Heteronormativity is the belief that heterosexuality is the only normal and natural sexual orientation—it’s the assumption that everyone is straight. Heterosexuality is the attraction to the opposite sex.
Since heteronormativity is based on the concept of only two genders, it doesn’t reflect the reality of the sexual spectrum. That attraction to all genders or similar genders exists and is normal.
Heteronormativity assumes that everyone is straight, thus erasing others’ sexual identity. This can be harmful and demanding for LGBTQ+ individuals as it contributes to a lack of human rights protection, funds to support them and erases identity.
Heteronormativity reinforces transphobia and homophobia by assuming that everyone should be straight. Transphobia means discrimination against transgender people, while homophobia means discrimination against people attracted to similar gender.
History of Heteronormativity
In 1868, Karl Maria Kerbeny defined the terms “heterosexual” and “homosexual.” Heterosexuality is the attraction to the opposite sex, while homosexuality is the attraction to the same sex.
But, it is important to note that heteronormativity existed long before these words were defined. It dominated the storytelling and imagery of the man and woman relationship and the nuclear family.
The word heterosexuality was popularized by social theorist and queer literary critic Michael Warner in 1991. The motivation for the term was influenced by an essay called “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” by Adrienne Rich.
Examples of Heteronormativity
Heteronormative beliefs and assumptions are common across the world in different forms. Here are some examples:
- Media representation – recently, movies, TV shows, and advertisements have influenced how diverse the sexual spectrum is. Heteronormativity is evident in media as default couples are always shown to be straight. The influence and fight the queer people have to be displayed as examples of couples clarifies how presiding heteronormativity is in the community.
- Queerness as confusion- when LGBTQ+ individuals come out, people assume they’re going through a phase and will grow out of it and live a heterosexual life. That idea that having sexual preference apart from heterosexual is a phase is heteronormative.
- Biologica pronouns – when someone insists on referring to another person based on their biological sex over their sexual preferences, they display heteronormative beliefs.
- Healthcare discrimination- heteronormative culture is displayed when LGBTQ+ people face struggles and challenges trying to receive proper healthcare because of lack of insurance and healthcare providers who understand their needs.
- Parental disapproval – many heteronormative parents practice transphobia and homophobia and deny their kids the chance to come out LGBTQ+
- Assigning gender to intersex – intersex is when a child is born with sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit a female or male. Parents practice heteronormativity by performing unnecessary surgery to ensure the baby is entirely male or female.
Impact of Heteronormativity
The assumption that being straight is the only natural and normal sexual orientation and excluding those who don’t fit is problematic in several ways.
Its Homophobic and Transphobic
As stated earlier, homophobia is the discrimination of people attracted to the same gender, while transphobia is the discrimination of people who are transgender.
When the media only displays examples of straight couples, it creates the notation that those who are not straight are abnormal. This is false because LGBTQ+ relationships exist worldwide, and it’s not abnormal; it’s natural to have one.
Showing straight couples only passes the message that it’s wrong to be attracted to both of the same genders and that those don’t exist. This is entirely untrue and passes homophobic messages that are emotionally harmful to LGBTQ+ individuals.
Homophobia can also lead to physical violence, cases of assaults, or even murders of people who aren’t heterosexual.
Lack of Acceptance
Studies show that about 40% of homeless youth are from LGBTQ+. Most of them find themselves in the streets because of rejection by their family members.
The assumption that heterosexuality is the only sexual orientation affects LGBTQ+ kids, causing them to participate in a crime, face violence, and face trauma that affects their entire lives.
LGBTQ+ people also lack proper medication as the healthcare providers discriminate against them based on their sexuality. They also lack the health insurance that could guarantee them good healthcare, which is brought by unacceptance by family members.
Individuals not identified as heterosexual are likely to be fired from their jobs based on their sexual identity. Regardless of their ability and success, LGBTQ+ person can lose their job if the manager disagrees with their sexual identity.
LGBTQ+ people are also not treated equally as heterosexual people. They get low salaries, are overworked, and are forced to work night shifts.
This type of discrimination can lead to mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, substance abuse, and even suicide.
Bullying and Violence
Bullying of LGBTQ kids causes emotional distress. When all children are taught that being straight is the only normal and natural sexual orientation, they believe their peers who don’t fit that box are abnormal. The individuals become a target of bullying.
This often extends to hate crimes and physical violence against LGBTQ+ individuals. In fact, in 2015 studies showed that about one in five hate crimes committed in the US was because of sexual orientation and identity.
Excessive bullying and violence can lead to substance abuse, self-harm, school dropout, mental health conditions like stigma, anxiety, depression, and suicide ideation.
What is Heteronormativity – The Bottom Line
Heteronormativity is very prevalent in our community. As observed, it’s a difficult practice that affects all people who aren’t straight.
Because heteronormativity assumes that everyone is heterosexual, the most important thing we can do is not think about it to not harm others.
It’s not wrong to be straight, but it’s wrong to practice heteronormative assumptions on others which erases their sexual identity.
Don’t use incorrect pronouns to refer to people; introduce yourself with your pronouns to encourage them to do the same. Be supportive to friends and family who are in the LGBTQ+ community by reading articles and resources related to LGBTQ+