Chrys Ingraham. Handbook of Lesbian and Gay Studies. Editor: Diane Richardson & Steven Seidman. 2002. Sage Publication.
Since I began teaching courses on gender and sexuality in the early 1980s, I’ve struggled with debates that claim that heterosexuality is both ‘natural and normal.’ As a sociologist, I frequently find such positions lacking in that they fail to attend to the social conditions upon which most things depend. In other words, the question is not whether (hetero)sexuality is natural. All aspects of our social world—natural or otherwise—are given meaning. The real issue is, how we give meaning to heterosexuality and what interests are served by these meanings?
Consider for example, the case of the child born with the genitalia of both sexes. In some societies to be born a hermaphrodite is revered—the Dine—while in other societies—the United States, for example—this condition is viewed as a deformity in need of correction. Our society signals to the child (and to their family) that they are not natural, born wrong, a mistake of nature, in need of correction. Correction, according to the medical science establishment, includes surgically changing the child’s genitalia to either male or female, prescribing hormone medication, and providing socialization counseling to assist the child to become ‘appropriately’ gendered. For little girls this means learning how to act feminine and for little boys it means learning how to act masculine.
What is it about this condition that elicits the need for intervention? The behaviors the child must learn are integral to the gendered division of labor—what girls and boys learn is their place in relation to the institution of heterosexuality. Without a systematic analysis of this institution various questions go unanswered. For instance, is it possible that there are really more than two sexes? What is really ‘natural’ here? Why is it that in this instance we allow society to intrude on ‘the natural’? What is it about sexual identity that our society is so invested in that it sees this procedure as necessary? But more importantly for the broader question at hand, who decides what counts as appropriate and necessary and under what conditions is their authority legitimate? It is cultural meaning systems that determine (with our agreement, of course) what counts as natural or unnatural. And it is cultural meaning systems that regulate what should be the ‘proper’ treatment or response to anything ‘inappropriate’ or ‘unnatural.’
Historically, we have witnessed the scientific establishment determine which phenomena can be considered normal and natural only to turn around years later and say they were wrong or that their judgement was premature. Consider the instance of women’s entry into higher education. At a time when white middle-class women entering higher education was frowned upon, nineteenth-century scientists discovered that women’s reproductive organs would be harmed if they were exposed to a college education. And, in an historical moment when the notion of former slaves being equal to whites was not a popular notion, it was scientists who claimed that people of African descent had smaller brains than those of European lineage. In each case, scientists succumbed to the political interests of their time in formulating and interpreting research on such topics. As social conditions shifted, so too did scientific discovery. In each instance, scientists eventually overturned their previous findings in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
To argue then for a biological or ‘natural’ explanation seems to me to be a dead end. It is much more important and useful to ask: Regardless of whether sexuality (or anything for that matter) is naturally occurring, how does our culture give it meaning? In other words, how do we give meaning to (hetero)sexuality? How have we organized it? The question then becomes not whether heterosexuality is natural, and therefore ‘normal,’ but, rather how do cultural meaning systems work to normalize and institutionalize heterosexuality? And, more importantly, what interests are served by these processes? In other words, who benefits from the ways we’ve named, defined, and organized sexuality?
Typically studied as a form of sexuality, heterosexuality is, in reality, a highly regulated, ritualized, and organized set of practices, e.g. weddings or proms. Sociologically, then, heterosexuality as an established order made up of rule-bound and standardized behavior patterns qualifies as an institution. Moreover, heterosexuality as an arrangement involving large numbers of people whose behavior is guided by norms and rules is also a social institution.
Heterosexuality is much more than a biological given or whether or not someone is attracted to someone of another sex. Rules on everything from who pays for the date or the wedding rehearsal dinner to who leads while dancing, drives the car, cooks dinner or initiates sex, all serve to regulate heterosexual practice. What circulates as a given in western societies is, in fact, a highly structured arrangement. As is the case with most institutions, people who participate in these practices must be socialized to do so. In other words, women were not born with a wedding gown gene or neo-natal craving for a diamond engagement ring! They were taught to want these things. Women didn’t enter the world with a desire to practice something called dating or a desire to play with a ‘My Size Bride Barbie,’ they were rewarded for desiring these things. Likewise, men did not exit the womb knowing they would one day buy a date a corsage or spend two months’ income to buy an engagement ring. These are all products that have been sold to consumers interested in taking part in a culturally established ritual that works to organize and institutionalize heterosexuality and reward those who participate.
