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Tanya Kole
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Heteronormativity assumes that all persons are either male or female in sex and gender and the only acceptable form of marriage, romantic or sexual relationship or attraction, is possible only between these men and women. As part of this concept, anyone who dares to step outside this male-female binary is ostracised, alongside all those who feel same-sex attraction. The term was first coined by Michael Warner, who believed that heterosexual culture assumes itself as the only option and fails to see reality as inherently full of exceptions to this rule. Heteronormativity is hence an attempt to ignore or erase the very existence of queer people. Warren drew from Adrienne Rich’s idea of compulsory heterosexuality.

Rich, writing in the 1980s, also thinks that feminist theory needs to address lesbian and queer topics in order to truly acknowledge the full picture. If we approach the empowerment of women but purposely leave out sections on love among women themselves, we fall into the same trap of assuming that men are necessary for women to be able to love or feel attraction. It disregards the wellbeing of an entire group of people, who then find no place to go to. People living outside of the male-female binary (non-binary people) and even transgender binary people face enormous stigma, as well as emotional, sexual and physical violence.

Heteronormativity also comes packed with conventional gender roles, wherein the woman must perform unpaid housework and child-rearing, while the man is the “breadwinner” who sustains the family and exerts power over it. Hence women who do not abide by such expectations are also demeaned and ostracised. This patriarchal notion is exactly what feminism fights against, making the fight against heteronormativity and the overall queer movement the natural progression from the feminist movement.

Heteronormativity often transforms into homonormativity in homosexual relationships, wherein two partners in a same-sex relationship perform the roles conventionally mandated by patriarchy: in these, one partner is seen as masculine (eg. the “butch” lesbian) and the other is perceived as feminine (eg. the “femme” lesbian) and they perform their respective roles of the ‘man’ or ‘woman’ in the relationship, hence failing to break out of this patriarchal mould.

Heteronormativity is hence endlessly problematic and has long-term effects not only for people currently engaging in society, but even for future generations, who will be affected by these same concepts and presuppositions.