Encyclopedia > Heteronormativity

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Heteronormativity describes a binary gender system, in which only two sexes are accepted, and sex is equated with gender identity and gender role, and (heterosexual) sexual preference.

  • Woman: female genitalia = female identity = female behavior = desires male partner
  • Man: male genitalia = male identity = male behavior = desires female partner

Behaviour or feelings which could destabilize this basic assumption are strongly disapproved of or even forbidden.

This scheme obviously has no room for:

It strives to incorporate these people by:
Are assigned a gender a birth, performing (often mutilative) medical procedures on them as soon as possible to make their body "fit" that gender and to encourage strong social pressure (by parents, doctors, teachers etc.) on the intersexual to behave according to the prescribed gender. Until today this is standard procedure in Europe and North America, although now more frequently challenged.
Gays, lesbians, and Bisexuals
Lesbian, gay, and bisexual behaviour is strongly disapproved of, always socially, almost always legally. If it cannot be suppressed so far as to at least disappear from the public view, the notion is strongly encouraged that gay men are not really "men", but have a strong female component (and vice versa) and/or that in a lesbian or gay partnership there is always a "male" (=active) and a "female" (=passive) partner. This has in some cases gone so far that homosexuals were encouraged (in Europe and North America in the 1960s and 1970s) or even forced to undergo sexual reassignment procedures (in South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s). As for bisexuals the stereotypes focus on the false notion that they are confused rather than on gender roles, but bisexuality is still considered outside heteronormativity.
This behavior either has been pathologised so far that transgendered people routinely were locked away in psychiatric wards, or the plain right to live was taken away from them. This happens either by formally punishing transgender behavior by death (today, Saudi Arabia), or by refusing to track down and/or prosecute murderers of transgendered people (today, parts of North America and Europe).
A special case of incorporating transgendered people into a heteronormative system is transsexualism. If transgender behaviour in a person can not be suppressed, it is allowed on the condition that the person becomes entirely a member of the other sex, and thereby confirms the binary gender system. (Please note: This is a description of the heteronormative treatment of transsexual people, not a description of transsexual or transgendered people.)

The heteronormative system is usually justified with either religious or traditional arguments, or, especially in Western culture, with (pseudo-)scientific, (pseudo-)medical and (pseudo-)psychological arguments.

Heternormativity is often strongly associated with, and sometimes even confused with patriarchy. However, even a patriarchal system does not necessarily have a binary gender system; some patriarchal systems do have a third gender.

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