Dear Queer: Heteronormativity

An advice column about sexuality, gender, dating and overall queerness

By Mollie Whuppie /// Staff Writer

Dear Queer,

Where do you see heteronormativity?


Dear Interested,

I see heteronormativity every day, everywhere. On the street, in the gym, clubs, church, school, bathrooms, textbooks, restaurants, politics, greeting cards, psychology articles about dating norms, Bed Bath & Beyond, adoption agencies, football, cheerleading, bars, movies, marriage, wedding ring commercials, my family, any “couple”-type advertisements on the radio, on TV, in print, on the computer (I think you get the point.)

Heteronormativity perpetuates the belief that heterosexuality is the only acceptable or normal sexual orientation. This attitude leads people to value more (or only) traditional gender roles and heterosexual relationships while rejecting all gender, sex and sexual behaviors that fall outside of the norm. Heteronormativity contributes to the creation of a society that is unwelcoming and dangerous for people who do not conform to this norm.

The point isn’t that there are more heterosexual people: heteronormativity means that heterosexuality  is presented as the norm (neutral), while anything beyond the heterosexual representation is considered other. For example, think of the underrepresentation of same-sex couples in advertising and entertainment media, or laws that actively discriminate against homosexuality (sodomy laws, the banning of same-sex marriage and housing discrimination). According to cultural anthropologist Gayle Rubin, heteronormativity in mainstream society creates a “sex hierarchy” that ranks sexual practices from morally “good sex” to “bad sex.” This hierarchy places reproductive, monogamous sex between committed heterosexuals as “good” and places any sexual acts and individuals who fall short of this standard lower until they fall into “bad sex.” Using this theory, long-term committed gay couples and promiscuous gay people fall between the two poles. Ironically, this hierarchy also affects straight people; if you are having non-reproductive, non-monogamous sex then you, my friend, are a little lower on the hierarchy. Welcome to the dark side.

So, what does this mean for where I see heteronormativity in daily life? It means that all space is inhabited by heterosexuals to the point that queer people have to create their own spaces. To acquire a space of our own, we call it a lesbian bar, a gayborhood (The Castro) or a Queer Town Hall. Heteronormativity also means that I have to look around before I kiss my girlfriend to see who’s watching. It means I constantly have to keep coming out, because people assume “the norm.” It means there is a closet in the first place. It means gays have to fight for our rights. It means being someone’s “gay friend.” It means that I experience a lot of hurt in a world that sees people like me as abnormal, in need of fixing, lesser. It means I have learned to anticipate that hurt and to expect others not to understand it.

Your Queer,

Mollie Whuppie

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