What is it? “Heteronormativity is the belief that heterosexuality is the ‘acceptable’ sexual orientation of society.” It is the idea that binary gender identity and heterosexual orientation (meaning, there are only two sexual orientations and genders) are the norm.
This idea follows from the perpetuation of social norms, defining which gender roles, gender identities and sexualities are considered ‘standard’. It informs stuff like who should be dating who (cis het men and cis het women), how people should be f*cking (cis het penis in cis het vagina) and how we should set up our romantic lives (married in monogamous heterosexual marriages). This understanding of sexuality takes the view that cisgender people (meaning those whose gender identity corresponds with their birth sex) in opposite-sex relationships are what we should all be aspiring to be.
Heteronormativity makes the rest of us look like we have no idea what is going on and queerness is a phase/ illness/ some sort of disruptor out to burn society to the ground. This idea is sneaky AF and there are tons of examples of it all around us. For example most romantic comedies are set around straight couples, and queerness is automatically seen as confusion. Even queer couples can replicate heteronormativity (e.g. insisting studs must be with femmes).
Even coming out is a form of heteronormativity because you must *declare* that you are something that is “other”. You must say “Look, fam, I am not like you so I am giving you a heads up.” Think about it, no straight person has to come out and be like “Mom, dad, I like people of a different gender.”
When you are not straight, society demands a lot from you . When your identity does not match up with heteronormativity, you are often asked to explain yourself — why you don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend, how sex for you “works,” and other insensitive, inappropriate questions. Heterosexuality constantly assign genders to a binary of male and female, based on what you “see” in front of you. Even if someone “looks” like a guy (which is based on heteronormative assumptions), they may prefer to use the pronouns “she/her” or they could be non-binary. Heteronormativity makes it so we instantly presume their pronouns are he/him because of how they present their gender.
Funny thing is queer folx are not immune to heternormative ideas either. For example some queer folx believe the whole idea that a femme and a femme cannot be together because they need at least one masc-presenting person in the relationship to make it a “proper couple”.
Heteronormativity really is a sneaky f**ker that is all around us, sitting in our bones and changing the way we move through the world. Not only that it can be harmful to people who do not find themselves ascribing to these standards. There are so many ways to live and love and heteronormativity does not let us flourish.