by Sacchi Patel
Heteronormativity is a term that’s becoming widely used not just by the academic community, but by activists, social justice advocates and well, really everyone.
Let’s break it down. Hetero means “different” and even further in this definition it implies “heterosexuality.”
Normativity, or something being normative, means that it’s the everyday or mainstream way of life. In other words, it is normal.
When we put these two concepts together, we can easily see this means that heterosexuality is the normal or natural way of life. When we use the word normal to describe something we are not only saying that it is something that we are most closely familiar with, but we are also assigning a value system to it.
Heteronormativity operates in our society with the understanding that heterosexuality is the only natural form of sexual orientation and it is the only orientation that is of value to us. Value can then translate into the world being shaped with onlyone type of person in mind; heterosexuals. Examples of this can be seen everywhere, including marriage and partner benefits, biology and psychology texts, restrooms, living accommodations and rules, holidays like Valentine’s day, and even who can be allowed to raise children. All of these examples are shaped to only accommodate the “normal” people who identify as heterosexual.
Let’s imagine how difficult it may be to never have your state recognize you loving the person whom you are in an intimate relationship with, or school biology lessons only speaking to “two kinds” of people (male/man and female/woman) and absolutely nothing else and adding that according to nature, they should be having sex with their “opposite match.” Imagine a holiday not recognizing that you could want to give a card or gift to someone that you love intimately rather than someone who “looks the opposite of you.” Imagine getting dirty looks or feeling uncomfortable when using one of only two types of bathrooms “males only” or “females only”.
Heteronormativity assumes that all people are heterosexual. My advice? Let’s not be quick to assume. Use words like “partner” instead of “boy/girl friend.” Don’t assume someone understands your experiences and don’t assume what feels natural or normal for you is natural and normal for someone else. Let’s be open to talking about this!