The Full Wiki

Heteronormativity: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Heteronormativity is a term for a set of lifestyle norms that imply that people fall into only one of two distinct and complementary genders (male and female) with each having certain natural roles in life, and that heterosexuality is the only normal sexual orientation, thus making sexual and marital relations appropriate only between a man and a woman. Consequently, a heteronormative view is one that promotes alignment of biological sex, gender identity, and gender roles to the gender binary.[1]

Those who identify and criticize heteronormativity say that it distorts discourse by socially stigmatizing and marginalizing some forms of sexuality and gender, and makes self-expression more difficult when that expression violates the norm.[1] Non-heterosexual and gender-variant people who transgress heteronormativity include lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, intersex, and transgender (LGBTQ) people in addition to people who are married to or form pair-bonds with more than one partner such as polygamists or polyamorists.[2]


Origin of term

Michael Warner coined the term in 1991,[3] in one of the first major works of queer theory. The concept's roots are in Gayle Rubin's notion of the "sex/gender system" and Adrienne Rich's notion of compulsory heterosexuality.[4] In a series of articles, Samuel A. Chambers calls for an understanding of heteronormativity as a concept that reveals the expectations, demands, and constraints produced when heterosexuality is taken as normative within a society.[5][6]

Cathy J. Cohen defines heteronormativity as the practices and institutions "that legitimize and privilege heterosexuality and heterosexual relationships as fundamental and 'natural' within society".[7] Her work emphasizes the importance of sexuality as implicated in broader structures of power, intersecting with and inseparable from race, gender, and class oppression. She points to the examples of single mothers on welfare (particularly women of color) and sex workers, who may be heterosexual, but are not heteronormative, and thus not perceived as "normal, moral, or worthy of state support" or legitimation.[8]

Heteronormativity has been used in the exploration and critique of the traditional norms of sex, gender identity, gender roles and sexuality, and of the social implications of those institutions. It describes a direct linkage between one's social behavior/self-identification with their genitalia. That is to say (among other things) that, because there are strictly defined concepts of maleness and femaleness, there are similarly expected behaviors for both males and females.

Originally conceived to describe the norms against which non-heterosexuals struggle, it quickly became incorporated into both the gender and the transgender debate.[2] It is also often used in postmodernist and feminist debates. Those who use this concept frequently point to the difficulty posed to those who hold a dichotomous view of sexuality by the presence of clear exceptions—from freemartins in the bovine world to intersexual human beings with the sexual characteristics of both sexes. These exceptions are taken as direct evidence that neither sex nor gender are concepts that can be reduced to an either/or proposition.[citation needed]

In a heteronormative society, the binary choice of male and female for one's gender identity is viewed as leading to a lack of possible choice about one's gender role and sexual identity. Also, included in the norms established by society for both genders is the requirement that the individuals should feel and express desire only for partners of the opposite sex. In the work of Eve Sedgwick, for example, this heteronormative pairing is viewed as defining sexual orientation exclusively in terms of the sex and gender of the person one chooses to have sex with, ignoring other preferences one might have about sex.[9]

The heteronormative nuclear family in the present

Modern family structures today can vary significantly from what was typical of the 1950s nuclear family. In Amy Benfer’s article, “The Nuclear Family Takes a Hit,” she specifies how present society has shifted from the past. “Everything has changed: In the past three decades the rates of divorce, single parenting and cohabitation have risen precipitously.”[10] Modern families may have single-parent headed families caused by divorce or separation, families who have two parents who are not married but have children, or families with same-sex parents. With artificial insemination, surrogate mothers, and adoption, families do not have to be formed by the heteronormative biological union of a male and a female. Defining nontraditional families as any variation from "a middle-class family with a bread-winning father and a stay-at-home mother, married to each other and raising their biological children", these constitute the vast majority of families in the United States today. In a 2009 Massachusetts spousal benefits case, developmental psychologist Michael Lamb testified that parental sexual orientation does not negatively affect childhood development. "Since the end of the 1980’s... it has been well established that children and adolescents can adjust just as well in nontraditional settings as in traditional settings."[11]

