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Old 02-15-2006, 02:47 PM   #1
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Heteronormativity

I'm taking a LGBT lit studies class right now, and recently we discussed heteronormativity. As a brief explanation I've copied part of wikipedia.com's explanation.
My question is this: If heterosexuality is so normal - natural - why does society feel the urge to enforce it? Why would we need to ban gay marriage if only heterosexuality is natural? Sometimes, our society enforces heterosexuality violently (ie. gay club raids prior to Stonewall, Stonewall itself, events like the slaying of Matthew Shepard etc).

The term was coined by Michael Warner in 1991 in his Social Text article, "Introduction: Fear of a Queer Planet" (Social Text, 1991; 9 (4 [29]): 3-17.), one of the first major works of queer theory. The concept can probably be traced back to the work of Adrienne Rich and her notion of compulsory heterosexuality. In a series of recent articles Samuel A. Chambers has tried to theorize heteronormativity more explicitly, calling for an understanding of heteronormativity as a concept that reveals the expectations, demands, and constraints produced when heterosexuality is taken as normative within a society.

It has been used in the exploration and critique of the traditional norms of sex, gender identity, gender roles and sexuality, and of the social implications of those institutions. It is descriptive of a dichotomous system of categorization that directly links social behavior and self-identity with one's genitalia. That is to say (among other things) that, because there are strictly defined concepts of maleness and femaleness, there are similarly expected behaviors for both males and females.

Originally conceived to describe the norms against which non-heterosexuals struggle, it quickly became incorporated into both the gender and the transgender debate. It is also often used in postmodernist and feminist debates. Those who use this concept frequently point to the difficulty posed to those who hold a dichotomous view of sexuality by the presence of clear exceptions — from freemartins in the bovine world to intersexual human beings with the sexual characteristics of both sexes. These exceptions are taken as direct evidence that neither sex nor gender are concepts that can be reduced to an either/or proposition.

In a heteronormative society, the binary choice of male and female for one's gender identity is viewed as leading to a lack of possible choice about one's gender role and sexual identity. Also, included in the norms established by society for both genders is the requirement that the individuals should feel and express desire only for partners of the opposite sex. In the work of Eve Sedgwick, for example, this heteronormative pairing is viewed as defining sexual orientation exclusively in terms of the sex and gender of the person one chooses to have sex with, ignoring other preferences one might have about sex.

In a heteronormative society, men and women are interpreted to be natural complements, socially as well as biologically, and especially when it comes to reproduction. Woman and men are necessary for procreation, therefore male/female coupling is assumed to be the norm.
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Old 02-15-2006, 08:32 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally posted by blueyedpoet
Why would we need to ban gay marriage if only heterosexuality is natural? Sometimes, our society enforces heterosexuality violently (ie. gay club raids prior to Stonewall, Stonewall itself, events like the slaying of Matthew Shepard etc).
Well just to problematize things a little bit..."heteronormativity" is not necessarily a concept which all gay and lesbian people are fully receptive to. The lesbian writer Dorothy Allison, for example, has critiqued the related notion of "the lesbian continuum" (and the "fair weather lesbianism" sometimes associated with it) by asserting that for her, there is a kind of irreducible, either-you-are-or-you-aren't quality to lesbian sexuality that is fundamentally grounded in inborn, biological urges towards people of the same sex. Another lesbian writer, Susie Bright, has expressed an uneasy squeamishness towards transsexuals, and questioned whether endorsing this refusal to accept the social consequences of what your XX or XY dealt you--"aberrant" sexual desires and preferred gender expressions included--is ultimately in the best interests of the gay and lesbian community. Now both these writers do (perhaps paradoxically) acknowledge bisexuality--in fact, Bright has had some thoroughly nonregretted sexual relationships with men herself--but again, they tend to see this, too, as being a function of biology, rather than a conscious and principled rebellion against heteronormativity.

That said, and considering what heteronormativity does for some very hostile heterosexuals' attitudes and behavior, I think it is well worth questioning this kind of essentialist thinking within the gay and lesbian community. Given the awful price gays and lesbians themselves pay for falling afoul of sociocultural norms regarding "proper" connections between sex and gender, should they not perhaps be more receptive to this idea? And ditto for heterosexuals, of course.
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Old 02-27-2006, 06:37 AM   #3
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My apologies for having not responded earlier.
There certainly is a danger in any essentialist belief. What exactly does a heterosexual male look like? How exactly does a bi-sexual female act?
Certainly one can ask an even tougher question: what kind of triangle is the essential triangle? Is the essential triangle a right triangle? Or an isosceles?
Does that make any sense?
I frankly am sick and tired of marginalized individuals discriminating against other marginalized individuals. The original founder of NOW - whatever that bitch's name was - described lesbians as the "lavender menace."
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Old 02-27-2006, 06:49 AM   #4
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Well biologically sex is not a simple binary option all the time and there can be serious physilogical differences between brain sex and anatomical sex, I think that defining heterosexual activity as normal behaviour is fine, homosexuality has a rarer expression but it occurs in enough numbers to be considered a normal behaviour. Monogomy, now that is strange behaviour, from an evolutionary standpoint it is difficult to grasp (evolutionary sociobiology has it's problems).

Apart from that element we have the issues of sexual attraction which a surely a combination of genetic, cultural and individual (not choice per se, but experiences) factors. Some of these attractions are definitely negative - paedophilia for instance (the danger in categorising these as illnesses is that pretty soon any and all sexual behaviour is).

Perhaps sex within the confines of the no harm principle should apply, it would be a damn shade smarter than approaching it as right and wrong by means of a binary system.

Heres a thought, if in the future reproductive technology reaches a stage where children can be produced with combined genetic material of two individuals regardless of their sex and the reproductive argument is nullified then will approaches towards human sexuality within society match this broader change.
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Old 02-27-2006, 07:44 AM   #5
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Here's a prime example of how people who feel that anything that reaches outside heteronormativity threatens society.
This guy posted this on a myspace group (Support Gay Marriages) forum.

Feb 26, 2006 6:41 PM

If you support Gay marriages then you support peophilia. After all, isnt it all about love? Why not have a 40 year old marry a 3 year old?
There's no problem with that according to you guys.
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Old 02-27-2006, 08:04 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally posted by blueyedpoet
Here's a prime example of how people who feel that anything that reaches outside heteronormativity threatens society.
This guy posted this on a myspace group (Support Gay Marriages) forum.

Feb 26, 2006 6:41 PM

If you support Gay marriages then you support peophilia. After all, isnt it all about love? Why not have a 40 year old marry a 3 year old?
There's no problem with that according to you guys.
Ah...how I love heteronormative logic. That's probably why I think that heterosexuals all have an IQ of 10.

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Old 02-27-2006, 08:13 AM   #7
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Originally posted by melon


Ah...how I love heteronormative logic. That's probably why I think that heterosexuals all have an IQ of 10.

Melon
I know, this kid (16 years old) tried to argue that two guys having consensual sex is just as bad as a man raping a woman. The man must love the woman, of course, he thought if he raped her.
Anyone else believe that maybe all humans are actually just bi-sexual, with some leaning one way or the other?
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Old 02-27-2006, 08:26 AM   #8
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Originally posted by blueyedpoet
Anyone else believe that maybe all humans are actually just bi-sexual, with some leaning one way or the other?
Anthropologists believe this, after studying cultures that had no Western influences in the 20th century. Of course, Christian missionaries have been the greatest vehicle for cultural genocide, and so a lot of these cultures have become homophobic since then.

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Old 02-27-2006, 11:17 AM   #9
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Originally posted by blueyedpoet

Anyone else believe that maybe all humans are actually just bi-sexual, with some leaning one way or the other?
Yes.
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Old 02-27-2006, 05:07 PM   #10
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While I can intellectually believe that, as you say Melon, anthropologists are correct and we are all - mostly - bisexual, it's still hard to accept because of cultural conditioning. It's hard for me to believe that had I not been conditioned in our society that I could've been inclined to sleep with members from the same-sex. This isn't to say i think that homosexuality is wrong - hopefully my comments and my criticism of heteronormativity expresses this. I suppose though, it might be just as difficult for a lesbian to believe that she might actually be bisexual.
I hope these comments are not seen as me being an asshole. I'm just trying to make sense of all this.
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