For some, the days leading up to Valentine’s Day and after bring sadness, sometimes weeks of it, moods dampened by disappointments, broken promises, and heartbreak. And that’s just the people in good relationships. It’s the pressure: the belief that if you Yes, really Knowing your significant other, finding the perfect gift should be easy. It is not. You can live with one person for years, spend pretty much all of your pandemic hours in their company, and still be completely out of ideas in February.
Unless, of course, that person tells you.
Back to a February a few years ago when I was driving with my girlfriend on Venice Boulevard at one of these stands selling stuffed teddy bears wrapped in plastic. I joked about getting her one because I knew it would be the absolute second to last thing she wanted – the last being the fake roses sold next to it. But when the car drove by, leaving all those suffocating teddy bears, I was like, guess what? ID like a stuffed bear.
Why not? I don’t have to prove anything about masculinity. I mean, let’s just say I don’t. In fact, as a trans man, I feel like I’ve spent every single day of my life figuring out exactly how my masculinity fits into this world.
For most of my life I just wanted to fit in, but my body wouldn’t allow it. When I was in elementary school, the teachers would call my mom and ask her why I wasn’t playing with the girls – “because they’re boring,” was my reply – and although I don’t think women are boring now, even then I did Made sense because I never felt like one of them.
I used the moment in the car to offer that teddy bears are equal opportunity gifts: my girlfriend could always get them me a.
That Valentine came and went, and then five more and no bear. It became a running gag between us. Every February, I would wonder out loud where my stuffed bear was, and my girlfriend would make up an amusing excuse for his absence. “He got lost in the mail” or “He’s on his way again” or “He really wanted to be here, but…”
Maybe we were both a little insecure. I didn’t know if I wanted a stuffed bear and she didn’t know if getting one would emasculate me. I mean, should boys want a teddy bear? My 99% sure guess is no, and I have a lot of guesswork to do.
Growing up Italian-American in New York, I was modeled on manhood in many ways, none of which involved anything other than a gold chain or perfume for Valentine’s Day; However, earlier in my life, when I tried to live some of my manhood, the world gave me a disapproving and often dangerous look. For decades I didn’t think I could do anything about the mind-body separation. I didn’t have a word for war in me. Growing up, I watched from the sidelines and denied many of the experiences I desired. It was harder to see how my brother – not even a year younger – had them. I learned how to shave from a YouTube video.
People have tried to define me my entire life. And for a good chunk of it, I let her. At some point I had to grow up and be a man, which meant standing up for what I believe in, even or especially when it’s difficult.
It also means speaking in a voice that is uniquely my own and gently correcting people when, by accident, anger, or will, they don’t see who I know myself to be. I was with my current partner when I started my physical transition. However, we do not fit into traditional roles. I want to make sure I never invalidate my girlfriend’s queer identity as a bisexual woman, because when we perform together it’s easy to overlook the fact that we’re a couple that needed to grow and define ourselves and our relationship like most men and women not.
But like everyone else, we live in a society whose advertising cycles seem to tell us that Valentine’s Day is all about three things: lingerie, red roses, and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. These gifts are meant to go in one direction. Most men I know (myself included) don’t want what the ads suggest, so why not a bear?
If you want a list of reasons, a Google search for “am I male enough” provides plenty of evidence that I’m not the only one with this dilemma.
So you can imagine my surprise when the doorbell rang and there was a box on the day Cupid supposedly shoots arrows. To me. Believe me when I say that the arrival of Bear – because what else is a guy who thinks window cleaning is a great gift to name him? – came just in time. While viruses roamed free, physical goods didn’t: if Bear had still been traveling the world he might have languished on unfamiliar container ships and we’d be minus a very delightful addition to our abode.
Inside the box, he was wrapped in a plastic bag with small, evenly spaced holes; Apparently the packers had already filled the bear with life. The black seam of his mouth, embroidered into his white fur, was pulled up in a smile. As if on cue, I smiled back, not even knowing it was going to be the kind of year we all needed a little more kindness.
To this day I still reflect on how lucky 15 ounces of fluff brought us, the years-old inside joke about it, the socially separated holidays we’ve had to endure.
I learned a lot about what is important during this time. Even without the bear I was lucky and found love in so many ways.
Perhaps the moral is that holidays, even those with questionable motives, are an opportunity to love a little more and to let the people in your life know that you see them, appreciate them, and are grateful for the time that you have to spend with them. Because it’s way too short anyway.
My girlfriend makes me laugh in so many ways every day. She’s a walking testimony of compassion and love, and now there’s a bear sitting there, without a judgmental thought in the world, watching it all roll by.
What Bear teaches me every time I look into his glassy but incredibly thoughtful eyes is that love is love. And the most important thing you can do when you’re faced with a dilemma of the heart — especially if it means that people might devalue the self you’ve worked so hard to share — is to do what outcasts have been doing for centuries: write your own rule book.
The author is a writer and director based in Venice. His website is mikkidel.com and he is on social media @mikkidel
LA Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the LA area, and we want to hear your real story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. The submission guidelines can be found here. Past columns can be found here.
https://www.latimes.com/lifestyle/story/2022-02-19/la-affairs-as-a-trans-man-was-it-ok-for-me-to-say-i-wanted-a-teddy-bear LA Affairs: Being a trans man means writing my own love language