The term “heteronormative” is used to describe a culture or belief system which assumes that heterosexuality is the norm. Heteronormativity can take a number of forms, and it is often very subtle and pervasive. One of the most obvious impacts of heteronormativity is the marginalization of people who do not fit within heterosexual norms, such as homosexuals and people who do not identify with commonly-held ideas about sexuality and gender. Many activists in a variety of social groups have worked to combat heteronormative behavior.
In a society with heteronormative values, all people are assumed to be heterosexual. Most such societies also have a binary view of gender which divides people up as either male or female. Many such societies also have specific ideas about gender roles and what sort of activities are appropriate for each gender. In addition, it is common for alternative sexual practices to be viewed as abnormal, even when they take place in a heterosexual context.
For people who do not identify as heterosexual, such as gays, lesbians, asexuals, and bisexuals, it can be frustrating to live in a heteronormative society because assumptions are constantly being made about human sexuality in such societies. People who are not heterosexual may also be the victims of prejudice, and sometimes they are deliberately targeted with laws aimed to suppress their sexuality. Anyone who engages in alternative sexual practices, even if he or she is heterosexual, may also be marginalized by a heteronormative society.
Heteronormativity also has a profound impact on gender identity. Intersexuals, transsexuals, genderqueers, and other people who explore different aspects of gender may find it difficult to navigate in society. For example, most heteronormative societies only have boxes for “male” and “female” on administrative forms, forcing people who do not identify with these genders to pick one, or to enter into a prolonged discussion about the issue. People may also struggle with things like which pronouns to use, and how to respond to curious people.
People can fight heteronormative behavior in a number of ways. For example, rather than assuming that heterosexuality is universal, people can operate under the assumption that there are a range of sexual identities and orientations, and that rather than jumping to conclusions about others, they should wait for more information. People may also choose to reject traditional ideas about gender roles.
All sorts of people are interested in the study of heteronormative thinking and its impact on society. Feminists, for example, are often fascinated by the traditional ideas about gender roles and appropriate behavior, while gay activists try to make gays and lesbians more visible in society to contradict the idea that most people are heterosexual. Psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists are also interested in heteronormativity and how it influences the people and cultures they study.