In the sex-positive, gender-fluid, GLBTQI (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex), and feminist worlds, the term “heteronormativity” is frequently used. However, it’s not part of our everyday vernacular and most people have no idea what it actually means. Some mistakenly think that it is synonymous with heterosexuality. It’s not. I thought it was time to write about it because, whether you ever bring the word into your everyday vocabulary, it’s meaningful to understand the concept and how it impacts you. It’s also really helpful if you want to be an ally to people who are LGBTQI, polyamorous, kinky or other folks who fall outside of dominant cultural norms.
So what is heteronormativity?
Heteronormativity promotes sex, gender, and relationship norms. Within these norms, everyone is assumed to be a man or woman who will be in relationship with someone of the “opposite sex,” and play assumed sexual/relational roles. These roles and gender are treated as binary, meaning that they are treated as two opposing, distinct genders, rather than seeing gender as a spectrum with many possibilities. Men are associated with “masculinity” and women are associated with “femininity.” Heteronormativity normalizes male-female attraction. Heterosexuality, monogamy and a host of other sexual norms are assumed to be central and “normal” for all. Anything that deviates from that can be pathologized and marginalized, or “othered”. As in “Oh wow, you’re so different.”
Aligning sex, gender and sexuality with gender roles and relationship expectations, is a heteronormative view. Race and class are also part of the idea of heteronormativity, furthering the idea that there is a white middle-class center and everything else is a deviation from that central norm.
Heteronormativity idealizes a very specific sexuality and social norms that support it.
Here are some examples of heteronormativity: