Updated: Apr 21, 2021
This week, we're exploring the gay/straight binary, the consequences of compulsory heterosexuality, and the naturalization of heteronormativity.
What is the heteronormativity binary? In our society, heterosexuality is compulsory. Compulsory heterosexuality means that everyone is assumed to be straight. It also means that heterosexuality is normalized and naturalized. But, allocating “naturalness” to a single sexual orientation creates an imbalance of power.
When we see heterosexuality as the only naturally occurring or normal sexual orientation, all other types of sexuality are subsequently seen as deviant and unnatural.
We know that, in reality, that all sexualities are natural and normal. But heteronormativity creates a gay / straight binary, one that allocates social power to heterosexual (or straight) people through these false assumptions about normal and natural human behaviors.
The gay / straight binary can also lead to the pathologizing of non-heterosexual orientations.In the past, folks who identified as anything other than straight were labeled as sexually deviant. They could be imprisoned, sterilized, or confined in unsafe facilities. Until recently, homosexuality was quite literally categorized as a mental disorder.
These reactions to non-hetero sexualities are born out of an enforcement of heteronormative norms, and a societal fear of de-naturalizing heterosexuality (which would result in a loss of some social power for straight people).
We tend to be raised in a culture of heteronormativity. This means that most children understand heteronormativity. Parents and educators of young children often believe that their children are too young to learn about sexuality. But this doesn't mean that young children aren't receiving messages about what is seen as normal in their society. Young children learn about heterosexuality everyday. By not talking about sexuality with young children, parents and educators are really just not talking about other sexual orientations with children.
Further, the heteronormativity binary creates a ton of misinformation.There are so many myths about sexuality. Most of these myths are born out of the belief that sexuality operates on a binary; that someone is either straight, or gay.
This binary also creates a burden for non-heterosexual folks. For instance, one of the many consequences of compulsory heterosexuality is the idea that non-heterosexual people have to "come out." Not only does this create a burden for people who aren't straight, but it also creates intense restrictions for people questioning their sexuality.
"Coming out" can be liberating and inspiring but “coming out" can also be violating, scary, and dangerous.
It’s important to note that there is no binary of sexual orientations. The gay/straight binary leads us to believe some falsitites, such as:
People are either gay or straight
Being straight is "normal" and anything else is deviant.
When we break down the binary, it's easier to understand that sexual orientations are varied, complex, and fluid. Human sexuality is influenced by so many factors (culture, gender identity, our minds & bodies). It's absurd to categorize people by their sexuality, or to only validate one of many sexual orientations.