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One of the biggest challenges that comes with fighting homonormativity is that people often do not understand its impact and prevalence. Traces of homonormativity can be seen in behavior that people usually do not even know is harmful. Terms like “normal acting” (in reference to a gay person) serve to empower the idea that homonormative gays are the best gays. If people were more aware and educated on homonormativity it could begin a more mainstream movement towards combating these harmful beliefs and ideologies.

By no means would this be an easy process. Changing ideas that are ingrained in a society is something that takes a long time. However, the process has arguably not even begun. The folks that are the most educated on homonormativity are people who study social sciences, queer studies, psychology, etc. It is not a common topic, and Googling homonormativity leads primarily to scholarly articles and old, dead blogs. While scholarly articles are always welcome additions to discussion around a topic, they can often exclude people who are just learning about a topic for the first time. If we want to fight homonormativity we have to fight it together, and that means learning how to teach newcomers.

In January of 2013 I was blessed with the opportunity to write an article for USA Today College. I sent them a pitch with a short outline on the article I proposed writing on homonormativity. They accepted, and after a few interviews, and thorough editing, I sent it in. I wanted to share my work, as I believe it is an understandable article, which could serve as a good introduction to the subject. Click the image below to read my article.

USA Today College Tweet copy

 

 

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Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons--Stephen Luke

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons–Stephen Luke

The battle for marriage equality has been a fight looked on by Americans nationwide. The community celebrated a victory at the death of DOMA and repeal of Proposition 8. People have walked a painful and arduous path to this win for the community, but marriage equality has been presented as the gay community’s most pressing issue, when there are issues that are equally or more worth fighting for. These issues include being protected from discrimination in the workplace and combating HIV and AIDS.

The Washington Post interviewed Terry Stone, of Center Link, which is a “nationwide coalition of more than 200 community centers that serve lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people.” The Washington Post reports, “Stone said that latest survey of the community centers’ patrons found that their top concerns were anti-bullying at schools, transgender rights, HIV and AIDS issues, and the need for more laws against anti-gay discrimination in employment, housing and healthcare.”

While this survey cannot express the wishes of a worldwide community, it brings up a valid point. Why has the issue of marriage equality become the main focus, continually covered by media outlets? The mainstream media always “sells” products and information that they want or that fit their agenda, ideology, philosophy, etc. The mainstream media has latched so tightly on marriage equality, not because it is the top concern of the LGBT community, rather it is because of the group of people in the LGBT community that are most vocal and visual in this fight. What is revealed is a separation in the community based on race, class, and privilege.

Upon a glance at the top online news sources, on the topic of the death of DOMA, the galleries and images show a trend in race. The people celebrating this victory are white. The galleries offer at maximum one or two pictures where the central focus in the photograph is a person of color. Examples for reference include: the Washington Post, the New York Times,  Huffington Post, USA Today, and CNN (videos, rather than images show the white dominance in this issue). I want to follow-up these sources by reminding folks that these are mainstream sources of news, and there are more niche, specific publications and news sources that covered marriage equality differently, however these are clearly the sources of news that people are most often using.

The concern with the demographics behind the fight for marriage equality goes further than race. Class and privilege are very much part of the discussion. Folks that were rallying and fighting for marriage equality are generally middle to upper class people. This can be viewed from the fact that people had the time to take off work to go to these rallies and protests. This is not meant to generalize the entire population of the groups fighting for marriage equality, but is certainly a point to ponder, as people who work paycheck to paycheck (people in the lower class) can’t take days off even if it was the person’s greatest wish.

What you end up with is a combination of dominantly white and privileged individuals fighting for marriage equality. This is the type of the community that the mainstream media wants to cover. They do not want to cover other issues because the demographics would be very different. The Washington Post continues in their previously referenced article to write, “A joint open letter issued in June, signed by 35 leaders, said that gay and bisexual men, while comprising only about 2 percent of the U.S. population, accounted for more than 63 percent of new HIV infections in 2010. It said the rate is particularly high for young black gay men.”

While HIV and AIDS is not solely a black issue, it is one that is very prevalent, especially in the black gay community. If the mainstream presented this issue as it presented gay marriage, it would ultimately send a call to others that this is something that people need to care about. This indicates that perhaps the mainstream media has no interest in helping this community and other communities like it. There is no clear-cut reason why the mainstream media does not report as heavily on issues, like HIV and AIDS, that innumerable people in the LGBT community find more important than marriage equality.

The lack of representation of the black gay community, is based in homonormativity. Beyond being physically built a certain way, homonormativity can include race, based on the society in which it lives. In America there is a white dominance, which can be seen clearly in our entertainment industry. Thus, white is beautiful, and other is not. Homonormativity therefore dictates even more specifically that in America the top of the gay community is composed of masculine, discreet, white, gay men and feminine, discreet, white women.

Until this homonormativity is battled, the issues that will receive attention in the LGBT community will be the issues fought for by the middle to upper class white folks. People of color, and the transgender community will continue to be ignored. However, now that the battle for marriage equality has essentially boiled down to a state-by-state battle, it will be interesting to see if the community will take on a different nationwide issue.

 

Male:Female

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.
 
 

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