What is heteronormativity?
Content Warning: This article has mentions of homophobia and transphobia and may be disturbing to some readers.
Heteronormativity can be defined as the concept that heterosexuality is the 'default' sexual orientation. It also assumes that there are only two distinct opposite genders and that a relationship is one between a man and a woman. From this we can gather where the idea of 'coming out' came from, because unless you tell anyone otherwise, you are assumed to be straight. A heteronormative view accepts the alignment of biological sex, assigned gender identity and sexuality and due to this can be linked to homophobia and transphobia.
The concept of heteronormativity is pushed onto us as soon as we are born; 'it's a boy' or 'it's a girl' hold a lot of power and determine how you get treated in the future by those around you. If you're a boy, you are supposed to like things that are deemed 'masculine' and have an attraction to girls. However, this isn't the problem. The problem arises when this is assumed of everyone, when in reality we don't know what that person will like or who they will be attracted to.
Although we are a very accepting society in 2022, it is still assumed that blue is for boys and pink is for girls, and we still see gendered products, clothes and activities.
Gender expression and identity in a heteronormative society
As previously mentioned, heteronormativity understands gender identity to be in alignment with biological sex, which isn't always true. The common misconception is that having a penis means you're a man and having a vagina means you're a woman; this way of thinking can lead to transphobia so it is important that as a society we become more accepting of the concept of gender being fluid and not rigid categories that we can place people into. Gender is complex and we cannot reduce people down to their genitals when it doesn't matter what's 'down there'. People are more than their biological sex and gender identity.
Transgender is also an umbrella term that doesn't just include trans men and women, it also involves genderqueer, agender, genderfluid, bigender and many more gender identities that also get affected by the heteronormative way of thinking.
Intersex people are not classed as transgender even though most intersex people have surgery to reassign a normative sex shortly after birth. However, they are still affected by the heteronormative ideology. Intersex people are born with ambiguous characteristics but are usually raised as a cisgender member of the assigned sex which can then conflict with their own internal gender identity.
How does this change the way we talk about sex and gender?
Heteronormativity is very clear in the way that we talk about sex, which can be very damaging to LGBTQ+ youth. Sex education is still to this day lacking for LGBTQ+ students, queer relationships are rarely ever acknowledged in schools and it can be very harmful to children and young adults. Health and sex education needs to be expanded to talk about these kinds of relationships; some people with vaginas don't realise that if they have sex with other people with vaginas they can still catch STIs and STDs. It can be very dangerous for people to find these things out on their own.
The biggest case of heteronormativity in health education is the HPV vaccine. It is only given to school-age girls to prevent cervical cancer in the future, but the same vaccine can also prevent anal cancer, so why is it not also given to boys? They didn't seem to have considered this fact, or considered that some people would have anal sex, the focus was only on people who would have vaginal sex.
What can we do to change the way we think?
One way we can fight heteronormativity is by calling it out when we see it, by doing so we can make the world more accepting of LGTBQ+ people. It has been proven by five different studies that showing queer characters on TV has decreased prejudice among viewers, you can read about a study done by Proctor & Gamble here. Even if you are only making a change to your immediate environment it all adds up and we can make the world less alienating for queer people and less heteronormative.