What is heteronormativity? How is it challenged and examined?
Heteronormativity, or the notion that it is normal to be heterosexual, is a system that is highly maintained in our society by our ideas regarding gender and the body. We tend to believe that everyone should look, act, or present themselves in very specific ways in order to fit in and be classified as "normal" in our culture. However, as scholars such as Tomas Almaguer, Emily Nussbaum, and others point out, there are many instances when these norms are challenged and examined, causing tension between how we think everyone should be and how everyone really is.
In her excerpt, "Queer and Now", Eve Sedgwick discusses the concept of sexual identity, specifically how we think of it as a single category which we use to identify ourselves. Although we think of it as a unified classification, Sedgwick lists many elements that could possibly make up one's sexual identity, including one's biological sex, gender, self-identification (i.e., gay or straight), the sex or gender of one's preferred partner, and so on. She argues that "normatively,...it should be possible to deduce anybody's entire set of specs from the initial datum of biological sex alone -- if one adds only the normative assumption that 'the biological sex of your preferred partner' will be the opposite of one's own". In other words, to be considered normal, each component of one's sexual identity must line up with one's sex -- you must have a preferred partner of the opposite sex, you must fulfill the gender role that you were assigned at birth (which is the opposite of your partner), you must both identify as straight, etc. By assuming this notion of heteronormativity, most people in our society take it upon themselves to assume numerous other characteristics about individual people, which may or may not be true. It is through these assumptions, in part, that the system of heteronormativity seems to be upheld.
Heteronormativity may also be maintained by the long-standing imposition of its ideas onto certain members of our society, with fear of penalization if not obeyed. In her article, "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existance", Adrienne Rich argues that heterosexuality has been imposed ...