The journey that led me to starting this blog began when I enrolled in university, a couple of years ago, with the aim of becoming a professional lactation consultant (IBCLC). Perhaps because I have spent most of my adult life in a foreign country isolated from the English language, or perhaps because I was living as a heterosexual, somehow I missed out on, or never noticed, the word ‘heteronormativity’.
The first course I enrolled in at university was an introduction to the social sciences. Digging around in the Open University website trying to learn more about what I was getting myself in for I came across this free online course, or something similar – the word heteronormativity glared back at me very loudly. Simple concept really, and perhaps I’m the only person to have missed it and I’m now making an idiot of myself across the internet….? Here is a definition for anyone else like me who missed it….
“Heteronormativity is the body of lifestyle norms that hold that people fall into distinct and complementary genders (man and woman) with natural roles in life. It asserts that heterosexuality is the only sexual orientation or only norm, and states that sexual and marital relations are most (or only) fitting between people of opposite sexes. Consequently, a “heteronormative” view is one that involves alignment of biological sex, sexuality, gender identity and gender roles. Heteronormativity is linked to heterosexism and homophobia.”
That word – heteronormativity – lodged somewhere in the back of my mind until sometime later when I had the realisation that I am gay, that I had been living as a heterosexual against my own inclination and I began to wonder; How can someone not recognise who they are? How can you live in a closet and not even realise there is a closet? Then the pin dropped – heteronormativity, perhaps, may have contributed to that?
I’m still a long way from answering that question but I did wake up to find myself suddenly an ‘outsider’ in a world that I had been at home in (or I had made myself at home in by taking on an identity which was not my own) up until then.
Until my early 40s I had taken for granted certain rights and privileges which disappeared the moment I came out to myself and to others. I hadn’t really understood the difficulties of my gay friends until I began to hear their full stories; their coming out stories, their stories of discrimination – losing jobs, not being able to marry, wanting to be a bride and being negated that, not having the same economic privileges and rights as heterosexual married couples, micro discriminations and/or micro aggressions* such as feeling excluded, having to ‘come out’ regularly, being on the alert for violence.
“Be careful of showing affection in public” said a friend – that, I would say, was the scariest thing about discovering that I am gay – knowing that I could get beaten up for it.
I would learn that what I was giving up has a name; ‘heterosexual privilege’. I had no idea that I had it until I had lost it – hence this blog. I now want it back!! Not heterosexual privilege – I want the same rights that I had before, and I want them for everyone, starting from the field that I work in.
Reading about discrimination against people in the LGTBIQ or Queer community led me to read about racial discrimination – in particular inequity in infant feeding support. I began to understand, at last, the concept of white privilege, in particular ‘the invisible knapsack of white privilege’.
I decided to write my own ‘invisible knapsack of heterosexual privilege’ based on the things I once had and have lost. I found the elements in my own knapsack echoed in this project (written by a number of straight-identified students at Earlham College).
The invisible knapsack of heterosexual privilege (mine – based on ‘White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack’ by Peggy McIntosh)
- I was not regularly defined by my sexuality
- I didn’t regularly, if ever, talk about my sexual orientation
- I never needed to talk about sex and sexuality unless I chose to
- I forget that I had a named identity
- I could choose to marry or to not marry
- When I turned on the television (or looked for a book or a film) I could choose from programmes that described people with my same sexual orientation
- I grew up learning about attraction and love relationships between opposite sex couples from popular media
- I had sex education that discussed my (believed) sexual orientation
- I could go to a sexual health clinic, or for a sexual health check-up, or any health check-up and not need to talk to a stranger about my sexual habits and orientation
- I did not have to habitually change pronouns
- I didn’t have to correct people when they referred to my partner’s gender (when I had a partner – later I did have to correct people on my lack of partner)
- I did not have to show ID, or my partner did not have to show ID when attending our child’s birth to prove that I was a parent/they were a parent
- I never had to fill in a form that did not have options to describe my family members
- I did not have to calculate whether it was safe before I held hands with my date or my partner
- I did not have to calculate whether it was safe before I kissed my date or my partner
- I did not have to come out to my children as heterosexual
- I did not have to explain homophobia to my children with me as the object
- I did not have to explain heterosexuality to my children – they grow up knowing about it from toys, books, film and television, and sex education
- My children regularly saw families on television, in books and films, that had the same sexual orientation as their own parents
- My sexuality was never considered a mental illness or a crime
- My sexuality would not have been used against me in court cases
- My ability as a parent was not judged on my sexual orientation
- Fertility information and care was not withheld or limited due to the beliefs of the provider towards my ability as a parent on the base of my sexuality
- I could find support for relationship difficulties and communication between opposite sex couples
- My sexuality was not considered a lifestyle choice, rather it was considered the norm and was expected
There may be more points that I haven’t thought of, or which I haven’t experienced. Take what I write with a grain of salt….as the students of Earlham College note, they are never called on to “speak for everyone who is heterosexual”, neither can I speak for everyone in the very diverse LGTBIQ community. This is my own individual knapsack. If you have a different version please link or add to the comments below. I would love to hear from you.
* “….constant daily micro-aggressions really mount up, such as being misgendered, asked intrusive questions, and having to decide whether to come out multiple times. The challenges range from toilet access to legal/medical forms to pronouns to other people invalidating identities.” link