In the 1970s as second wave feminists attempted to theorize and understand the source of women’s oppression, the notion of heterosexuality as normative emerged. In one of the earliest examples of this effort, The Purple September Staff, a Dutch group, published an article entitled ‘The normative status of heterosexuality’ (1975). They maintain that heterosexuality is really a normalized power arrangement that limits options and privileges men over women and reinforces and naturalizes male dominance.
Ti-Grace Atkinson (1974), The Furies Collective, Redstockings (1975), Rita Mae Brown (1976), and Charlotte Bunch (1975) all contributed to these debates by challenging dominant notions of heterosexuality as naturally occurring and by arguing that heterosexuality is instead a highly organized, social institution rife with multiple forms of domination and ideological control:
Heterosexuality—as an ideology and as an institution—upholds all those aspects of female oppression … For example, heterosexuality is basic to our oppression in the workplace. When we look at how women are defined and exploited as secondary, marginal workers, we recognize that this definition assumes that all women are tied to men … It is obvious that heterosexuality upholds the home, housework, the family as both a personal and economic unit. (Bunch, 1975: 34)
In this excerpt from Charlotte Bunch, the link between heterosexuality and systems of oppression is elaborated.
While many of these arguments were made by heterosexually-identified feminists, some of the more famous works were produced by lesbian feminists, making a link to the interests of both feminism and lesbian and gay rights. Adrienne Rich’s essay ‘compulsory heterosexuality and lesbian existence’ (1980), a frequently reprinted classic, confronts the institution of heterosexuality head on, asserting that heterosexuality is neither natural nor inevitable but is instead a compulsory, contrived, constructed and taken-for-granted institution which serves the interests of male dominance.
Historians need to ask at every point how heterosexuality as institution has been organized and maintained through the female wage scale, the enforcement of middle-class women’s leisure, the glamorization of so-called sexual liberation, the withholding of education from women, the imagery of high art and popular culture, the mystification of the personal sphere, and much else. We need an economics which comprehends the institution of heterosexuality, with its doubled workload for women and its sexual divisions of labor, as the most idealized of economic relations. (ibid.: 27)
Understanding heterosexuality as compulsory and as a standardized institution with processes and effects is what makes Rich’s contribution to these debates pivotal.
Monique Wittig’s ‘The category of sex’ (1976), takes the argument to a different level, declaring heterosexuality a political regime. The category of sex, she argues, is the political category that founds society as heterosexual:
As such it does not concern being but relationships … The category of sex is the one that rules as natural the relation that is at the base of (heterosexual) society and through which half of the population, women, are heterosexualized … and submitted to a heterosexual economy … The category of sex is the product of a heterosexual society in which men appropriate for themselves the reproduction and production of women and also their physical persons by means of a contract called the marriage contract. (Wittig, 1992: 7)
This regime depends upon the belief that women are sexual beings, unable to escape or live outside of male rule.
These positions signal a paradigm shift in how heterosexuality is understood, challenging the very centrality of institutionalized heterosexuality and beginning the work of offering a systematic analysis of heterosexuality. When queer theory emerged in the 1990s, these critical analyses of heterosexuality were revisited and reinvigorated (e.g. Butler, 1990; de Lauretis, 1987; Fuss, 1991; Hennessy, 1995; Ingraham, 1994; Jackson, 1996; Sedgwick, 1990; Seidman, 1991, 1992, 1995; Warner, 1993; Wittig, 1992). In his anthology Fear of a Queer Planet, Michael Warner rearticulated these debates through his creation of the concept of ‘heteronormativity.’ According to Warner:
So much privilege lies in heterosexual culture’s exclusive ability to interpret itself as society. Het culture thinks of itself as the elemental form of human association, as the very model of inter-gender relations, as the indivisible basis of all community, and as the means of reproduction without which society wouldn’t exist … Western political thought has taken the heterosexual couple to represent the principle of social union itself. (1993: xxi)
In this same passage Warner relates his notion of heteronormativity to Wittig’s idea of the social contract. For Wittig the social contract is heterosexuality. ‘To live in society is to live in heterosexuality … Heterosexuality is always there within all mental categories’ (1992: 40). Like whiteness in a white supremacist society, heterosexuality is not only socially produced as dominant but is also taken-for-granted and universalizing.
