Visual concept by Grace with photos by Elijah O’Donnell and Anni Roenkae from Pexels
Grace Egan explores the difficulties for LGBT+ youth living in a world that promotes heterosexuality as the norm
Heteronormativity is the belief that heterosexuality is the default, preferred, or ‘normal’ mode of sexual orientation. It is the reason queer people feel they must ‘come out of the closet’, as we are all assumed to be straight unless we say otherwise.
Heteronormativity enforces the binary concepts of gender identity, that we are either female or male according to what we were assigned at birth. We all subconsciously learn and are exposed to societal beliefs with heteronormative thinking integrated into all our lives.
To combat this view we need to build awareness of our implicit biases and interrupt them. I believe we underestimate the extent to which heteronormativity limits us. Sexuality makes up a big part of our identity and if we’re taught to repress it or that it isn’t normal, it’s harmful. It leaves people feeling alienated and alone.
With these fixed heteronormative opinions it forces anyone that doesn’t fit into enclosed binaries to explain themselves, whereas gender-conforming and heterosexual people are not expected to. This can be detrimental to young queer individuals who are confused and trying to figure out who they are.
As a part of Generation Z, we are exploring what defines gender and what it means to each of us personally. Therefore, we shouldn’t be pushed to categorise ourselves; labels are only appropriate if it provides comfort for the individual using them. It’s okay to be gender fluid.
Often, our creativity and self-expression come hand in hand with our identity. Therefore, the repression of our sexuality or gender can inhibit personal growth.
At first, I didn’t even know I was queer; I just assumed like everyone else that I must be straight
Heteronormativity puts pressure on those who are inside this definition to stay inside it. The fear of not being ‘normal’ or straying away from what society expects can prevent us from finding the kinds of sex and relationships that are best for us.
If we, young people, were taught and encouraged to freely explore all aspects of ourselves and not to be afraid, it would allow us to flourish way earlier than at present.
When attempting to understand my own sexuality it was a very frustrating experience. I just wanted to accept who I was and get on with my life. At first, I didn’t even know I was queer; I just assumed like everyone else that I must be straight.
I don’t want to be solely defined by my gender identity or sexual expression; there is so much more to me. I’m a very creative person and have many passions including English literature, the power of nature and looking after the environment. I’m inspired by many types of art and I love drawing.
Any queer thoughts or desires I had, I told myself didn’t mean anything. Looking back I wish I’d been kinder to myself; it was the constraints of heteronormativity pressurising the younger me to decide who I was when I wasn’t sure.
Lately, as I have embraced the idea that most parts of my personal identity are fluid, I have been able to grow into a happier more comfortable version of myself.
Less than 50% of teenagers identified as completely heterosexual, leaving the other 50% part of the queer community in some way
The foundation of heteronormativity is based on what we perceive as ‘normal’. The idea of normality is problematic as it is. If we equate ‘normal’ to what is most common, we’re explicitly rejecting diversity in any shape or form.
Our treatment of others shouldn’t be determined by how ‘normal’ they are. However, let’s ignore the controversy for a moment and question whether heterosexuality even fits this definition of normality.
In a study by Out magazine, less than 50% of teenagers identified as completely heterosexual, leaving the other 50% part of the queer community in some way. Therefore, if we are equating normal to what is common, heterosexuality isn’t even the default!
Unfortunately, the problems don’t stop there for LGBT+ people. Stonewall’s recent research highlights disturbing levels of hate crime and discrimination. LGBT+ couples are more at risk of violence, with trans women of colour statistically suffering the most.
The Jama paediatrics review 2018 found that LGBT+ young people were three times more likely to attempt suicide compared to their heterosexual peers, and transgender teens were nearly six times more likely.
Heteronormativity promotes heterosexuality as the normal or preferred sexual orientation and as a world opinion. This is a dangerous concept and should be torn down given that queer youth are at risk of hurting themselves and being threatened by others every day.
Heteronormativity results in discrimination, isolation and the pressuring of LGBT+ youth to fit into binaries they don’t and can’t associate with. It is unfortunately ingrained into our system and is hard to combat. But we can continue the conversation and explore what we believe to be a more realistic view.
If you’re struggling to feel comfortable with your identity, or are questioning elements of yourself you can find support here.
Funding from The National Lottery Community Fund, distributed by CommUNITY Barnet Giving has helped us with this work. Thanks to National Lottery players for making this possible.