Conservative columnist Maggie Gallagher argues that heteronormative social structures are beneficial to society because they are optimal for the raising of children.[12] Australian-Canadian ethicist Margaret Somerville argues that "giving same-sex couples the right to found a family unlinks parenthood from biology".[13]

Social and political manifestations

Intersex people

Intersex people have biological characteristics that are ambiguously either male or female. If such a condition is detected, intersex people in most present-day societies are almost always assigned a normative sex shortly after birth.[14] Surgery (usually involving modification to the genitalia) is often performed to produce an unambiguously male or female body, with the parents', not the individual's, consent.[15] The child is then usually raised and enculturated as a cisgendered member of the assigned sex, which may or may not match their gender identity throughout life or some remaining sex characteristics (for example, genes or internal sex organs).[16]

Non-heterosexual people

Non-heterosexual sexual behavior is commonly disapproved of in many societies, both socially and legally. Many argue that this is because it challenges the heteronormative position that sexual relations exist primarily for reproductive means. If sex cannot be suppressed so far as to at least disappear from the public view, then the notion is said to be encouraged that gay men are not really "men", but have a strong female component (and vice versa), or that in a non-heterosexual partnership there is always a "male" (active) and a "female" (passive) partner.[17] In some cases homosexuals were forced to undergo sex change treatments to "fix" their sex or gender: in Europe during the 20th century,[18][19] and in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s.[20]

Transgender people

Some transgender people seek sex reassignment therapy. They may not develop a gender identity that corresponds to their body or a gender identity that is plainly male or female. Transgender people may not behave according to the gender role imposed by society. Some societies consider transgender behavior a crime worthy of capital punishment, including Saudi Arabia[21] and many other nations. Yet the stereotype that transgender people are not accepted in non-western nations is not entirely accurate- The Cuban and Iranian governments now both fund gender affirmation surgeries for trans people within a heterosexist model[citation needed] (i.e. only those people who will be heterosexual in their identified gender), while trans people in the United States continue to fight for insurance coverage of their gender-related surgeries. In other countries, certain forms of violence against transgender people may be tacitly endorsed when prosecutors and juries refuse to investigate, prosecute, or convict those who perform the murders and beatings (currently, in some parts of North America and Europe.[22][23] Other societies have considered transgender behavior as a psychiatric illness serious enough to justify institutionalization.

Certain restrictions on the ability of transgender people to obtain gender-related medical treatment have been blamed on heteronormativity. (See the article on transsexualism.) In medical communities with these restrictions, patients have the option of either suppressing transsexual behavior and conforming to the norms of their birth sex (which may be necessary to avoid social stigma or even violence), or adhering strictly to the norms of their "new" sex in order to qualify for sex reassignment surgery and hormonal treatments—if any treatment is offered at all. These norms might include dress and mannerisms, choice of occupation, choice of hobbies, and the gender of one's mate (heterosexuality required). (For example, transwomen might be expected to trade a "masculine" job for a more "feminine" one—e.g. become a secretary instead of a lawyer.) Attempts to achieve an ambiguous or "alternative" gender identity would not be supported or allowed.[2]

Many governments and official agencies have also been criticized as having heteronormative systems that classify people into "male" and "female" genders in problematic ways. Different jurisdictions use different definitions of gender, including by genitalia, DNA, hormone levels (including some official sports bodies), or birth sex (which means one's gender cannot ever be officially changed). Sometimes sex reassignment surgery is a requirement for an official gender change, and often "male" and "female" are the only choices available, even for intersex and transgender people. Because most governments allow only heterosexual marriages, official gender changes can have implications for related rights and privileges, such as child custody, inheritance, and medical decision-making.[2]


Homonormativity is the assimilation of heteronormative ideals and constructs into LGBTQ culture and individual identity. Homonormativity upholds neoliberalism rather than critiquing monogamy, procreation and binary gender roles as heterosexist and racist.[24] The term was coined by Lisa Duggan in 2003.[citation needed] Homonormativity fragments LGBTQ communities into hierarchies of worthiness. LGBTQ people that come the closest to mimicking heteronormative standards of gender identity are deemed most worthy of receiving rights. LGBTQ individuals at the bottom of the hierarchy (transsexuals, transvestites, intersex, bisexuals, non-gender identified) are seen as an impediment to this elite class of homonormative individuals receiving their rights.[25]

