The Crushing Blow of Compulsory Heterosexuality

Our society centers around the heteropatriarchy, as Gill Valentine explained in her piece “Making Space: Lesbian separatist communities in the United States.” The overwhelming influence of perceived male dominance and heteronormative ideals affects all non-male people negatively. toValentine ventures to say that “heterosexuality is the root of all women’s oppression” (110). This appears to be an extreme statement at first glance, which is why it requires deeper analysis. Heterosexuality, attraction to the “opposite” gender, generally follows patriarchal norms such as the woman being the homemaker and the man being the breadwinner. While the aforementioned theme is not always negative, the dangerous power dynamic between men and women is enforced in heterosexuality.

Compulsory heterosexuality, an experience defined by Adrienne Rich as heterosexuality being imposed upon women by society, exemplifies Valentine’s view. I have experienced the pain that assuming heterosexuality in myself causes. For most of my life, I believed that I was interested in men because of what I was shown and taught by my family, religion, and media. I had “crushes” on any boy that was nice to me, popular, or had some part of his personality that I wanted to have. For example, I had a crush on a boy who played basketball and skateboarded, solely because I wanted to take part in those activities. I was never taught what true attraction I assumed I was heterosexual. Boys are a common topic among teenage girls, so I dated boys in order to gain more friends and have something to talk about with them. The list of compulsory heterosexuality experiences goes on and on.

I felt unfulfilled, numb, and lonely under the male-centered gaze that our society pushes. When I finally broke free from the expectations of my religion and peers, I realized my attraction to women. I labeled myself as bisexual because I was in a relationship with a boy and did not want to hurt him or confuse anyone. However, after removing myself from seeing men as partners rather than simply friends, I was able to understand my true desires. Men and heterosexuality are not evil, but they are innately oppressive because of their position in society. I now identify as a lesbian because the way I feel towards women as opposed to men is completely different. Men have the potential to be great friends, but outside of upholding the expectations of other women in my life, they possess no good for me as partners. I cannot be truly happy if I allow myself to be swayed by society’s pension for heterosexuality.

4 thoughts on “The Crushing Blow of Compulsory Heterosexuality”

  1. hi!! Thank you for this post, it was really well-written and touching. While growing up Catholic, I had no idea what being gay was or that there was any other option for life besides heterosexuality. It is disturbing that queerness is thought of as ‘inappropriate for children when they are constantly shown images of heterosexual couples in love. This idea that children should be sheltered from queer love sets the standard that queerness is taboo, teaching children that any stray outside the norm is wrong. As a child, I was also a part of a theater company that employed many young actors and actresses. I am so grateful for the diverse role models I met while growing up in that theater. While I was told nothing about sexuality at school or home, I was performing alongside trans and queer members of my theater. Being taught by a wide array of people who aligned themselves with various identities made it so much easier for me to be accepting of others and my own sexuality. Children should be exposed to all identities and encouraged to explore and become friends with people from all walks of life- it is heartbreaking that this is not normally the case.

  2. Hi!!
    I really resonated with this post and want to thank you for sharing. Alike to you and your experience with compulsory heterosexuality, I too, went through a similar timeline. From the age of 6 to 18, I had various crushes on guys who were my friends, unable to separate platonic and romantic feelings. Looking back on it today, I realize that this was due to the validation and attention that I had received from these men. During my senior year of high school even, I had a boyfriend. In the relationship, while he was a great guy, I felt that there was something missing, almost “unfulfilled”, as you have stated. It was not until quarantine hit that I was able to reflect upon who I was and who I loved, and was confidently able to label myself as bi. Now that I am in a relationship with another girl, I feel fulfilled and understand what attraction truly is. Alike to you, I am almost relieved that I did not let society’s standards and ‘norms’ hold me into place, but rather was able to break free and be who I truly was.

  3. Hi Grace! I loved this analysis of compulsory heterosexuality and had a really similar experience to this and appreciate your openness of talking about this. I had a similar experience with recognizing that I was attracted to women long before coming to terms with not being attracted to men. I have also noticed how much my view of being female-identifying as well as not attracted to men has affected my view of being perceived as a woman – so much about “being a woman” seems to be defined by our relationships to men, and not having those can make it seen very isolating and alienating.

  4. Thank you for this post; I had an extremely similar experience to yours and felt recognized. In high school, I could not understand my inability to maintain relationships with boys that I genuinely liked as people. I thought there was something fundamentally wrong with me, and I would never be able to hold a relationship for a long time. Now that I am dating a girl, I understand how relationships are supposed to feel. I understand that there is not something wrong with me, but with the imposition of heterosexuality on people, especially children, who are often not even told there are other options, and grow up thinking they are somehow tainted, but not knowing why.

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