Heteronormativity is harmful to everyone, not just LGBTQ+ people

“So, which of you is the man and which is the woman?”

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Heteronormativity is a concept that is ingrained in society and people’s views; it’s incredibly damaging to people who do not conform to its standards, and even to people who do. It affects everyone whether one recognizes it or not. Heteronormativity is a complex topic, and when put simply, is the assumption that everyone is heterosexual or that heterosexuality is the norm or “default sexuality.” It also assumes that everyone falls into a strict gender binary and fulfills their respective gender roles. Anyone who doesn’t fit into this definition is deemed “abnormal,” “confused,” or “inferior” according to goodtherapy.com. It is also a common idea of heteronormativity that sexuality is a decision or lifestyle choice when it is not.

Heteronormativity normalizes beliefs, actions, and societal expectations which strengthens assumed heterosexuality of all individuals. Further, the concept only recognizes a gender binary of male and female identities and pushes gender roles. People who don’t conform to heteronormative standards are often marginalized and made to seem as unusual, specifically people who aren’t heterosexual or cisgender (someone who identifies with the gender they were given at birth). A heteronormative perspective is one that assumes all people wish to have a partner of the opposite sex, marry, have children, and fulfill traditional gender roles throughout their lifetime. We live in a heteronormative society which means straight and cisgender people are a part of a privileged group.

LGBTQ+ people are affected by heteronormativity on a daily basis; every day, they hear things like, “You just haven’t found the right man/woman yet,” “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?” etc. LGBTQ+ people are forced to explain themselves and their identities or pretend to conform to heteronormativity, with little to no other options.

Heteronormativity also reinforces the idea of a “gender binary” and strict gender roles that come along with this. Men are expected to be aggressive, dominant, and strong; “boys don’t cry” and “boys don’t like pink” are common examples of this sort of heteronormativity being fed to children since birth. This can also lead to toxic masculinity in men. Toxic masculinity is a term that describes the strict and repressive male gender roles of being violent, unemotional, and completely self-reliant. On the other hand, the standard for women is that they are passive, submissive, and feminine. Women are commonly told by men how they should act, look, and dress; in school, girls are told that “boys will get distracted” when they wear something “revealing,” or are victimized for harassment from males. All of these gender roles, reinforced by heteronormativity, have detrimental consequences and lead to other negative beliefs that are ingrained into society.

Whether one realizes it or not, heteronormativity is in our everyday lives in the most unsuspecting ways. If one searches “couple” on the internet, every single photo will be heterosexual. This only further proves that heterosexuality is seen as the “norm” through a heteronormative view. Another example is the phrase “boyfriend fit” describing certain loose-fitting styles of women’s clothing. This sets a standard that in order for a woman to wear loose clothing, it must be her boyfriends while also assuming that her boyfriend must be larger than she is. Even further, this says that a woman should have a boyfriend, or that a woman having a boyfriend is the norm. There is a long list of examples of when heteronormativity sneaks into daily life. Although this may not seem like a huge deal to some, it can largely affect those who don’t conform to heteronormativity.

Historically, heteronormativity has been promoted in the media through the exclusion of LGBTQ+ people or by portraying them in a stereotypical, flat, or sometimes offensive way. When LGBTQ+ people are included in the media, they often fall into one of these categories or lack a storyline with depth which doesn’t involve hardship because of their sexuality. Until the 2000’s, it was incredibly rare to see LGBTQ+ representation in the media, and representation of transgender, non-binary, and LGBTQ+ people of colour is still lacking.

Heteronormativity can lead to homophobia and transphobia; it has large emotional, mental, and possibly even physical implications for those who don’t conform to it. LGBTQ+ people have, and are still, denied many rights and benefits that heterosexual and cisgender people enjoy. This concept not only leads to discrimination and prejudice but also may have a direct impact on LGBTQ+ individuals. Lack of acceptance from friends and family can affect the well-being of these people. A 2011 study found that 82 percent of LGBTQ+ youth have experienced bullying because of their sexuality. Not to mention, a study done by The Trevor Project found that as many as 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ+ and 60 percent of that population is likely to attempt suicide.

Heteronormativity affects everyone, LGBTQ+ or straight and cisgender. It’s a concept that is ingrained in the world and inevitable to come across and one point or another. Even the largest allies of the LGBTQ+ community can be heteronormative, it’s not only homophobic people who have these views. These sorts of ideas must be challenged; the less heteronormative society is, the more normalized and understood LGBTQ+ topics will be. It’s hard to rid oneself of a heteronormative mindset which one has grown up with, but even attempts to call out these beliefs and recognize it are an important step in the process.