Compulsory Heterosexuality refers to the idea that heterosexuality, as a default sexual orientation, can be adopted by people regardless of their personal sexual preferences. Compulsory means “mandatory”, “obligatory”, or “required”. A person’s heterosexuality is generally assumed until proven otherwise; by both one’s self and those around her. Those who have never “thought about” or questioned their heterosexual orientation may be accused of “compulsory heterosexuality”. Since heterosexuality is integral to the way a society is organized, it becomes a naturalized “learned behavior”. When a woman decides she is a lesbian (if this “deciding” even occurs), she is rejecting the ‘compulsion’ toward a heterosexual lifestyle and orientation. But Compulsory Heterosexuality makes coming out difficult, because it keeps women from being able to separate their “true sexual desires” from their “compulsions toward heterosexualty”. This is a concept that stems from the question of whether or not “anyone” could be a lesbian, and what agency an individual has over her sexual choices and desires.
As far as I know, this term was made popular by Adrienne Rich in her essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence”, which is a critique of heterosexuality as an institution and it’s negative affects on women. Rich suggests that heterosexuality keeps women from actualizing their full sexual and emotional capacities by denying them a sexual way of being that is unrelated to male pleasure.
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Posted in activism, feminism, feminist theory, heteronormativity, heterosexism, hierarchy, homophobia, human, identity, liberation, natural, nature, normality, norms, oppression, Other, praxis, queer, right, supremacy, unnatural, wrong on July 16, 2007 |
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The Natural is the social explanation for strict and conservative governing of human life. The term itself has much to do with forming and sustaining normativity—what is OK and what is not OK. Claiming that something (an object or an act or a phenomenon) isn’t “natural” often ensures society passing unfavorable judgment on it. First we need to break down what “natural” means and how it transitions into the political weapon I will call “the Natural.”
Let us take “natural” to mean that which is necessary to reproduce the human species. (Or, from a Darwinian standpoint, the actions that maximize a creature’s reproduction success.) In this way, “natural” are the qualities and characteristics of animals that bring about reproduction of the species.
How have we arrived at this definition? Does it not seem rather esoteric? Let’s apply it to our current political and social world and, as a result, it ought to make more sense:
If we take “natural” to mean that which is necessary to reproducing the human species, it should then be taken as truth that homosexuality and other non-heterosexual practices are unnatural. Homosexuality is constantly decried as being ‘unnatural’ (and therefore unnecessary) and should be criminalized, discouraged, punished. With the above definition of ‘natural’ at hand, it is a truism that homosexuality (read: all non-hetero sex practices) is unnatural. But, then again, so are countless other daily activities that we practice in an unthinking manner. For example, driving or riding in a car is a profoundly unnatural practice. We can note that driving a car is unnatural because it poses a much greater risk to the driver while on the road than if she left the car at home and walked.
The US Department of Transportation reports that:
There were nearly 6,420,000 auto accidents in the United States in 2005. The financial cost of these crashes is more than 230 Billion dollars. 2.9 million people were injured and 42,636 people killed. About 115 people die every day in vehicle crashes in the United States — one death every 13 minutes.
We can then ask, how many of these 42,636 dead or 2.9 million injured would still be reproductively viable if they had instead walked rather than driven a car? Using our standards of ‘natural’ as it applies to homosexuality (that it is an unnatural act that does not reproduce the human species and should therefore be discouraged), by all accounts, we should be criticizing driving and homosexuality equally for being ‘unnatural’ human acts.
We then have arrived at the crux of the problem of ‘natural’:
How is it that the natural suddenly became synonymous with the good and right?
We can see then that ‘the Natural’ becomes that rare occurrence: the irrational idea which (horrifyingly) simultaneously assumes the role of the authoritative idea. Like religions rooted in dogmatism, the Natural defies logic and steamrolls any criticism of itself, so ingrained is its authority and rightness in the minds of uncritical human beings. This is the inception of the Natural as a political weapon: when it is used to batter those individuals and practices that do not reside firmly in the ‘natural’ realm.
