9 Ways You’re Being Heteronormative Without Knowing It

Even though we as a society have progressed a lot in terms of sexuality and gender identity, there is no denying the fact that we still live in a heteronormative world. To be honest, it will probably take a really long time before we aren’t living in that world, but that doesn’t mean you have to contribute to it. But let’s back up for a second: what does it mean to be heteronormative? 

Acting heteronormative basically means that you’re (intentionally or unintentionally) promoting the idea that heterosexuality is the preferred or default sexual orientation. It’s assuming that everyone, everywhere, is a cis-gender, heterosexual person unless they state otherwise. This is the default way of thinking in our culture, so if you’re acting heteronormative, you might not even realize it. I recently had the weirdest problematic heteronormative encounter at my gynecologist’s office. Yup, the one person in this world who I’m supposed to trust with my lady parts would only talk to me in terms of how many penises have been in or around my vagina instead of any real medical concerns I had. It’s a shame, but it’s that ingrained in our society. The same unconscious bias that believes that people are either men or women – and not the many genders that exist in between – is the same unconscious bias that colors the world with a lot of heterosexual overtones.

Since we like to keep our feminism intersectional, we also don’t like to act heteronormative. We’re not perfect, and we can sometimes make mistakes here at Gurl, but we’re trying, and we want you to try too. Heteronormativity helps no one, not even straight people. It contributes to society’s pressures for men and women to be a certain way and creates an unfair bias and prejudice that could lead to violence. So, are you contributing to the problem? Here are nine ways you’re being heteronormative without even realizing it:

You Assume All Guys Pursue

Girls are taught from a young age that men pursue us. We're told that they will ask us out, pay for dates, propose marriage... no matter what. But what about girls who are attracted to girls? What happens when a guy is wrought with shyness to talk to a girl he likes? When a guy doesn't "man up" in a way that you expect or want him to, he's shamed. This narrative also keeps girls helpless and reliant on guys to do all of the "princess rescuing" and if we're being real, we know how to fight our own dragons (it's just more fun to fight them with a partner).

Source: iStock

You Say 'Boyfriend' When Talking About Who Girls Date

Not every girl has or wants a boyfriend. Instead of asking "Are you single?" or "Are you in a relationship?" you gender someone's partner by assuming heterosexuality off the top. This could lead to some awkward coming out. I get it, you don't want to come off as rude or offensive by asking if someone has a girlfriend *as well as* a boyfriend, but that's operating under the assumption that being perceived as queer is inherently bad - which is not the case at all. Consider rephrasing this question to not include gender and save everyone a lot of weird moments.

Source: iStock

You Assume That Girls Dress For Guys

Why else would we wear form fitting clothes and do our hair and makeup? It's all for the benefit of men in our lives - hell, even strange men who cat call us. Every decision we make is a deliberate choice in order to evoke the male gaze. Um, wrong. So wrong. Placing the root cause of female gender performance in attracting a male partner is super heteronormative and takes away the autonomy a lot of girls feel in choosing how they dress, do their makeup, and how they show up in the world. To say it's all about men is a slap in the face and, again, assumes that all women are seeking men.

Source: iStock

You Believe In The Gender Binary

Heteronormativity thrives on the belief that men and women are the only two genders who exist solely to hold up in example as to how they interact with one another. I'm sure you've all head of the saying "men are form Mars, women are from Venus"... so what about everyone in between? Male and female are only two genders. The stereotypes that exist for both of them in order to promote heteronormative ideals still hold a lot of power. Whatever your gender identity, you are free to liberate yourself from the expectations of what it means to be a man or a woman because there's so much more room for possibilities.

Source: iStock

You Don't Think That Gay Sex Is ''Real Sex''

Newsflash, everybody: not everything centers around a penis and penetration. There's a lot of different kinds of sexual activity that can still count as sex that have nothing to do with putting a penis inside of a vagina. Placing such a high premium on penetrative heterosexual sex makes everyone else's way of having sex either seem way too kinky or just glorified foreplay. Everyone's definition of sex is different and not everyone's way of having sex looks so heteronormative or follows those rules. Calling queer sex not real is super offensive.

Source: iStock

Asking Who's The Man In The Relationship

Again, we circle back to the need to know who's penetrating who and who would get pregnant if something were to go wrong. Ugh, no. Why does everything have to be about who has the dick? Do you know that genitals don't decide your gender? You know what, sometimes there's two men, or no man, or two people who feel a little bit in between or neither of those things. It doesn't matter. Everyone's relationship is their own business and this phrasing alone is problematic. There doesn't need to be a designated *man* in each relationship, and to believe that there needs to be one is heteronormative.

Source: iStock

Saying ''No Homo''

This is to safeguard against someone believing you may be queer because why would you want someone to think that? Being queer is awful and you are so star-spangled straight, aren't you? Taking an otherwise innocuous, harmless, platonic moment (for example, saying that another girl is attractive) then immediately negating it by saying "no homo" isn't freaking necessary. At all. The incessant need to clarify and constantly announce your heterosexual status comes from the need to assert your status as "normal," which is usually never needed or asked for in the first place.

Source: iStock

You Use ''Gay'' As An Insult

Excuse you, no. Go sit in the corner and think about what you just said. Being gay or anywhere else on the queer spectrum does not make you weird or bad, so it's not an insult. Orientaions that deviate from being strictly straight are not laughable, dumb, silly, or something to make fun of. It's reductive and childish. Get a larger vocabulary and a more open mind. The fact that this needs saying shows how much we need to be more critical about how heteronormative our culture is and what we can do to fix it. Being gay - or even perceived to be gay - is not insulting. Period.

Source: iStock

You Believe In Virginity

THAT SHIT ISN'T REAL. Virginity is a societal construct we made up to repress and control women. I get it: a virgin is someone who's never had sex. Cool, story. What do you count as sex? A woman is not made sexually active when someone puts their penis in her vagina because that's not the be all-end all of sex. To believe that a man's penis has enough power and status to forever change a woman's character or that it says anything about who she is as a person (hey, slut shamers) is heteronormative af, not to mention misogynist and gross.

Source: iStock

Do you stand up to heteronormativity? What do you do to be more inclusive? What are some other examples of heteronormativity you can think of? Let us know in the comments!

You can follow the author, Aliee Chan, on Twitter.


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  • Miri

    As someone who is part of the LGBT community, I completely 100% agree. However, the way that this article is written is very inflammatory. It sounds like the author is blaming the reader by using words like “you do this.” That’s shaming the reader for making what is perhaps an honest mistake. Instead of blaming those who aren’t educated, let’s actually educate them! The title of this article didn’t really phase me, but all the rhetorical questions (“do you know”) made the author sound is they were above other people. If you don’t know you’re making a mistake, like the title of the article suggests, then it’s nice not to get harsh criticism, but instead actual explanations in a calm manner, not a hostile one. Straight/cis allies are more likely to respect the LGBT community if we respect them and don’t shame them for simply not knowing any better. I’m not trying to insult the author because I do like the overall message, but please think about tone. Don’t hate, educate. 🙂