So what is heteronormativity? It is a global social assumption that by default people are going to be cisgender. This also spills out into the association that people who don’t fit into those brackets are somehow wrong or the “other”. It can also have repercussions in terms of the gender binary and the gender norms that are assigned to people.
The first big point that I want to talk about is that cornerstone of LGBTQ+ experience, coming out. Coming out is obviously to do with heteronormativity because it is literally based on the idea that we will assume that someone is straight up until the point that they actively tell us that they are not. And it can be a really hard thing for a lot of people because it can sometimes feel like actively marking yourself out as different, and in many cases, especially when coming out to family members or parents, marking yourself as some kind of disappointment.
And this is because your parents and your family will often have an idea of what they want from your life for you to be happy. Because this is the idea of heteronormativity that’s been fed to us. The idea that you get married to someone of the opposite gender, you have kids, represents the dream life that everyone wants. And when you present your parents or your family members with this idea of, well, I’m never going to reach what you consider to be the ideal of happiness, that can be really tough.
And there’s a second side to this and that’s that a lot of LGBTQ+ people, when they’re growing up, also have the same heterosexual idea of happiness fed to them, and they bite into it. This is why, as an LGBTQ+ person, you might not be brought up in a homophobic environment. You might not really necessarily think that anyone is going to react negatively to you coming out. It can still be hard to come out because you also have to reconcile it with your ideas of what happiness are. Even before you come out to yourself, it can feel invalid or confusing to be having these feelings because it’s not what is meant to be happening to you.
So in terms of how we are fed this kind of idea of this one way to be happy is because we hate the erasure of LGBTQ+ people in the media. When you’re a kid, and you’re watching television, chances are you aren’t going to see any gay characters, but you are going to see a lot of heterosexual characters. This validation of heterosexual relationships and a damning of LGBTQ+ ones. This again can be feeding into doubting your own feelings.
Heteronormativity is just toxic because it perpetuates this idea around what it means to have a perfect life, to want what you’re meant to want, to love who you’re meant to love, to be who you’re meant to be. And I think that in 2021 we should already pass this stage and see that life is not limited to this ancient perspective on happiness.