Steven Seidman in his introduction to the ground-breaking work Queer Theory/ Sociology (1996) assesses the role of queer theorists in developing a new critical view of normative heterosexuality. Given the history of sociology as a ‘de-naturalizing force,’ he argues that it is time for queer sociologists to de-naturalize heterosexuality as a ‘social and political organizing principle.’ Seidman asserts that the contribution of queer sociology is to analyse normative heterosexuality for the ways it conceals from view particular social processes and inequalities.
Drawing on these early arguments heteronormativity can be defined as the view that institutionalized heterosexuality constitutes the standard for legitimate and expected social and sexual relations. Heteronormativity insures that the organization of heterosexuality in everything from gender to weddings to marital status is held up as both a model and as ‘normal.’ Consider, for instance, the ways many surveys or intake questionnaires ask respondents to check off their marital status as either married, divorced, separated, widowed, single, or, in some cases, never married. Not only are these categories presented as significant indices of social identity, they are offered as the only options, implying that the organization of identity in relation to marriage is universal and not in need of explanation. Questions concerning marital status appear on most surveys regardless of relevance. The heteronormative assumption of this practice is rarely, if ever, called into question and when it is, the response is generally dismissive. (Try putting down ‘not applicable’ the next time you fill out one of these forms in a doctor’s office!)
Or try to imagine entering a committed relationship without benefit of legalized marriage. We find it difficult to think that we can share commitment with someone without a state-sponsored license. People will frequently comment that someone is afraid to ‘make a commitment’ if they choose not to get married even when they have been in a relationship with someone for years! Our ability to imagine possibilities or to understand what counts as commitment is itself impaired by heteronormative assumptions. We even find ourselves challenged to consider how to marry without an elaborate white wedding. Gays and lesbians have participated in long-term committed relationships for years yet find themselves desiring state sanctioning of their union in order to feel legitimate. Heteronormativity works in all of these instances to naturalize the institution of heterosexuality while rendering real people’s relationships and commitments irrelevant and illegitimate.
For those who view questions concerning marital status as benign, one need only consider the social and economic consequences for those who do not participate in these arrangements or the cross-cultural variations which are at odds with some of the anglo-centric or eurocentric assumptions regarding marriage. All people are required to situate themselves in relation to marriage or heterosexuality, including those who regardless of sexual (or asexual) affiliation do not consider themselves ‘single,’ heterosexual, or who do not participate in normative heterosexuality and its structures.
To expand the analytical reach of the concept of heteronormativity, it is important to examine how heterosexuality is constructed as normative. A concept that is useful for examining the naturalization of heterosexual relations is ‘the heterosexual imaginary.’1 The ‘imaginary’ is that illusory relationship we can have to our real conditions of existence. It is that moment when we romanticize things or refuse to see something that makes us uncomfortable. Applied to the study of heterosexuality it is that way of thinking that conceals the operation of heterosexuality in structuring gender (across race, class, and sexuality) and closes off any critical analysis of heterosexuality as an organizing institution. It is a belief system that relies on romantic and sacred notions in order to create and maintain the illusion of well-being. At the same time this romantic view prevents us from seeing how institutionalized heterosexuality actually works to organize gender while preserving racial, class, and sexual hierarchies as well. The effect of this illusory depiction of reality is that heterosexuality is taken for granted and unquestioned while gender is understood as something people are socialized into or learn. By leaving heterosexuality unexamined as an institution we do not explore how it is learned, what it keeps in place, and the interests it serves in the way it is practiced. Through the use of the heterosexual imaginary, we hold up the institution of hetero-sexuality as timeless, devoid of historical variation, and as ‘just the way it is’ while creating social practices that reinforce the illusion that as long as this is ‘the way it is’ all will be right in the world. Romancing heterosexuality—creating an illusory heterosexuality—is central to the heterosexual imaginary.
