Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Realities of Heterosexism

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.

Heterosexism is the overpowering assumption of straightness. It’s our complete erasure from the world – not just from books and media, but from advertising, from daily conversation, from all of the building blocks of daily life.

While homophobia is the big, overt hatred and prejudice against us – and certainly, I sometimes feel that heterosexism is the far more damaging force because of its unrelenting message – that the world is straight, all people are straight and all people should be straight. It’s more pervasive and, in some ways, more powerful than homophobia.

Heterosexism asks after my girlfriend or wife. Heterosexism assumed, when I was a child, that I would grow up to have a girlfriend or wife.

Heterosexism shows me a thousand heroes, none of which are like me, and a million happily ever after relationships, none of which are like mine.

Heterosexism bombards me with advertising, a desperate clamour encouraging other people to buy – but not me.

Heterosexism assumes that we’re not a part of the world so don’t need to be part of its depiction. And that any portrayal of us is of the other – something different and odd.

Heterosexism is another form that only has the words “married” and “single” boxes to tick.

Heterosexism is why my bank still gets all of our damned paperwork wrong.


Heterosexism says no sex before marriage –and forgets that not all of us can get married.

Heterosexism talks about the male gaze – and shows a sexually posed woman.

Heterosexism means people think the picture in my wallet and on my desk is my brother.

Heterosexism means people ask about my “room mate”.

Heterosexism means having to choose whether to let people believe you’re straight and feel the shame of closeting, or correct them and be accused of flaunting.

Heterosexism means having to come out repeatedly with all the risk inherent in that.

Heterosexism causes people to look at me like I’m from the planet Zog when I say I am gay.

Heterosexism is surprised when someone is gay.

Heterosexism wonders why 2 guys would be eating in a restaurant together.

Heterosexism means talking about relationships – and assuming that a gender binary always exists.

Heterosexism talks about love – and assumes a man and a woman.

Heterosexism means talking about sex and assuming a penis is always penetrating a vagina.

Heterosexism means teaching sex education – but only for that very limited definition of sex.

Heterosexism means talking about rape, domestic violence and sexual abuse – but only across the gender divide.

Heterosexism asks where our children came from and who their “real” parents are.

Heterosexism asks if we’re the same as “normal” parents. (Homophobia asks if we’re as good).

Heterosexism asks when I knew I was gay, asks why I chose to be gay, asks what made me gay.

Heterosexism studies us, studies our families, studies our children – treats us like some kind of anomaly or phenomenon – not like real people.

Heterosexism has to consult to decide whether to treat us like real people – and how much.

Heterosexism tells us what is normal, what is to be considered – and what isn’t.

Heterosexism denies I exist. Heterosexism tells me constantly, over and over again, that I’m not part of the world. Heterosexism drives me out from society, says I don’t belong in society. Heterosexism says I am wrong, that this is not who I should be, not what I should be. Heterosexism denies that I am a man, that I am male, that I have any part of masculinity. Heterosexism says I need to hide. Heterosexism says I should not exist.

And, above all, heterosexism is constant. There’s no escape from it which means these messages are relentless, are damaging and are deeply painful. Heterosexism tells us every day in every way that this is not our world and that we have no right to be there.

It’s more subtle than homophobia –  but in many ways so very destructive.