HETERONORMATIVITY AND CISNORMATIVITY: TOTALLY PROBLEMATIC
Why is it that only LGBTQ+ people are expected to “come out”? The answer: heteronormativity and cisnormativity.
In our society, being heterosexual or “straight” and cisgender or “cis” has historically been the default sexual orientation and gender identity. Keep in mind, sexual orientation and gender identity are two different things. And while they may overlap, the identities within each category all have unique experiences.
Heteronormativity implies that heterosexuality (being “straight”) is the default, “normal” sexual orientation. Cisnormativity is the assumption that being cis (when your sex assigned at birth matches your gender identity) is the default, “normal” gender identity.
Heteronormativity and Cisnormativity Are Subtle But Harmful
The idea that there’s only one normal sexual orientation and gender identity is problematic. A lot of the time, heteronormativity and cisnormativity are expressed through microaggressions. Microaggressions are subtle, intentional or unintentional behaviors that imply some sort of bias and often communicate hostile, derogatory or negative attitudes toward marginalized groups. Microaggressions reinforce heteronormativity and cisnormativity by insisting that everyone “should be” straight and cis.
Let’s say you open an account on a dating app, select your gender as “woman,” and the app automatically sets your preferences to seeking men. Or maybe, while you’re setting up the account, the only options for gender are “man” or “woman.” While those categories may work for some people, they don’t work for everyone. It can be hard not to assume the biases most of us are taught about sexual orientation and gender identity are the way things are supposed to be. Sometimes, society’s erasing of LGBTQ+ identities causes us to hide and be ashamed of our identities. But with so many people who don’t fit into the labels of straight and cis, there’s a huge need to normalize queer identities.
Affirm a Range of Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities
For starters, stand up for the people who are most impacted by stereotypes about sexual orientation and gender identity. Have conversations with family and friends about LGBTQ+ identities and step in if you ever witness a microaggression. If you’re figuring out your own sexual orientation or gender identity, surround yourself with people that affirm your identity. If you’re in an environment that isn’t supportive, set boundaries with people who reinforce heteronormativity or cisnormativity.
It may not be safe or comfortable to be public about your identity, but know that you’re still valid in who you are. If it is safe for you to be out, proudly presenting your identity and sharing your experience may help other LGBTQ+ people who are in the same boat. Representation matters. Having someone you can see yourself in makes a difference. And feeling like you can be that person for someone else is empowering. By normalizing LGBTQ+ identities and experiences, we can create a more equitable and affirming world for queer people.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maura Freeland (she/they) is studying political science and women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University. She’s passionate about social justice and intersectional feminism. In the wild, Maura can be spotted registering voters, attempting to learn TikTok dances and raving about philosophical theory to anyone who will listen.