Frequently, discussions about the legalization of gay marriage depend on this illusion. Gays and lesbians are seeking equal access to economic resources such as benefits and see marriage as the site for gaining equity with heterosexuals. The central problem with this position is that it constructs the debates in terms of coupling. All those who do not couple for whatever reason are left out of the discussion. Consider some of the other consequences of participating in the heterosexual imaginary, of perpetuating the notion that heterosexuality is naturally a site for tranquility and safety. This standpoint keeps us from seeing and dealing with issues of marital rape, domestic violence, pay inequities, racism, gay bashing, and sexual harassment. Instead, institutionalized heterosexuality organizes those behaviors we ascribe to men and women—gender—while keeping in place or producing a history of contradictory and unequal social relations. The production of a division of labor that results in unpaid domestic work, inequalities of pay and opportunity, or the privileging of married couples in the dissemination of insurance benefits are examples of this. The heterosexual imaginary naturalizes the regulation of sexuality through the institution of marriage and state domestic relations laws. These laws, among others, set the terms for taxation, health care, and housing benefits on the basis of marital status. Laws and public- and private-sector policies use marriage as the primary requirement for social and economic benefits and access rather than distributing resources on some other basis such as citizenship or ability to breathe, for example. The distribution of economic resources on the basis of marital status remains an exclusionary arrangement even if the law permits gays and lesbians to participate. The heterosexual imaginary works here as well by allowing the illusion of well-being to reside in the privilege heterosexual couples enjoy while keeping others from equal access—quite a contradiction in a democratic social order.
To demonstrate how useful these concepts are in analysing the institution of hetero-sexuality, consider a practice as pervasive as heterosexual weddings. To study weddings using this theory of heterosexuality is to investigate the ways various practices, arrangements, relations, and rituals work to standardize and conceal the operation of this institution. It means to ask how practices such as weddings become naturalized and prevent us from seeing what is at stake, what is kept in place, and what consequences are produced. To employ this approach is to seek out those instances when the illusion of tranquility is created and at what cost. Weddings, like many other rituals of heterosexual celebration such as anniversaries, showers, and Valentine’s Day become synonymous with heterosexuality and provide illusions of reality which conceal the operation of heterosexuality both historically and materially. When used in professional settings, for example, weddings work as a form of ideological control to signal membership in relations of ruling as well as to signify that the couple is normal, moral, productive, family-centered, upstanding citizens and, most importantly, appropriately gendered. Consider the ways weddings are used by co-workers in line for promotions or to marginalize and exceptionalize single or non-married employees. For example, two employees are competing for a promotion. One is single, the other engaged to marry. The engaged worker invites all members of the office, including the hiring committee, to the wedding. Because of the heterosexual imaginary, weddings are viewed as innocuous fun-loving, and as signaling membership in dominant culture. As such, they give people significant advantage in the workplace and are anything but benign.
To study weddings means to interrupt the ways the heterosexual imaginary naturalizes heterosexuality and prevents us from seeing how its organization depends on the production of the belief or ideology that hetero-sexuality is normative and the same for everyone—that the fairy tale romance is universal. It is this assumption that allows for the development and growth of a $32 billion per year wedding industry. This multi-billion dollar industry includes the sale of a diverse range of products, many of which are produced outside of the USA—wedding gowns, diamonds, honeymoon travel and apparel, and household equipment. Also included in the market are invitations, flowers, receptions, photos, gifts, home furnishings, wedding cakes, catering, alcohol, paper products, calligraphy, jewelry, party supplies, hair styling, make-up, manicures, music, books, and wedding accessories, e.g., ring pillows, silver, chauffeurs and limousines. In the name of normative heterosexuality and its ideology of romance the presence and size of the sometimes corrupt wedding industry escape us.
While newlyweds make up only 2.6 per cent of all American households, they account for 75 per cent of all the fine china, 29 per cent of the tableware, and 21 per cent of the jewelry and watches sold in the USA every year. Even insurers have entered the primary wedding market by offering coverage ‘if wedding bells don’t ring’ to cover the cost of any monies already spent on the wedding preparation. Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company offers ‘Weddingsurance’ for wedding catastrophes such as flood or fire but not for ‘change of heart’ (Haggerty, 1993). In fact, attach the words wedding or bridal to nearly any item and its price goes up. With June as the leading wedding month followed by August and July, summer becomes a wedding marketer’s dream. According to industry estimates, the average wedding in the USA costs $19,104. Considered in relation to what Americans earn, the cost of the average wedding represents 51 per cent of the mean earning of a white family of four and 89 per cent of the median earnings for black families. The fact that 63.7 per cent of Americans earn less than $25, 000 per year (US Bureau of the Census, 1997) means the average cost of a wedding approximates a year’s earnings for many Americans.
The primary wedding market—marketing directed toward prospective newlyweds-depends on numerous production and labor relations issues that underlie the consumption and accumulation involved in weddings. Veiled in the guise of romance and the sacred, the heterosexual imaginary conceals from view the various troublesome conditions underlying the production of the white wedding.
