Heteronormativity & Self Awareness by Anonymous

In the first grade, the teacher asked my friend Charlotte to read a poem aloud. Her voice faltered in the second stanza as she whispered, “isn’t that a bad word?” “Not like this,” the teacher replied, and Charlotte narrated the gay morning described in the poem.

I am lucky. I live in a city where people are accepting. I was born to parents who do not condemn homosexuality. I do not practice a religion that invalidates my identity.

I am lucky, but I am still taken aback sometimes. I did not begin to even question my sexuality until the ninth grade. Shouldn’t I have known if I were gay by then? I convinced myself that I had to be pretending. Maybe I wanted the attention, or maybe I just hadn’t found the right guy yet. It was not my peers nor my society that invalidated my sexuality; it was myself.

When I began to question, I was desperate for a label. I hated not knowing where I belonged and was terrified of not fitting in anywhere. I’ve since realized and am learning to accept that I don’t experience attraction towards guys. But the word “lesbian” still scares me. The media has oversexualized lesbianism to the point where I feel dirty identifying as one. The porn industry markets girl-on-girl sex not for women attracted to other women, but for men who define my sexuality as their kink. I do not fit the “dyke” stereotype, nor the “sexy lesbian” ideal. Amongst other things, the blatant oversexualization of women in the media caused me to become desensitized to the female body, which contributed to the long process of discovering my sexuality. The exploitation of women in media obscures the lines of aesthetic and romantic attraction for young girls; the blatant promotion of sex appeal results in the desensitization of the female body, which contributes to the prolonged questioning periods for LBG women.

When we examine the media we are spoonfed as children, we see white, thin, flawless princesses, all of whom fall in love with Prince Charming and live happily ever after. My parents did not explain sexuality to me until I was eleven, where they simply stated: “you can be heterosexual, like us, or homosexual, like your uncle Paul.” Until my parents told me that my uncle was gay, I had been unsure if his boyfriend of fifteen years was his roommate or his partner. When in fifth grade a friend came out to me as bisexual, I had no idea what that meant. My parents support civil rights. They do not intend to promote an environment in which I would feel unsupported if I choose to come out, and I am fortunate to know that my parents wouldn’t treat me differently if I did. However, there is an obvious generational difference; my parents talk about “those gay guys” on TV with a laugh. They ask other parents if they think I’m gay. While my parents mean have no intention of being derogatory, they are unable to empathize and understand that these microaggressions contribute to a homophobic society.

When we look at LGBTQ+ representation in the media, we see lesbians and gays most frequently. Within the representation of homosexuality, men continue to receive more representation than women several times over. Even within minority communities, hierarchies are inescapable. The increased presence of gay men in media, even if simply fulfilling a token minority role or stereotype, leads to shorter questioning periods for gay and bisexual men than for women. Compulsory heterosexuality, assumed heterosexuality as a result of the societal promotion and reinforcement of heteronormativity, has longer impacts on questioning women than on men, largely in part to the sexism within the portrayal of the LGBTQ+ community. As Adrienne Rich explains in her iconic Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Experience of 1980, male dominance contributes to the imbalance of compulsory heterosexuality in LGB men and women. Male dominance allows for the denial of female sexuality, states Rich (paraphrasing Kathleen Gough): not only can men deny female sexuality, they can force it upon them through means of rape, the erasure of lesbian media, the idealizing of heterosexuality in art and other mediums, and other punitive actions. These historically oppressive means of disregarding female sexuality still affect women today; LBG women question longer than men.

Upon close examination, we see that blatant sexism remains even in marginalized communities. The stereotyping, sexualization, and denial of female sexuality contribute to the reinforcement of the barriers that hinder the realization of sexuality. While these barriers to the discovery of sexuality are heightened for LBG women, women are not the only people harmed by the promotion of false information, stereotypes, or the historical oppression in the expression of the sexual or gender identity.