It’s an awkward word, heteronormativity, but I kind of like it. It describes something important. As Meg Barker of The Open University describes it, heteronormativity is:
…the idea that attraction and relationships between one man and one woman are the normal form of sexuality, that sex itself should involve a penis penetrating a vagina, and that any other forms of sexuality, or gender, are not normal, or at least not as normal as this.
I’ve only recently become aware of the fragility of this notion. I’ve always assumed, along with most people, that heterosexuality was the norm and everything else a variation. This presumption is increasingly challenged by realizations that everyone varies, and more than they think. It now appears that variation itself may be the norm.
While we know the harm of heteronormativity to non-heterosexuals, Barker goes a step farther in outlining the harms of this reductive thinking even to those who supposedly fit inside it.
These have been particularly brought home to me in my work as a sexual and relationship therapist. Almost every seemingly heteronormative client who I’ve seen in this capacity has expressed an overwhelming desire to be ‘normal’ and often a desperate fear that they might not be, which has frequently made their life a misery. Normality is often privileged over everything else including having pleasurable sex, positive relationships, and open communication.
The whole article is well worth a read.