Probably the most significant wedding purchase is the wedding gown. Industry analysts have noted that most brides would do without many things to plan a wedding and stay within budget, but they would not scrimp when it comes to the purchase of the wedding gown. With the US national average expenditure at $823 for the gown and $199 for the veil, the bride’s apparel becomes the centerpiece of the white wedding. Most of us have heard the various phrases associated with the bride and her gown, the symbolic significance attached to how she looks and how beautiful her gown is. The marketing of everything from weddings to gowns to children’s toys to popular wedding films to Disney is laced with messages about fairy tales and princesses, the fantasy rewards that work to naturalize weddings and heterosexuality. Even couture fashion shows of world-class designers traditionally feature wedding gowns as their grand finale.
One particularly troubling practice widely engaged in by gown sellers is the removal of designer labels and prices from dresses. In many surveys, from Modern Bride to Dawn Currie’s interview study (1993), brides indicate that they rely upon bridal magazines to give them ideas about what type of gown to choose. They take the ad for the gown they like best to area stores and attempt to try on and purchase that particular dress. What they encounter is a system of deception widely practiced by many bridal shops. First, sellers remove the labels. Brides ask for a Vera Wang or an Alfred Angelo or a Jessica McClintock and are told to get the number off the gown and the clerk will check their book and see which designer it is. The bride has no way of knowing if she actually has the brand she seeks. As I toured various shops and saw how widespread this practice was, I asked store owners why they removed the labels from the dresses. Without exception they told me that it was to maintain the integrity of their business and to prevent women from comparison shopping. The truth is, this practice is illegal and provides shop owners with a great deal of flexibility in preserving their customer base and profit margin. In addition to this federal consumer protection law there are many states which provide similar protections. All in all, bridal gown stores have little to fear: This law is not enforced. And, perhaps more importantly, the romance with the white wedding gown distracts the soon-to-be brides from becoming suspicious of store practices.
If you look at the portion of tags gown-sellers leave in the dresses you will see that most are sewn outside the USA in countries such as Guatemala, Mexico, Taiwan, and China. Nearly 80 per cent of all wedding gowns are produced outside the USA in subcontracted factories where labor standards are nowhere near US standards and no independent unions or regulators keep watch.
The recruitment by US companies to contract offshore labor benefits manufacturers on many levels: cheap labor, low overhead, fewer regulations, and higher profits. And with the proliferation of free trade agreements such as the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), labor and environmental abuses abound. In a survey conducted by UNITE in April 1997 of three factories in Guatemala, it was discovered that one American manufacturer’s gowns were being made by 13 year olds in factories with widespread violations of their country’s child labor laws, wage and hour laws, and under life-threatening safety conditions. At two of the firms, 14 and 15 year olds worked as long as 10 hours a day earning $20.80 a week.
Another area of the wedding industry dominated by messages about romance is the marketing of diamonds. As part of the fantasy of the ever-romantic marriage proposal, the diamond ring takes center stage. In fact, for 70 per cent of all US brides and 75 per cent of first-time brides, the first purchase for the impending wedding is the diamond engagement ring. The central marketing strategy of the world’s largest diamond mining organization, DeBeers, is to convince consumers that ‘diamonds are forever.’ Once you accept this slogan, you also believe that you are making a life-long investment, not just purchasing a bauble for your bride! In fact, DeBeers spends about $57 million each year in this advertising campaign and has ‘committed to spending a large part of [their] budget—some $200 million this year—on the promotion of diamond jewelry around the world’ (Oppenheimer, 1998: 8). DeBeers and its advertisers have developed a new ‘shadow’ campaign to sell to consumers the advice that the ‘appropriate’ diamond engagement ring should cost at least ‘two months’ salary’ for the groom (Jewelers, 1996). This advertising strategy signals to newlyweds, grooms in particular, that anything less is not acceptable. In effect, the diamond industry has made use of heteronormativity and the heterosexual imaginary and has convinced us that purchasing a diamond engagement ring is no longer a want but is ‘natural,’ and therefore, a must. Not surprisingly, according to wedding industry estimates, this message is reaching its target. The average annual expenditure for engagement rings is $3000 (Modern Bride, 1996). If that constitutes the equivalent of two months,’ salary, the groom is expected to earn an annual salary of approximately $26,000 per year, the income bracket many of these ads target. What gets naturalized here is not just hetero-sexuality and romance but also weddings and commodity consumption.
