Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — People all over the planet have different ways of celebrating Valentine’s Day. Whether it’s chocolates, roses and a romantic dinner or Netflix and lutong-bahay, the holiday is an opportunity for people to express their love for people in their lives.
It’s an expensive holiday, too. Statistics on Valentine’s Day in the Philippines are scant, but in the US alone, people spend over $19 billion on gifts on February 14.
But not everyone can celebrate Valentine’s Day freely. The holiday can be an emotionally fraught time for LGBTQIA+ couples. From family members they might not be out to to the very real threat of harassment in public places, the very act of being together on Valentine’s Day can be an emotional minefield for LGBTQIA+ couples, especially in the Philippines.
In a country where anti-discrimination measures for the LGBTQIA+ community has faced two decades of pushback in the legislature, there are no legal protections in place for acts discriminating people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression (SOGIE).
CNN Philippines Life spoke to six LGBTQIA+ people on how they deal with the unique challenges of spending Valentine’s Day in a queer relationship. Interviews have been edited for clarity and some names have been changed to protect the subjects’ privacy.
Relationship status: 14 years together
“Incidentally, our anniversary falls on February 14, but we never go out on February 14. Originally we went out on February 14, 14 years ago, as a sort of anti-date. We were both single then and we liked each other enough so we decided, what the hell, let’s just go on a date. One thing led to another until he asked me, “Can you be my partner?” My yes was natural, it was only with him that I felt safe with. We’ve been together since.
Ironically, we don’t feel safe on February 14. We found it too cumbersome to book a nice restaurant on that day. But I find it so much work when I have to dodge judgy glances from the maître d’s when we ask for a table for two when, to them, we don’t look like a couple but friends just looking to get one bottle before heading home.
[Now] we make sure we celebrate it together. It is a special day. But we made it more intimate: staying in, homecooking, watching mutually favorite films, or just cuddling.”
Abi Balisi, architect
Relationship status: 10 months dating, 7 months official
“I usually spend Valentine's with just a simple dinner which I often cook myself for my significant other. It makes it more personal and meaningful. Maybe the more elaborate gestures, like giving flowers, make me feel a tad bit uncomfortable. Society is now becoming more open to the LGBTQIA+ community so I would say it is more of feeling awkward than fear.
Since Valentine's falls on a work day, I'm planning to prepare a simple breakfast in bed to start off the day. Dinner may be out of the table because our schedule's quite tight. We'd probably just head for a nightcap and spend some much deserved quality time.”
Kim San Jose, financial advisor
Relationship status: 3 years together
“Just like any couple, we usually spend it together by having dinner then drinks at our favorite date spots in the Metro. We sometimes still get weird or confused looks from people — usually from the older generation — who aren’t used to seeing two women being sweet to each other. This doesn’t affect our plans. We know we aren’t being rude or disrespectful so we just basically ignore them.
This Valentine’s Day, we plan to avoid the Friday traffic so we will spend it together by cooking a steak dinner at home. Our fancy dinner date is scheduled the following day.”
Chris*, digital marketing assistant
Relationship status: 2 years as a couple, 3 months as a throuple
“For the last two Valentine’s day celebrations, [when it was just me and Conan*], we would just have a fancy lunch or dinner after February 14 so as to not join the Valentine’s rush. This year, with Luis* joining us, nothing has changed other than the fact that there are three of us now. This is because we are all on the same wavelength in terms of our expectations on how to celebrate. We particularly don’t put any extra pressure on each other just because it’s February 14.
We are very well aware that not everyone is familiar with polyamorous relationships since it’s not really prevalent in the Philippines, so it really might take some time for people to get used to it. We think most would just mistake us as three friends hanging out, but given the chance, we would very much like to use our platforms soon to raise awareness regarding it, because it is as valid as monogamous relationships.
This Valentine’s Day, we’re keeping it simple. We're attending a music festival on Friday and an arts exhibit out of town over the weekend.”
Miguel Poblador, student
Relationship status: 3 years on and off
“It was my first Valentine’s date ever with a boyfriend — and my first boyfriend ever at that. We went to a fancy restaurant in Greenbelt because it was convenient. I’d made the reservations a week before pa, so you know it was that kind of restaurant. And it was all good at first! Everyone was minding their own business, and it wasn’t even in the back of my head that something remotely homophobic would happen. But they sat a homophobic lady next to me. She and her date were probs in their late 40s.
The woman was seated beside [my boyfriend, Jox] and she really wasn’t holding back. She would stare at me, then [my boyfriend], then our hands touching on the table, and she’d make a face to her dude like, “Look at them. Holding hands. Here. Beside us. Rude.” She looked visibly upset, like we had ruined her date. I hope we did.
It didn’t affect Jox so much, but I’ve personally made it a point to be even more affectionate (not too much, only just as much as straight couples are) in public just to assert my dominance and make homophobes uncomfortable. And how I view Valentine’s now has changed, too. I don’t care for it. I really don’t. It’s Christian, it’s capitalist, and it’s tacky. Also, I don’t need a holiday to rekindle our romantic life when the threat of being discriminated against or even beaten up makes every date exciting. CHOS. But in all seriousness, that event made me realize that it’s hard to celebrate love when yours isn’t even recognized by the law.”
Gigi Esguerra, content creator
Relationship status: 1 year and 2 months together
“This is actually going to be our second Valentine’s Day together. And honestly we don’t really go all out on this day. We’ve come to realize that Valentine’s is just one of the many days we spend together, one of the many days we get to share in the love that we have for one another. And in that sense, Valentine’s is just like every other day for us. We consider everyday we spend together as special, considering how difficult it is for the relationship to even exist. Because of all the prejudices, we’ve learned how to value every day we have our relationship. Kaya we’ll probably just samgyup! That’s our go-to comfort meal, hehe.
Well like we said, there are certain compromises that we have to do in order to celebrate Valentine’s. Personally our greatest fear isn’t the regular bystander who would judge us. I’m fortunate enough to be passing as a biological woman so I don’t have to stress myself out with what other people think of our relationship. What we’re truly terrified of is the possibility of his parents finding both of us together. His parents are absolutely against our relationship. They’re very religious and don’t want their children to be associated with someone like me. So the fear of his parents seeing us is horrifying because God knows what they can do to our relationship once we’re caught. I just truly hate the fact that we have to do this just because I was born transgender. I’ve made peace with the fact that there will always be a lot of reservations in my life.
Like I said, we just want to celebrate simply. I’m already happy with the fact that I even have a boyfriend to celebrate this with. A lot of trans women blame their trans womanhood for being single and it really is affecting our mental health tremendously. Though I believe we shouldn’t rely on other people for validation, having someone who believes in your womanhood and respects you as a human being is really amazing. I’m happy to have him and I can’t wait to celebrate everyday with him.
*Names have been changed to protect their identity.