When we see that the Natural is ambiguous and nigh-irrelevant to our daily lives and social interactions, why do we persist in being governed by its irrational ‘laws’? This is the point at which we part ways with the Natural. Combating the Natural should not be done by attempting to “explain” homosexuality in such a way that it fits into the narrow framework of ‘natural.’ No, instead we need to reject the Natural as a force entirely. Pleasure governs us, not nature! We respond to reason and discourse, trading of ideas and dialogue, not some politicized concept of what nature decrees as “right” and “wrong”! This is our praxis…
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The act of undermining patriarchal institutions. To subvert something is to take oppressive forces and turn them into something that challenges the oppressor. Institutions such as Gender can be subverted by acts such as extreme perfomance of ones assigned gender or the adoption of criteria for a gender other than one’s “own”. To engage in subversion is to use the patriarch’s “rules” against him, making his intended meaning into something completely different. One does not need to use material means such as clothing to subvert gender, one can also subvert gender through the act of recontextualization. For example, taking a heteronormative song, movie, or tradition and placing it in a queer setting.
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Posted in binary, feminism, male, male privilege, normality, norms, Object, Other, race, sexuality, Subject, supremacy, white on July 9, 2007 |
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Default (de·fault – [di-fawlt]) n.
A term used to denote normality and neutrality and identify adherents to it. Similar to what one might find as the ‘defaults’ on her computer (Times New Roman type font, the same homepage for internet access, the vertical letter format for printing documents in a printer), the Default is the constant and unhistorical standard of society by which everyone/thing else is described. It simply is. With regards to feminism, Simone de Beauvoir writes that while “the fact of being a man is no peculiarity” simultaneously it is acknowledged that “the body of woman [is] a hindrance, a prison, weighed down by everything peculiar to it” (FTR 33). In this way, the male body and man as social being is ‘neutral’ and ‘unaltered’ and therefore good. It is the woman who is distinguished in her deviance from the Default. Hers is a body crafted in the perfect image of man, but taken tragic and disgusting wrong turns in the journey to finality. In this mindset, Aristotle aptly remarks: “The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities, we should regard the female nature as afflicted with a natural defectiveness” (FTR 33).
We can take this concept of Default further, however, than the realms of gender binary and apply it to (American) social consciousness in general. How then do we define the default? It is everything that does not need a signifier preceding it.
- A human is a person, but a person is a man. If not, her sex is indicated with the signifier ‘woman’ or ‘she’.
- A human is a person, but a person is a white man. If not, s/he is distinguished by a suitable racial and skin color signifier. One is black; one is Latino, one is Asian. But the One (the Subject to which everyone else is Other) is white.
- A human is a person, but a person is a white, straight man. If not, s/he is ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, ‘bi’, ‘trans’, queer, etc. Homosexuality and all other deviations from Default, that is, heterosexuality, must be identified lest we confuse the idealized Default with contrarily identified others.
- A human is a person, but a person is a white, straight, middle class man. One cannot but be of middle class without being identified as such as well.
- A human is a person, but a person is etc. etc. etc…
Undecided portion of definition—is this true?: It is crucial to distinguish this idea of Default from the notion of ‘assumption.’
Assumption indicates agency–that is, one is choosing to apply a totalizing model of being to all individuals. But is the Default a set of assumptions or something deeper, more insidious? It’s not just the way we talk (though, actually, it is: the way we talk betrays the way we consider our social and material surroundings). It’s the way we interpret reality…through an understanding like the Default?
Is this an issue of power–is our manufacturing of the Default an unacknowledged, unaware strategy towards understanding social gradations of power? Does the Default assist us in comprehending difference? Or is it a straw man, absent from reality, towards which everything is oriented in opposition?
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An adjective used to describe someone or something that possesses one or more of a set of qualities which are normally attributed to men. (more…)
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Norms are expectations set by people in a society that express that societies values, beliefs, and traditions. (more…)
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