 years ago, like many gay men, I was threatened (me with expulsion) for wanting to bring a man to prom. The school called my parents, my mother cried and threatened to kick me out of the house.
Many gay teens never even got that far, burying their love because of the reactions of their family or those who were supposed to be caring for them. Make no mistake: those days are not entirely behind us either.
But Valentine’s Day is not what you inherit by circumstance, it’s what you choose.
On Valentine’s Day, I can bring my same-sex lover to a restaurant and be served. And they know you are gay because, well, it’s two men sitting together on Valentine’s Day. Maybe because of the progress among the young who tend to be servers, you will almost always be served graciously. That’s meaningful.
I can’t imagine having to purchase The Green Book, a pamphlet really, which told fellow dark- skinned people where they could eat or stay. Even in this eternal creole, vibrant city, the entries were scant indeed. I’ve looked at every edition: the only place in New Orleans still extant from any of the editions is Dookie Chase. God Bless Leah Chase for bringing people together!
We don’t face a civil rights struggle of such magnitude on Valentine’s Day even when we are “putting your gayness in my face” as we dine. Yet sitting together with the person you love on Valentine’s Day is nonetheless acting up for equal rights. There is a reason that the Civil Rights movement focused on the seemingly small luncheonette counter.
Valentine’s Day is my holiday because it embodies tolerance. St. Valentine demands that you profess your love freely. You engender community.
Now, we can marry freely. We can sit with our partners in a hospital room (that denial was perhaps the cruelest arrow of yesteryear). But those were other people’s strictures. On Valentine’s Day, we get to celebrate our own love.