Hidden behind the romance with diamond rings and wedding jewelry is an industry with a history steeped in intrigue, treachery, and vast wealth. Everyone from global capitalists to governments to political operatives to advertising agencies to jewelry stores are included. The mining, manufacturing, and marketing of diamonds have involved colonial wars, apartheid, racist violence, massive labor abuses, struggles between superpowers, the stability of nations, and the hiring of mercenary armies. Hardly the picture of romance each young woman was taught to want but when things such as diamond engagement rings and weddings are ‘only natural,’ conditions such as these remain unimaginable and invisible to the average consumer.
This process of naturalization begins with children. By targeting girls and young women, toy manufacturers have seized on the current wedding market and the opportunity to develop future consumers by producing a whole variety of wedding toys featuring the ‘classic’ white wedding and sold during Saturday morning children’s television shows. Toy companies, generally part of large conglomerates that also own related commodities such as travel or cosmetics, work to secure future markers for all their products through the selling of wedding toys. Mattel, the world’s largest toymaker and major multinational corporation has offices and facilities in thirty six countries and sells products in 150 nations. Their major toy brand, accounting for 40 per cent of their sales, is the Barbie doll—all 120 different versions of her. Mattel’s primary manufacturing facilities are located in China, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, and Mexico, employing mostly women of color and at substandard wages. Annually, Mattel makes about 100 million Barbie dolls and earns revenues of $1.9 billion for their El Segundo, California company. The average young Chinese female worker whose job it is to assemble Barbie dolls lives in a dormitory, sometimes works with dangerous chemicals, works long hours and earns $1.81 a day (Holstein et al., 1996).
The staging of weddings in television shows, weekly reporting on weddings in the press, magazine reports on celebrity weddings, advertising, and popular adult and children’s movies with wedding themes or weddings inserted, all work together to teach us how to think about weddings, marriage, heterosexuality, race, gender, and labor. Through the application of the heterosexual imaginary, the media cloak most representations of weddings in signifiers of romance, purity, morality, promise, affluence or accumulation, and whiteness. Many newlyweds today experience their weddings as stars of a fairy-tale movie where they are scripted, videotaped, and photographed by paparazzi wedding-goers.
The contemporary white wedding under transnational capitalism is, in effect, a mass-marketed, homogeneous, assembly-line production with little resemblance to the utopian vision many participants hold. The engine driving the wedding market has mostly to do with the romancing of heterosexuality in the interests of capitalism. The social relations at stake—love, community, commitment, and family—become alienated from the production of the wedding spectacle while practices reinforcing heteronormativity prevail.
The heterosexual imaginary circulating throughout the wedding industry masks the ways it secures racial, class, and sexual hierarchies. For instance, in nearly all of the examples offered above, the wedding industry depends upon the availability of cheap labor from developing nations with majority populations made up of people of color. The wealth garnered by white transnational corporations both relies on racial hierarchies, exploiting people and resources of communities of color (Africa, China, Haiti, Mexico, South Asia), and perpetuates them in the marketing of the wedding industry.
Women are taught from early childhood to plan for the ‘happiest day of their lives.’ Men are taught, by the absence of these socializing mechanisms, that their work is ‘other’ than that. The arguments that second wave feminists made about institutionalized heterosexuality as the source of male dominance and women’s oppression are reinforced by these practices. The possibilities children learn to imagine are only as broad as their culture allows. They are socialized to understand the importance of coupling, appropriate coupling, what counts as beauty, what counts as women’s work and men’s work, and how to become good consumers by participating in those heterosexual practices which stimulate their interests and emotions and reap the most rewards.
Heterosexuality is just not natural! It is socially organized and controlled. To understand how we give meaning to one of our major institutions is to participate as a critical consumer and citizen actively engaged in the production of culture and the social order. Heteronormativity—those practices that construct heterosexuality as the standard for legitimate and expected social and sexual relations—has enormous consequences for all members of a democratic social order, particularly in relation to the distribution of human and economic resources that affect the daily lives of millions of people. When the expectation is that all are equal under the law and that all citizens in a democracy can participate fully in the ruling of that society, rendering one form of socio-sexual relations as dominant by constructing it as ‘natural’ is both contradictory and violent. In other words, the heterosexuality we learn to think of as ‘natural’ is anything but.