Between the Sheets: My obligatory cynical Valentine’s Day column (with a twist)

Tonya Starr, Columnist

Valentine’s Day is a shamelessly public celebration of heteronormativity. It propagates the image of straight, monogamous couples at every corner — on greeting cards, in cheesy Lifetime movies and in wedding ring commercials. It idealizes the old-time American values of chivalry, courtship and expensive candlelight dinners, implying eternal happiness for those who find their soul mates.

So what? It’s OK to go over the top once a year, right? Perhaps. But how do we celebrate happy relationships in a society where diamond rings are the privilege of the majority? The nauseating commercial fluff of Valentine’s Day makes it easy for us to forget those who cannot celebrate it. The gay man who cannot purchase “Him and Her” cards at Hallmark. The lesbian who can buy her partner a ring but cannot marry her in their home state. The hundreds of same-sex couples in small-town America who are afraid to be seen publicly for fear of discrimination and violence.

If love is love, then why can’t we all express it as flagrantly and fearlessly as the happy young white couple on the Kay Jewelers commercial? If marriage is so great, then why has the American divorce rate increased by 50 percent over the last 20 years? If men are still of flowers-and-door-holding caliber, then why has one in every four American women experienced domestic abuse in her lifetime?

So please, Wildcats, join me in boycotting this ridiculous commercial fiasco and instead help speak up for many whom it does not acknowledge. Please don’t misunderstand me — I’m not anti-love. I’m extremely pro-love for everyone — for bachelors, straight couples, gay couples, swingers, co-habitators, asexuals and single parents. It’s time to embrace your own unique love, even if mainstream society and the legal system will not do the same.

In defiance of this literally and figuratively sugar-coated holiday, I offer some less-than-typical ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day with yourself, your friends or your significant other.

1. Volunteer your time

Rather than spend money on an extravagant dinner, spend your time at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter. For you Cats, Hilda’s Place, Evanston’s only homeless shelter, serves free dinner Thursdays and is probably in need of volunteers.

2. Support a non-profit

Still want to do something nice for your loved one? Then do that! But do it in a more socially conscious way. Allowance for Good, an Evanston-based non-profit working toward lessening the global education gap, is selling $5 e-cards to raise money for folks in Guatemala. Or buy your loved one a gift from a loving company, like St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital or Tom’s shoes.

3. Stick with flowers and chocolate

But do it the anti-corporate way. You can order fair-trade chocolate online at Divine Chocolate USA, which is owned by cocoa farmers in Ghana, or find yummy organic treats at your local Whole Foods. If you’re going the flowers route, buy fresh ones from your local florist.

That’s all, folks. Happy Anti-Valentine’s Day!