Heteronormativity is the idea that heterosexuality is the norm (Foss et. Al 115). It is not homophobia; heteronormativity does not assert that homosexuality is bad, just that it is abnormal.
Heteronormativity implies that anything outside of the traditional heterosexual marriage relationship between a man and a woman is seen as a deviation from the norm. Heterosexual relationships are seen as the baseline for all relationships. It leaves room for the possibility of homosexual and other relationships, but they are compared back to heterosexuality. All other relationships and ways of being are understood in terms of heterosexual relationships. Michael Warner, author of Fear of a Queer Planet, explains the problem as, “heterosexual culture’s exclusive ability to interpret itself as society. Het culture thinks of itself as the elemental form of human association, as the very model of inter-gender relations, as the indivisible basis of all community and as the means of reproduction without which society wouldn’t exist” (Warner xxi). Heterosexuality is so deeply rooted in western culture that it is often an assumed part of society that everyone will participate in unless they specifically differentiate themselves and intentionally do otherwise.
One of the main goals of queer theory is to combat heteronormativity. Anything queer is not heteronormative. Heteronormativity itself is a contested assumption. Members of queer society are working towards making other sexual identities more visible. As Warner puts it, “heteronormativity can be overcome only by actively imagining a necessarily and desirably queer world” (Warner xvi). Later he goes farther and references, “the necessarily and desirably queer nature of the world” (Warner xxi). Queer does not necessarily mean lesbians and gays; it means any “abnormal” gender expression. A “queer world” would be a world where there is no assumed sexuality.
Heteronormativity is related to the fact that American culture is based in a gender binary. This means that society divides people into two genders: men and women. It comes from the need for two different sexes to come together for human reproduction. Western society assigns these genders to the different sexes and expects certain behavior and expressions from each. Problematically however, this creates only two categories in which to fit based on behavior of gender expression, which allows for the assumption that the normal way for people to express their sexuality within this binary is of a heterosexual nature.
Seemingly progressive and pro-gay media can also perpetuate heteronormativity. As mentioned in Foss, Foss, and Domenico’s Gender Stories, a particular episode of The Simpsons, “Homer’s Phobia” is a great example of this. The episode makes homophobia look ridiculous through Homer, an undeniably ignorant and ridiculous character. In the episode, Bart becomes friends with a gay man and Homer fears that Bart may too be gay. Homer’s stereotypically negative attitude towards Bart’s possible homosexuality shows how absurd such behavior is. So in that way, it is working for acceptance of the gay community. However, the moral at the end, when even Homer comes around, is that differences are okay. The problem with this is that it implies and reinforces the idea of a drastic difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals (Foss et. Al 115). Thus, heteronormativity is maintained.
Normalized sexuality and the problems associated with deviations from it are evident in and affects more parts of society than one would think. The traditional system for care of the elderly is that children are responsible for their aging parents’ well being. Homosexuals who never had children are disproportionately neglected in their old age. (Warner xiv).
Foss, Sonja K., Karen A. Foss, and Mary E. Domenico. Gender Stories: Negotiating
Identity in a Binary World. Long Grove, IL: Waveland, 2013. Print.
Warner, Michael. Introduction. Fear of a Queer Planet: Queer Politics and Social
Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1993. vii-xxviii. Print.
Chasteen, Stephanie. "How to Tell the Difference between a Man and a Woman..." Weblog post. Sciencegeekgirl. N.p., 29 July 2008. Web. 15 Jan. 2013. <http://blog.sciencegeekgirl.com/2008/07/29/how-to-tell-the-difference-between-a-man-and-a-woman/>.