See also


  1. ^ a b Lovaas, Karen, and Mercilee M. Jenkins. “Charting a Path through the ‘Desert of Nothing.’” Sexualities and Communication in Everyday Life: A Reader. 8 July 2006. Sage Publications Inc. 5 May 2008 <>.
  2. ^ a b c d Weiss, Jillian Todd (2001) (PDF). The Gender Caste System: Identity, Privacy and Heteronormativity. Tulane Law School. Retrieved 2007-02-25. 
  3. ^ Warner, Michael (1991), "Introduction: Fear of a Queer Planet". Social Text; 9 (4 [29]): 3-17
  4. ^ Adrienne Rich, ‘Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence’ Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 5:631-60, 1980.
  5. ^ Samuel A. Chambers, ‘Telepistemology of the Closet; Or, the Queer Politics of Six Feet Under’. Journal of American Culture 26.1: 24-41, 2003
  6. ^ Samuel A. Chambers, "Revisiting the Closet: Reading Sexuality in Six Feet Under, in Reading Six Feet Under. McCabe and Akass, eds. IB Taurus, 2005.
  7. ^ Cathy J. Cohen. 'Punks, bulldaggers, and welfare queen: The radical potential of queer politics?' in Black Queer Studies. E. Patrick Johnson and Mae G. Henderson, eds. Duke UP, 2005. 24
  8. ^ Cathy J. Cohen. 'Punks, bulldaggers, and welfare queen: The radical potential of queer politics?' in Black Queer Studies. E. Patrick Johnson and Mae G. Henderson, eds. Duke UP, 2005. 26
  9. ^ Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, The Epistemology of the Closet.
  10. ^ Benfer, Amy. The Nuclear Family Takes a Hit, June 7, 2001
  11. ^ Michael Lamb, Ph.D.: Affidavit - United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts (2009)
  12. ^ Maggie Gallagher (2004-07-13). "Marriage Matters". The National Review. Retrieved 2009-04-23. 
  13. ^ Margaret Somerville - In Conversation
  14. ^ Fausto-Sterling, Anne. 2000. Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. New York: Basic Books.
  15. ^ Butler, Judith. 2004. Undoing Gender. New York: Routledge.
  16. ^ Wilchins, Riki. 2002. 'A certain kind of freedom: power and the truth of bodies – four essays on gender.' In GenderQueer: Voices from beyond the sexual binary. Los Angeles: Alyson Books 23-66.
  17. ^ Divergent beliefs about the nature of homosexuality
  18. ^ The Unkindest Cut | The science and ethics of castration
  19. ^ Turing, Alan (1912-1954)
  20. ^ Gays tell of mutilation by apartheid army
  21. ^ Saudis Arrest 5 Pakistani TGs
  22. ^ Remembering Our Dead
  23. ^ 'Disposable People'
  24. ^ Griffin, Penny. “Sexing the Economy in a Neo-liberal World Order: Neo-liberal Discourse and the (Re)Production of Heteronormative Heterosexuality.” British Journal of Politics and International Relations 9.2 (2007): 220-238. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. MCTC LIBRARY. 30 June 2009.
  25. ^ Duggan, Lisa. The Twilight of Equality? : Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack On Democracy. Beacon Press. 2003.


  • Benfer, Amy. “The Nuclear Family Takes a Hit.” 7 June 2001. 5 May 2008 [1].
  • Dreyer,Yolanda. “Hegemony and the Internalisation of Homophobia Caused by Heteronormativity.” Department of Practical Theology. 2007. University of Pretoria.5 May 2008 [2].
  • Gray, Brandon.“‘Brokeback Mountain’ most impressive of Tepid 2005.”Box Office Mojo, LLC. 25 February 2006. 7 May 2008. [3].
  • Lovaas, Karen, and Mercilee M. Jenkins. “Charting a Path through the ‘Desert of Nothing.’” Sexualities and Communication in Everyday Life: A Reader. 8 July 2006. Sage Publications Inc. 5 May 2008 [4].
  • Peele, Thomas. Composition Studies, Heteronormativity, and Popular Culture. 2001 Boise State University. 5 May 2008. [5].
  • The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.” 7 May 2008. 7 May 2008. [6].

Further reading

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address