Wednesday Wisdom: Heteronormativity
I find it hard to shake my perception that dating is ultimately about finding ‘the one’ — that you may have to kiss a lot of frogs in the process, but ultimately you’re hoping to find someone that you really connect with, that you have amazing sex with, that you want to move in together and do domestic things with, that you want to introduce to your family, that you want to go on vacation with, that you want to grow old with and live happily ever after.
That’s pretty much what I’ve seen in my family, that’s what I’ve seen in movies. For some gay couples that I know, that’s exactly how it works.
It’s not difficult to understand that from all of our cultural and environmental influences, we’re being conditioned to aspire to a ‘good’ relationship that roughly fits that Hollywood ideal. This is heteronormativity in action.
One of the foundations of much of queer theory, ‘heteronormative’ is a term first coined by academic Michael Warner in 1991. Heteronormativity is the belief that the binary genders of male and female are required for people to perform the natural roles in life — assuming that heterosexuality is the default and preferable sexual orientation.
I’m not making any moral judgements about anyone’s relationship. If it works for you, then that’s great. If you want to settle down with a husband and live happily ever after, then all power to you — that’s what equality is all about.
But it is helpful to occasionally challenge ourselves by asking if our thoughts or actions are being influenced in some way by the heteronormativity that we’re all exposed to every day.
Here’s an example. A friend of mine has been with his boyfriend for years. They live together, they bought a flat together, they decided to get married. They’ve always had an open relationship — that’s worked for them. The weekend before the wedding, he was in the toilets of XXL — a club in London — getting worked over by two muscle-bears.
My instinctive reaction was — “That’s not right…” It’s the heteronormativity talking. In my head, marriage is about monogamy, and that if you were continuing to enjoy an active and open sex life then maybe marriage is not for you. But clearly I’m applying made-up rules to situations that don’t fit the heternomative model.
Obviously, an open relationship isn’t incompatible with marriage. Neither is a monogamous relationship. But this is an illustration of the complexity that we’re all navigating as marriage equality offers additional options for how we define our relationships.
It’s too easy to apply a Hollywood-happily-ever filter to our view of a marriage between two guys. But gay guys are different, we’ve been told that all of our lives, and in that difference there’s power — just because we can get married doesn’t mean that our marriages have to look like anyone else’s, the only rules that need to apply are the ones that make sense to us.
It’s important that we don’t perpetuate the perception that ‘good gays get married’ or that marriage is only meaningful if it looks like something out of a mid-career Sandra Bullock movie.
It’s not easy to find someone that you want to spend time with, to make compromises for, and perhaps it would be a lot easier if there was a black and white set of rules that all relationships had to follow. But whatever your sexuality, relationships are messy and complicated things that really only ever make sense to the people that are in them.
Embrace love, forget heteronormativity.