The writer of Parallel Hells reflects on queering her perspective on the day dedicated to love
BY LEON CRAIG, IMAGE BY MICHELLE LEMAN VIA PEXELS
Valentine’s haters are a select club – we recognise each other by our glowering faces from around mid-January onwards and our avoidance of the flower section of the supermarket, not to mention our determination to party the same weekend that all the committed couples will be murmuring sweet nothings over crème brûlée. For many years I was a fully paid-up member of the anti-Valentine’s squad, muttering under my breath about how tacky it all was and how I wouldn’t be caught dead celebrating such a stupid holiday. As a teenager, I used to mark the occasion by wearing head-to-toe black and drinking cheap vodka mixed with Ribena concentrate. Other people’s displays of affection were particularly exasperating to me, each happy couple I saw pushing me further into an incoherent rage.
When you exist in a state of despair, each gesture of hope can feel like a cruel reproof. It’s easier to be angry and scornful than it is to acknowledge your own loneliness. I realised I was queer at the age of 11, back in 2003, a time when equal marriage was only legal in Denmark, the Netherlands and some provinces of Canada. My exposure to depictions of lesbian relationships was limited to t.A.T.u.’s All The Things She Said, tabloid headlines and the script of Lost And Delirious which I found floating around online and read multiple times because I had no way of renting the film. Section 28, which forbade discussion of same-sex relationships in schools, had been rescinded the year I first tried to come out, but it still cast a long shadow over sex and relationships lessons. I had no education about what my life as an adult might look like and no role models. The short clips from The L Word someone uploaded to YouTube came as a lifeline: though those characters didn’t seem to have particularly functional relationships but at least they were a) alive and b) having fun.
The cultural lessons of those years sank deeper than I realised, and for much of my early adult life, I was operating under the assumption that any relationship I could have would be short-lived and rife with conflict. While I was trying to get my life on track in my early twenties, I spent over five years single and began to assume that a long-term healthy connection would just never happen for me, though my life was rich in other ways like close friendships and satisfying work. Once I started dating again, I kept staying in short-term relationships that weren’t right for either person far longer than I should have done because my expectations were so low and I was afraid that I’d become a pariah as everyone else paired off. But, even the most hardline Valentine’s haters can change under the right circumstances. When my girlfriend came round with a bunch of flowers last year I found myself tearing up a little. It was the first time in eight years that a partner had bought me flowers and even now I’m still not quite over the surprise. However, acts of kindness shouldn’t just be exchanged between couples – my experiences have led me to believe that we must rethink how we treat people who are single for the long term or who prioritise non-traditional configurations like polyamory, platonic commitment or co-parenting. In some ways, having very few readily-accessible role models means many queer people have had the freedom to tailor their relationships around their own needs. So this Valentine’s Day, let’s celebrate our partners, lovers, friends and anyone dear to us who needs a boost.
In this short story collection, Leon Craig draws on folklore and gothic horror in inventive ways to explore queer identity, love, power and the complicated nature of being human.
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