Photo credit for “Male Sign” Logo — Horia Varlan, Flickr Creative Commons
“I like gay people. Just not the ones that are all in-your-face about it.”
“I like normal gay people.”
“I only like masculine gay men, because if I wanted to date a girl I’d date a girl.”
“You wouldn’t even know that he’s into guys, because he doesn’t act gay.”
“He’s a faggot.”
“She’s a dyke.”
Homonormativity is the gay sibling of Heteronormativity. According to Matthew Brim, Assistant Professor of Queer Studies at the College of Staten Island, heteronormativity is nothing more than the expectation that a person’s “biology, sexuality, and gender identity line up.” What does this mean? Well, let’s apply this to a newborn baby boy. From the moment that the child is identified as a boy, society expects that he will grow up and be built a certain way, most commonly muscular and tall, be sexually attracted to women, and be masculine.
While heteronormativity is not the focus of the post, it is important to highlight heteronormativity’s relationship with homosexuality. The Gender and Education Association (GEA) explains that, “Heteronormative discursive practices or techniques are multiple and organise categories of identity into hierarchical binaries.” The GEA continues, “This means that man has been set up as the opposite (and superior) of woman, and heterosexual as the opposite (and superior) of homosexual. It is through heteronormative discursive practices that lesbian and gay lives are marginalised socially and politically and, as a result, can be invisible within social spaces such as schools.” The most important note made by the GEA is a reminder that heteronormative values are not inherent or natural, despite the belief that they are. “Theorists have argued that a discourse or technique of heteronormativity has been set up, and subsequently dominates, social institutions such as the family, the state and education.”
Heteronormativity does immeasurable damage to persons of the LGBT community. However, it is homonormativity, which has risen in the image of heteronormativity, that is dealing immense damage as well (side note: they are both harmful, and a comparison of the two would be illogical for this blog’s purposes.) Essentially homonormativity is a trend that encourages homosexual, bisexual, and transgender individuals to attempt to mimic heterosexuality and all of its created characteristics and assumptions. The key word in this statement is ‘created’.
Homonormativity accepts and enforces these created standards. Through the lens of homonormativity there are only two genders, male and female (refer to the image at the top for a reaction to this notion). People are required to identify with the gender of their sex. If you were born with a penis you need to act like a boy. If you were born with a vagina you need to act like a girl. While ‘act like a boy’ and ‘act like a girl’ are completely abstract phrases, it is homonormativity that would dictate the meaning of the phrase which essentially can be boiled down to masculinity (male) and femininity (female). Masculinity and femininity are constructed, and can be seen throughout our society, whether through everyday interactions such as a parent telling their son that boys don’t play with dolls, or through media with films that portray young women as constantly dressed up, with perfect make up, and heels.
Homonormativity digs beyond masculinity and femininity, and adds even more meaning to a person’s penis or vagina. It does more than just control gender identity, it also create the expectations and goal for your body. A man would be expected to be fit and muscular, while a woman would be expected to be have an hourglass figure. A man who is skinny could be considered weaker by society, just as a woman who was heavier could be considered less attractive, because they do not match the ideal. The people of the LGBT community are meant to feel ashamed of themselves and their bodies if they don’t reach the golden standard.
While homonormativity challenges people to reach a perfect archetype, it is simultaneously impossible. Homonormativity essentially prides itself on heterosexuality being superior. Basically, homonormativity accepts that a person is gay but discourages any outward displays of it. That is why so often in the media the gay characters that are featured often stand in traditional roles where one gay male is masculine, and takes the role of ‘the man’, while the other is feminine, and takes the role of ‘the woman’. This display is non-sensical because a relationship between a man and a man would not have a woman in the mix, because the fact that it is between two men is what makes it homosexual in the first place. This label and others like it were created and empowered by homonormativity. In a perfectly homonormative world gay people would look and act traditional, live in suburban homes with white picket fences, have a family, and keep all of their romance in private.
While the world has not reached a perfect homonormative ideal, it is an immense problem. One of the biggest concerns is that people within the LGBT community often see homonormativity as a positive thing. Some gay men are naturally masculine and muscular, and they are the type of people that would be privileged by homonormativity. For them homonormativity has given them a road into mainstream society, away from the queens and radicals of the LGBT community. People often have difficulty confronting and challenging systems that reward them. It is this separation that has been polarizing the gay community. On one side you have those that meet homonormative standards (masculine gay men, feminine lesbians, etc.) and on the other side you have the gay queens, masculine lesbians, any individuals who are non-gender-conformists, and anything else that would be deemed unnatural. Society has separated the LGBT community from the inside, making it impossible to form a united front to fight for equality for everyone.
The aforementioned definitions of homonormativity certainly do not cover every terrible aspect of homonormativity. The goal of this general overview is to allow people to start having discussions. People don’t always know that they are saying something offensive. The quotes that opened this post are just a few examples of statements frequently made by people who simply don’t understand. Knowledge and awareness are keys to action. Homonormativity can be stopped, but not until it is first understood. There need to be words for the young gay boy who likes to wear jeans intended for girls, the lesbian who loves trucks more than dresses, or the individual in between who defines their own gender, so that we can all come together rather than ripping apart. Together we are strong, and together we can stop homonormativity.