In the society we live in today, many ideas and institutions are engrained in us: Gender labeling, homophobia, and even the concept of measuring time are human inventions that are nonsensical when applied to other species. A fly doesn’t care about graduating high school, just as a deer doesn’t care about the sexual acts of that fly, and just as that deer doesn’t really mind if a female deer plays football instead of involving herself in dance class.

It’s funny to imagine a deer walking herself around in a football uniform, but my point is not about animals playing games. It’s about the silly institution of heteronormativity.

Heteronormativity is basically the idea that being anything but heterosexual is abnormal, and by default, the “abnormality,” i.e., homosexuality, must be ignored and replaced with a more “acceptable” sexuality.

A few weeks ago, the Student Council at my high school was advertising the prom, and a sign in the boys’ bathroom got me thinking about heteronormativity and how prevalent it is. The sign was purple with a cartoon drawing of a boy and a girl standing next to each other. The sign read, “JUST ASK HER. Prom 2013.” It didn’t make me angry, but rather confused. Why assume that every guy is straight? Why can’t it be, “just ask him/her?”

That sign is an example of heteronormativity.

The sign was lighthearted and good-natured, and most people can look past the bias it showed. But heteronormativity also has a darker side. For example, heteronormativity is what makes it necessary for lesbians and gay men to “come out of the closet.”

Picture this: A mother has cornered her son and is bearing down upon him. The son is 16 years old and has barely accepted himself as a homosexual. She is repeating a question, and it feels like she’s said it a hundred times, but she’s only said it twice. Fear is in his eyes, and she knows the answer, but he won’t say it. “Are you gay?” she asks a third time. He nods, choking back tears.

Two days later, he’s on the street.

This is due to heteronormativity.

It is a destructive institution that forces children out of their homes, forces so many to think that they’re trapped or that they don’t belong, or that their feelings are shameful. The near-automatic assumption when it comes to sexuality is heterosexual. “You’re straight?!” isn’t the question that gets asked. “You’re gay?!” is the question. “I didn’t know you were gay! You just don’t act like it!”

That’s heteronormativity.

Most important, heteronormativity inspires fear. The fear of being discovered as homosexual, or bisexual, or transgender. It’s unfair to think, “Everyone around me is straight.” Because everyone around you isn’t straight, isn’t heterosexual.

And that’s heteronormativity.

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