Updated: Oct 26, 2020
A Short Analysis of Heteronormativity
By Yashavi Prakash
Image via Class Race Gender
I came across this Quora post recently where one user asked the readers how they could tell their LGBTQ+ friends that they “don’t respect their lifestyle without offending them”. Curious about what the potential answers could be, I scrolled down to read what my fellow readers had thought about the question. Out of the 89 answers, the responders seemed to range from devout Christians to LGBTQ+ members and allies, and most seemed to respond with “if it doesn’t affect your lifestyle, why speak out against it”. If you’ve ever encountered an LGBTQ+ skeptic, this might be a common response to their criticism, and it may be enough to temporarily stop the spread of their critiques. However, I might argue that this alone is not enough to change minds, and, thus, evolve a generation because we continue to see the LGBTQ+ community as people we don’t need to understand, and fail to accept them as normal.
Naturally this got me thinking: why don’t we see LGBTQ+ people as normal, and why have we never questioned it? Later, I realized that if you’re cis and straight, like myself, you may have never have had to have seen yourself as abnormal.
Instead, as a child, you may have been shown and taught everywhere that things like being attracted to the opposite sex was an expected part of your adolescence. Characters in Disney Channel shows always found themselves in straight relationships; straight relationships were always adored and celebrated by the media — think Selena and Justin, Vanessa and Zac, Miley and Liam.
When you entered middle school, sex education consisted of understanding how girls and boys should have protective sex with each other, if they decide to. 88 percent of the time, your school’s sex education class would not cover same-sex relationships as my fellow VofZ writer Natasha Santana reported. If you lived in one of the 8 states like Alabama, you might be taught that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that it is a criminal offense under state laws. If you lived in states like Florida and North Carolina, your sex education teachers would be required to teach you sex education with respect to monogamous, heterosexual relationships. The end result of censoring sex education would rarely ever have allowed you to accept LGBTQ+ relationships as normal, and rarely ever lead you to understand or think that there might be people who felt stressed, anxious, and out of place because they were never accepted in your curriculum.
As you reached high school, you learned that boys asking out girls to prom was a norm, and, in the process, you may not have noticed that your peers with same-sex dates were denied entrance to dances because they were not straight. You may have never been bullied because someone somewhere didn’t plant in the minds of your bullies that who you were was something to be suppressed and hidden. You may have never been aware of the fact that your LGBTQ+ peers were twice as likely to be bullied at school and on the internet.
Therefore, because you were constantly accepted as the norm in every aspect of society, you never questioned that there was anything wrong with your sexuality being solely considered as the norm. Instead, you may see other sexualities as slightly out of place, but — because it doesn’t affect your own individual lifestyle — you may not feel compelled to learn about the LGBTQ+ community (since the community and your sexuality have never crossed paths in your life before).
So, when an anonymous user on Quora consults you on an inquiry similar to the one above, you may see accepting LGBTQ+ people as normal out of place in your own lifestyle. You instead suggest that the anonymous user should not speak out against something that does not affect their individual lifestyle, instead of letting the user believe that LGBTQ+ people are as normal as straight people.
It’s important to note everything in this analysis because it helps you get a small glimpse on why it’s so hard for straight people to notice that their norm isn’t really fair and it shouldn’t be "normal". It was something that I also had to be more aware of in the sense that my surroundings were so heteronormative that I didn’t understand that my norm didn’t include everyone. It wasn’t until I met more people from the LGBTQ+ community that I understood that my “norm” wasn’t inclusive, and that we should create a new norm accepting LGBTQ+ people as normal because they are. It all starts with seeing everyone as people, and not labelling them by their sexualities or fetishizing them as many straight people can do. It’s important to not fetishize “girls who like girls” (I’m looking at you Noah Beck), and it’s important for cis, straight women to not exclusively look for a “gay best friend”.
It’s important to see people as they are, and to lift and celebrate their qualities and characteristics — not solely focus on their sexuality. At the end of the day, treat people with kindness and treat people like people.
Written by writer Yashavi Prakash