I have a story to tell you about my personal experiences with heteronormativity (as discussed in Part 1 here), as a fellow human, scholar, and also as a woman.
The first “big” story I ever wrote was heteronormative. I was in kindergarten, and the book was about 5 pages total, most of which consisted of really awesome drawings of dogs. The plot involved two dogs a the primary characters, a girl and boy dog, who end up falling in love with each other after the girl dog asks the boy dog “do you love me?” and then they attend a party together after she has been validated by his affections.
I would go on to write many more stories like it, often in my head, with friends, or for school projects, which received a warm reception, but were variations on the same theme- boy pursues girl, they fall in love, and then they “live happily ever after.” Of course, they face different obstacles along the way, like a misunderstanding, a war, confusion as to intention, or a broken ankle, but they are basically all the same concept- love is important, and boys and girls like each other.
I have not written many storylines that involve boys liking boys, girls liking girls, or one gender liking two genders, no genders, or characters who do not have an identified gender. I feel like I had a pretty big learning curve when I started examining my own heteronormative privilege, and I still feel like I am learning all the time, (especially when I encounter scholarship like the type discussed in this post regarding Judith Halberstam and Chandan Reddy)
While considering how to draft this post, I was pretty conflicted about what to put in and leave out. Honestly, I was embarrassed to admit that I have studied gender, but that many the concepts I talk about now were new ideas to me even 3 years ago.
I am always growing and changing, and with the information I learn, I continue to re-asses the way I feel about my place in the world.
Why I’m heteronormative:
1). I’m attracted to men.
2). I totally go for the heteronormative love story, even though it’s often portrayed in a predictable way. Most movies I watch involve men and women falling in love. Here is a list of my favorite movies: BBC Jane Austen adaptations, Bridget Jones movies, Love Actually, The Holiday, Smoke Signals, and yeah, that basically sums up the list. Those films all portray heteronormative storylines.
Sure, hetero relationships are the most widely available in media, and beyond my love of Glee, I have not really gotten attached to many LGBTQ characters on the screen. However, if you have any, I would love some recommendations.
3). My areas of study are heteronormative, despite being a gender scholar. My primary targets of interest have been the male gaze, the female gaze, the body as sexualized object (generally for authors of the opposite gender as the subjects they describe).
4). I have wanted to join in the heteronormative party, and gain “cultural success” by being an active participant. In many ways, I tried to fulfill the predicable gender norm laid out for me because I thought it was fun, but also because I did not want to “fail.” (Please read my post linked above about Chandan Reddy and Judith Halberstam
Pink is my favorite color, and I have at one point or another totally bought into the cultural capital of “girl” identity that is propagated through magazines like Cosmo. I have in the past wished that I was a size 0, that I could pass out at a moment’s notice (because when I was younger, I thought that men wanted weak women as partners and that to be “dainty” was better), and I dreamt of wedding (with a dude) since I was a kid.
5) I have a strong desire to be a mother, which is something that continues to surprise me. One of my nicknames amongst close friends is even “mama bear.”
And yet not completely:
1). After working at weddings, I basically got sick of them. Beyond the wedding itself, I don’t know if I believe in marriage either. I can’t really see that it “works” to bind two people together by any means. With the divorce rate skyrocketing, and the commercial nature of weddings these days, marriage becomes less appealing to me every day. I know lots of couples who are happily married, but I know even more who are unhappily married. From what I can tell, there is no “happily ever after.”
Instead, in real love that I have witnessed, there is a work every day to assist the other person in the relationship with achieving their dreams, whether a wedding band is there or the union is legally recognized.
People in love, no matter what their gender or upbringing, feel confident to explore the world, feel comfortable loving themselves. Inspiring a person to be the best part of themselves and letting them inspire you as well, is the sign of a true union, not a legal or religious document that says you are bound to each other forever.
2). Even though I fall into some heteronormative stereotypes naturally, I still often feel conflicted with my own heteronormativity.
I sometimes resent that I enjoy domestic tasks such as cooking and serving others, because it is socially expected of me to do so as a woman.
I resent the fact that I am supposed to want to be in a relationship with a man, because it is considered so normative.
It might be easier for me to be a “heteronormativity hipster” of sorts, and just keep pointing out how tired that pattern of interaction is than it would be to let go and really fall in love.
3). I refuse to accept the concept that my worth as a person is in any way dictated by fulfilling the heteronormative guidelines.
4). Many of the most interesting and inspiring relationships I have witnessed occur between people who are not participating in the heteronormative timeline. I am generally supportive of other peoples’ relationships, but I all too often see a total lack of respect between male and female heteronormative partners as the norm, unfortunately.
Perhaps this trend is partially due to the disillusionment that occurs as a result of the riding into the blissful sunset on a white stead “ideal,” and the perception of “failure” when that ideal is not fulfilled?
5). I’m not in a relationship, and not looking for one.
Examining heteronormative privilege as someone who is pretty straight can be daunting, but I still feel that it has helped me. Growing up, I often felt that the parts of my identity that fell outside of the heteronormative gender expectations were embarrassing, wrong, or just plain unattractive. Since I began to study gender though, I have become self-conscious about being too heteronormative, too straight, too predictable and therefore boring. Wah Wah. (by the way, I don’t feel this way towards people who have chosen to marry because of love).
I’m finally learning to be proud of all of myself and find a happy medium, or at least attempting it, thanks in large part to my supportive and thoughtful friends (shout out to my proofreader :)
There is no shame in love, or being straight or gay or anything really. However, that does not change the fact that there are things I can do to make the lives of others easier by creating awareness about heteronormativity, which in my opinion, has been the norm for way too long.
I also still feel that it is vitally important to consider this (heteronormativity) topic at this time in our world’s history. If you want to, you can join me in this examination if so inclined.
How are you heteronormative? How do you fall outside the lines? Do you ever feel conflicted about your choices, either way?
P.S. I think that I will need to make a third installment. Although I do discuss Heteronormativity on Looking for Pemberley often, I think it deserves some major attention. As always, feel free to comment with thoughts, suggestions, and ideas.