Addressing Sexuality and Gender at Valentine's Day - An Interview with Dee Loureiro (Part 2)

Happy Valentine's Day everyone! I know some people may be excited for the celebrations to come, or breathing a sigh of relief as the seasonal supermarket aisles are over run with Easter eggs instead. But, as we're about to discuss, perhaps if we were to adjust our perceptions of love and expectations of Valentine's Day, more people can find a way to enjoy celebrating romantic, platonic and internal love.

This week I've spoken to my friend Dee Loureiro about their own perceptions of love and the way that Valentine's Day intrudes upon many people's identifications with gender and sexuality.

I met Dee through my girlfriend who introduced me to her close group of high school friends right at the start of our relationship. I remember very specifically Dee wearing navy and burgundy pinstriped trousers and their t-shirt sleeves rolled up, looking very nonchalant in the sunny Meadows, but they were immediately warm and welcoming to me. Ever since then we've always ended up diving straight into the deep and interesting stuff whenever we meet up and it's always a pleasure to discuss everything there is to think and feel about life!

Dee identifies as a gender non-conforming female and has no preference on pronouns (so I like to just keep it neutral)  and has kindly answered some questions I had around the subject of Valentine's Day - and included the most adorable photographs. 

Thoughtful Interview with Dee Loureiro 

How long have you been interested in the concept of gender, is it something that you’ve considered from a young age or more recently?

Understanding the concept of gender has been an ongoing process for me. It would be impossible to choose a singular light bulb moment in time that could accurately convey this process. It has a bundle of realisations through time.

The seeds of curiosity surrounding gender were planted early in my childhood. As it often is for many of us. Being socialised as a woman, we become aware of the gender binary through inferior treatment and restrictions to expression.

Not fitting neatly into these boxes of norms and stereotypes, I had always felt othered from my peers.

Femininity felt like a veil, a performance. A dance for someone else, but not for me. The more I tried to conform and please others the more distant and empty I felt inside.

I totally get this. I've never been good at fitting into female beauty standards, I've never known a thing about make up or clothes, but I was heavily influenced into another stereotypically female role of 'the caretaker/mother figure'. This has become a massive part of my identity because it was a social expectation from a young age. How did you respond to this disassociation between yourself and 'the performance'?

I started to take a more active role and interest in gender, activism, identity politics and human rights in my teens. Starting up the Equalities Committee while at high school, I wanted to create a safe space where students could come and feel free and safe to express themselves.

However, this was only the start of understanding gender beyond my individual experience. My relationship with gender is an endless process of learning to break free from its confines.

How do you feel about the way commercial events such as Valentine’s Day feed into heteronormative and cisgender narratives? Do you believe them to be harmful for people who may identify outwith cisgender binaries?

Gender binaries are detrimental for us all. 

[It is] harmful for those outside of gender binaries as I feel what may be a validating thing i.e. get a trans individual a gender specific gift to what they identify with is equally damaging as we maintain the traditional binary through this ego-centred sharing. It freezes things in time, we reduce people to binarization.

Obviously this changes person to person, it may feel incredibly liberating for some to feel finally validated as a gender which they've been previously excluded from, or even just enjoying and loving the gender which you are.

Do you normally celebrate Valentine’s yourself, either with a partner or with friends?

I’ve celebrated Valentine’s day in many ways - alone, with partners and with friends.

Of course, friendship has played a huge role in creating a community in which I feel at ease, included, and loved. Being able to celebrate Valentine’s day through getting together, dancing and sharing stories with gal pals has helped me a lot with dealing with difficult emotions that may arise. (Ahhh social gatherings <3)

Friendship is really important. Through it we create and build belonging and resilience after struggling a lot with alienation and exclusion in society and a lack of support from family. Your friends are like your chosen family.

I used to think I was not interested in Valentine’s Day. Kind of like birthdays and other celebrations. I kept a hard skin against it. But really inside I am soft and want to express my love to those I love and I can see past that now.

I mentioned this in Part 1, but I had the same past emotion of being really anti-celebration, but a lot of that came from my own lack of self worth. The more I've began to appreciate myself, the more I've been able to say, "it's nice that people remember the day I was born and want to show me that they care!" Did that influence you then as a child?

In youth, you often try to recreate these idealisations and the romanticism of Valentine’s day, [but] trying to fit into boxes and ideals it feels dirty.

Valentine’s day can thus bring up feelings of great emptiness. Especially so this year as a lot of us are separated from those we love. There is no doubt it will bring up great emotionality or emptiness.

Small tokens of love, handmade gifts [show] a greater softness. We may not be able to hug those we love this year, but we can show them we are thinking of them.

I think that's so important, and so lovely, even just making a nice breakfast together or something? In that case, what Valentine’s traditions would you like to see die out and what would you replace it with?

If I were to walk through the pink and red hues of the Valentines aisle in a supermarket to get my dearest love a gift, there is a high chance I would leave empty handed. And I think a lot of people, LGBT+ individuals or not, feel the same way too.

If anything, trying to find gifts that are not hyper-gendered can be exhausting. There is a great need to redefine tradition to mirror the diversity of reality. 

Goodbye Romanticism! Hello Honesty! (I love that, really made me chuckle!)

So the over simplification and generalisation of 'what love is', especially the way it's presented on screen, that plays a big part in these 'traditions'?

The truth is there is not a perfect way to spend it or express it! We have all been hit by a massive wave of shock during these collectively traumatic times and if there is one thing I have distilled; it is to appreciate and be thankful for what we do have. Whether that is celebrating yourself, your family, friends, your partner, your dog, the moon, etc. Celebrate your love! That is what Valentines should be. To appreciate multitude expressions of love.

Valentine’s day is notoriously known for its candle-lit romance. And there is no problem with a little bit of sweet romance and wanting to do these things. However, Romanticism can set us up against unrealistic expectations of what love is and how it should be expressed - sexual desire being the supreme expression of love under the guise of the romantics. And I guess that is the pressure we feel. To hit the mark, hoping our subconscious romantic performativity will express deep desires for connection we crave.

The inevitability of such being that the promises of an everlasting romance we are so repeatedly told and promised growing up are simply untrue. Yet, by tradition, it is reproduced each year in pretty packages to be bought and sold.

There is much more to desire beyond sexual expression that is often not spoken of as Valentine’s Day comes round.

Maybe this Valentines we could try looking inward instead of out. Try asking yourself or those you love, how do you/they want to be loved? It changes the narrative; I think we fall into these traps because deep down we don’t know how to love ourselves.

Baby Dee shaking things up from the early days
What a lovely sentiment to end on, it feels a bit Ru Paul-esque but I think it's such an important message, especially night now when many of us are having to coping with extended periods of time without the usual distractions of life. 
Whatever you chose to do this Valentine's Day, I hope it brings you love and joy! A big thanks to Dee for taking the time to think and talk about this stuff with me

If you are struggling, here are some resources to help with reaching out for support:

Papyrus - 0800 068 4141 - their Hopeline is available 9am - Midnight 7 days a week for support under 35s

The Mix - 0808 808 4994 - support for under 25s

Samaritans - 116 123 - call for free, 24/7

CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) - 0800 58 58 58 - if you identify as male CALM is available for support 5pm - Midnight 7 days a week

Switchboard - 0300 330 0630 - LGBT+ helpline available 10am-10pm if you're feeling vulnerable, isolated or need advice

We all need help sometimes! Don't be afraid to reach out if you're struggling to cope. 

Lots of love,

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