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Saturday, July 7, 2018

What is Heteronormativity?

A friend recently complained about the lesbian relationships that have been front-and-center in both Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow as "pushing a social justice agenda", and I thought this could be a good teachable moment. Sadly, I don't think my friend is open to this particular argument, so instead I'm going to turn the teachable moment into a blog post.
First, a Disclaimer: This post is meant to be informative and to build bridges. I don't intend for this post to be scolding or lecturing, so if I come across as such, I apologize. I'm just trying to explain a concept that many people might not understand.
Let's say you're watching a television show with your elementary school-age child, and two of the characters on screen have a romantic kiss. I don't mean "a kiss with a lot of tongue action", I mean a nice, prime-time-appropriate smooch without tongue but which is definitely more than just a peck on the lips. A good benchmark for this is "The kind of kiss that people share once they've been pronounced married."

What is your reaction to your child seeing this public display of affection?
  1. Turn the TV off. Well, while I disagree with your decision*, I respect you for your across-the board consistency. 
    • * Mainly because you're saying "I don't think it's appropriate for my child to see two loving adults kiss" and that makes me wonder about the amount of love in your marriage, not to mention the fact that you're also saying that it's not appropriate to take children to weddings. 
  2. Allow your child to watch and then afterwards ask them "Did you have any questions about what you saw on TV?" This is the correct answer as far as I'm concerned, but ending my post here doesn't really teach anything. 
  3. React on the basis of the sexuality of the kissers. This is the troublesome answer, because if you picked this one I'm betting that you're okay with your child seeing a man and a woman kiss, but aren't comfortable with same-sex kisses. 
#3 is what's called "heternormativity", the belief that heterosexuality (hetero-) is the social norm (-normative) within our society. And as beliefs go (and this is where I get into trouble with the SJWs), it's not incorrect; if we define "normal" as "usual, typical, or expected", then yes, heterosexuality is the norm, because depending on which studies you use, between 75% and 90% of the world's population is heterosexual.

And just to be clear: there's nothing wrong with being heterosexual. I love my heterosexual friends and family! Without heterosexuality, I wouldn't be here, and neither would most of you.

The downside of heteronormativity is that it causes people to think, perhaps without even realizing it, that everything which is "straight" is natural and everything which is "gay" is unnatural. To use my example above, I found it strange that my friend reacted so strongly to his child seeing lesbian relationships on television, yet was perfectly okay with his child seeing numerous examples of straight couples having sex outside of marriage, and at least one instance of having a child out of wedlock.

Or put another way: If you feel uncomfortable every time a man talks about his husband or boyfriend, or a woman talks about her wife or girlfriend, or you see them kiss, then you maybe have a feeling of what it's like for us on the queer side of things to be constantly bombarded with cultural messages that we're wrong if we aren't straight. If you want to track this for yourself, bring a pen and paper with you when you watch TV and make note of how often characters talk about heterosexual relationships -- his wife, his girlfriend, her husband, her boyfriend. I think you'll be surprised at how many tick marks you have, and that you never noticed it until now.

If you do, congratulations! You've just discovered something called cultural invisibility, which is a fancy way of saying "You've never noticed it because it's always been around you." Or, put another way: do you ever think about the air around you unless it's acting upon you (blowing) or taken away (drowning)?

Queer people feel that wind blowing all the time. We're surrounded by it like you are, but we feel pressured by it while you don't. And so, it's nice to see examples of ourselves in media, because it's a nice shelter from the wind when our culture takes time to say "Hey, it's okay to be something other than normal."

Speaking of which, can we use a word other than normal? Because the opposite of that is "abnormal" which has all sorts of unsavory connotations like "sick", "broken" and "unnatural." How about we use "ordinary" instead? It still means commonplace, standard -- you know, all the stuff that "normal" means -- but the opposite of ordinary is "extraordinary" which actually makes us non-standard folk feel awesome.  Admit it, you'd love being called extraordinary. You're not shorter than average, you're extraordinarily short. You aren't a weird geek, you're extraordinarily enthusiastic. It sounds like a superpower!

Finally, if I leave you with nothing else, let me leave you with this: Queer people exist in the world, and there's just no getting around that or hiding from it. Don't hide us from your children; prepare them for the world that they're going to live in. We aren't bad people -- we're just extraordinary.

Thank you.

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