By Julie Gillis
February always brings with it, at least for me growing up in the U.S, Valentine’s Day. Considered by many these days to be a Hallmark Holiday, the shops and media are stocked with hearts and red flowers, pink-tinged mugs and gifts, and plenty of candy designed to share the gift of love.
Love is a little word, only four letters, but it means big things and things in multiples. We generally have one or two definitions for it these days. Romance, marriage, strong emotional feelings of bonding which often include romance or erotic feelings. Or we make a very soft and forgiving word out of it, expecting love to solve all things. These days that’s a pretty big burden for a little word to bear.
But love is more than a soft forgiveness and it’s more than the erotic and romantic. So many words gifted to us from centuries ago point to a deeper understanding of how love can be in us, our bodies, and the world. The Greeks, for example, had words for erotic love (Eros), deep friendship (Philia), playful love (Ludus), love for humanity (Agape), longstanding love (Pragma) and love of the self (Philautia).
We rarely learn or teach about these other forms of love. We are taught to love our families and partners, our country and friends, but we use the same word in all those different ways. Love is love is love? Would we love more deeply or differently if we had more words to describe the many ways love can manifest?
We are often told that love is serious but that self-love is a sign of self-ish-ness, of not having room for others. I believe the work of liberation and of resistance requires a self-love that is vital, playful, longstanding, filled with humanity, and yes, erotic. True self-love requires not narcissism, but an understanding that we matter, that we are enough, that we are loved, and that we make a difference in this very world, just by our being. Self-love is one of the most vital things we can learn to do for ourselves – and for the world.
How can we engage in acts of self love that range from treating ourselves as our own friend, our own longstanding commitment, our playful and erotic lover, and as a fully seen and holy part of humanity? It is an act of resistance to love ourselves first and in the deepest of ways. In a world that teaches us all manner of terrible things about ourselves by way of misogyny, white supremacy, ageism, sizism, ableism, and many other lies – to unlearn these forms of subordination and practice justice towards ourselves through love (others but certainly the self included) – this is a powerful form resistance.
Our very bodies are the frontlines of liberation. We must place the action of love in our own hands, and love the self, nourish and play, and hold ourselves in tender embrace, in full desire, in fierce affection. In sharing our stories of how we learn to do this in small and extravagant ways, we can grow love like a bouquet of the sweetest flowers. In holding our worth in both eros and agape, we craft deliciousness from within that can be consumed together. How can we, this time of year, be our own Valentine?
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Julie Gillis is an artist and activist focused on social justice and community building, producing events promoting expression and cultural change. Julie has produced many positive theatrical events and festivals focused on gender and sexuality, and creative expression. She loves creating space for people to do their best work.