Why Heteronormativity Is Problematic

Something is heteronormative if it is based on, or perpetuates the idea, that heterosexuality is the accepted norm. This may also be referred to as heteronormativity. It is not the same as cis-normativity, which is based on the idea that being cisgender is the norm. 

Couple in wedding clothes dancing
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What Heteronormative Statements Assume

A heteronormative statement or policy assumes that people can be easily categorized into binary — male and female — genders. It also assumes that individuals only seek out romantic and sexual relationships with the opposite sex.

Heterosexuality is often assumed in the way that the English language is currently used. Therefore, failure to explicitly address this privilege may also be considered to be heteronormativity. However, any discussion of heterosexuality is not necessarily heteronormative. The issue of heteronormativity has more to do with the presentation of male and female gender identity and heterosexuality as:

  • The expected standard of identity/behavior
  • Normal, when other types of gender and sexual expression are seen as abnormal
  • Something that other ways of living deviate from

Furthermore, just because an assumption happens to be correct in a given circumstance does not mean that it isn't heteronormative. For example, imagine that you know that a man is married, but not to whom. If you ask him about his wife, you are making the heteronormative assumption that he is married to a woman.

It is heteronormative because you ignore the possibility that he might be married to a man or someone who is agender or gender non-conforming. It is also heteronormative to state that a gay person is obligated to "come out" when there is no similar need for straight people to announce their sexuality.

Example Problems Associated With Heteronormativity

Heteronormative sex education is problematic for a number of reasons, including:

  1. It may cause gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth to feel excluded.
  2. It may fail to provide accurate information. It is a problem if the educator does not address the fact that people have sexual relationships that do not conform to heterosexual expectations.
  3. It reinforces the idea that heterosexuality is normal, while bisexuality and homosexuality are not. This may increase prejudice and stigma directed at gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals.
  4. It does not acknowledge the existence of transgender individuals or their sexual health needs and questions.
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