A heteronormative society is a society where the norm for sexuality is heterosexuality, and all other sexualities are seen as deviations (APA Dictionary of Psychology, n.d.). It also means that society is based on a binary understanding of gender, where it's only possible to be male or female. What does this mean for the way we express our sexuality and how we navigate sex?
Heterosexuality is mistakenly seen as the standard, and it is in an extension of heterosexuality as the norm that we learn about other sexualities and our own (Katz, 2021). Therefore, it's often only when you feel like you don't identify with the heteronormative norm, that you can begin to realize the invisible hold it has over you. Even if you are not heterosexual, you still live in a world that sees heterosexuality as the universal standard (Katz, 2001). Society is still structured with a binary understanding of gender, where the two gender identities are male and female (Binary Gender Understanding, 2021). Masculinity and femininity are associated with these binary gender identities, and are understood in extension of them. The binary gender understanding that is part of the heteronormative society is therefore deeply integrated into the lives of all of us, regardless of sexuality.
The question is therefore not whether it affects our sexuality and the way we have sex, as it absolutely does. Rather, the question we must ask ourselves is, in what ways does it affect us?
By being aware of the heteronormative norms imposed on us, we can question them and imagine a life where we are not governed by them. Question the ways in which you perform masculinity and femininity, how much is determined by yourself and how much is expected? The heteronormative norms wants us to believe that one's sexuality, femininity and masculinity can only be performed in one way. All of this can limit how we express ourselves sexually, as it already feels like the framework has been set for us.
How much sex do we have, with preconceived notions about how sex takes place in a binary gender understanding? How much sex is performed with the "right" expression of masculinity and femininity in mind? These questions are where we discover how much we ourselves are subject to the restrictions that the heteronormative norms impose on our sexuality.
This article was written by Luna María Ziirsen-Aineto, who is studying for a Master's degree in Gender Studies in the Czech Republic, in Prague.
Katz, J. N. (2001). The Invention of Heterosexuality. K. L, Peiss (Ed.), Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality (pp. 349-356). Houghton Mifflin. (Originally published in 1980).