In discussing Chamber’s “Heteronormativity and the L Word,” a lot of people (with reason) were confused by and hung up on what heteronormativity actually means especially in relation to queer identities. It is a question I struggle with frequently because as our conception of normative heterosexuality changes so then should heteronormativity. I feel like, though, that heteronormativity is so frequently explained to me in antiquated gender roles that I don’t get a broader, understandable definition of a word that my auto-correct doesn’t even recognize. So here’s how I see it.
Simply, heteronormativity limits acceptable identities to two types: 1) female-bodied people identifying as women attracted to 2) male-bodied people identifying as men. Today, as gay and lesbian (in the strict sense, holding gender static) identities are more permissible, heteronormativity in context of homosexuals can describe when they conform to traditional ideas of heterosexuality (besides same-sex attraction) even when those ideas aren’t really even applicable to heterosexuals anymore. Though cis-gender gays aren’t seen as particularly othered today, the existence of heteronormativity still others people who do not see their identities in this framework.
Take for example a lesbian couple subscribing to normative heterosexual performance and identifiers, one of Chamber’s critiques of The L Word. I see heteronormativity for gays and lesbians, then, as either following antiquated models of heterosexual behavior OR models describing normative heterosexual practice today.
I think people get confused by the word “heteronormative,” but it is often just equatable to “normative” (as in, following dominant society driven expectations for identities and practices) because heterosexuality (and the gender and sex norms associated with it) is normative in our society. Heteronormativity, then, describes normativity in society specifically as it relates to sexuality and gender, indicating the normative practice in the word itself.