Heteronormativity

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Heteronormativity is a fairly well-established notion within sociological circles. It refers, broadly, to the idea that 'heterosexual' norms of behavior (familial, gender-binary, reproductive, and so on) are enforced culturally, politically and institutionally onto the entire social body. Dominant cultural 'norms' produce, and control, behavior and subjectivity, measured against an ideal Manichean heterosexual couple (and since this couple forms an 'ideal', every member of society becomes potentially a target for regulative intervention).

Gayle Rubin has observed that[1]:

"Modern Western societies appraise sex acts according to a hierarchical system of sexual value. Martial, reproductive heterosexuals are alone at the top of the erotic pyramid. Clamoring below are unmarried monogamous heterosexuals in couples, followed by most other heterosexuals... Stable, long-term lesbian and gay male couple are verging on respectability, but bar-dykes and promiscuous gay men are hovering just above the groups at the very bottom of the pyramid. The most despised sexual castes currently include transsexuals, transvestites, fetishists, sadomasochist, sex workers such as prostitutes and pron models, and the lowliest of all, those whose eroticism transgresses generational boundaries...
Individuals whose behavior stands high in this hierarchy are rewarded with certified mental health, respectability, legality, social and physical mobility, institutional support and material benefits. As sexual behaviors or occupations fall lower on the scale, the individuals who practice them are subjected to a presumption of mental illness, disreputability, criminality, restricted social and physical mobility, loss of institutional support, and economic sanctions...
In its most serious manifestations, the sexual system is a Kafkaesque nightmare in which unlucky victims become herds of human cattle whose identification, surveillance, apprehension, treatment, incarceration, and punishment produce jobs and self-satisfaction for thousands of vice police, prison officials, psychiatrists, and social workers."

This hierarchical pyramid, situating heterosexual, reproducing married couples at its peak, is the standard against which all members of a society are measured. It is clear that the other 'castes' in society are both produced and necessary to the promulgation of heterosexual norms, since without their presence, the "threat" to the heterosexual ideal cannot be constantly narrated and guarded against.

Homonormativity

More recently, and particular within Queer Theory, there has arisen the idea of homonormativity. This is a criticism directed primarily against the identity politics of the gay and lesbian movement, asserting that contemporary gays and lesbians have become complicit with heterosexual norms of behavior. Thus the 'big issues' within gay and lesbian politics focus around questions such as 'gays in the military', the rights of gay families, and 'gay marriage', whereby gays demand 'equal treatment' within the same social order as heterosexuals – in other words, their politics has been assimilated within the existing social order (betraying its more radical origins of revolutionizing the social order).

"How has this become a community that privileges recognition so highly, and seems to have abandoned some of the more radical strategies and goals grounded in a politics that sought to destabilize dominant forms of sexuality and kinship, rather than seeking to be destabilized by them? ... Why have the gaining of rights and the politics of recognition been substituted for earlier political goals in the gay community that were committed to making viable a range of sexual and kin affiliations other than those that are narrowly domestinormative?"[2]

Lisa Duggan has theorized homonormativity as a "new neo-liberal sexual politics" that hinges upon "the possibility of a demobilized gay constituency and a privatized, depoliticized gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption"[3]. Equally, in Selling Out, Alexandra Chasin writes: "Advertising to gay men and lesbians has played on ideas about national identity in two significant ways. First such advertising has often appealed to gay on the basis of their identification as Americans. Second, ... it has often promised that full inclusion in the national community of Americans is available through personal consumption."[4]

Clearly the concept of 'normativity' can in fact be applied to any community that posits, or insists upon, compliance with certain norms of behavior. Arguably such standards become just as necessary – if not more so – to minority-identifying communities, who have a tendency to replicate the standards of mainstream society in attempting to preserve their 'identity' and 'uniqueness' by seeking to exile or marginalize those who do not conform to that figural identity. This danger would appear to increase concomitantly with the longevity of a minority group's existence; a transition from a loose collective of radicals to what Félix Guattari would call a 'subjected group' – a group which receives an identity from outside pressures, and imposes hierarchical, fixed roles on its members.

Is there a pedonormativity forming? Debates over "responsible boylove", "principled celibacy", "a genetic origin to 'pedosexuality'", the "pedagogical/mentorship" model – all can be viewed as attempts to test and formulate a group cohesion, in accordance with dominant societal pressures toward self-identification.

Homonationalism

Jasbir Puar takes the notion of 'homonormativity' a step further, and offers the concept of 'homonormative nationalism' (or 'homonationalism')[5].

Within the context of the 'War on Terror', there has been a resurgence in governmental need to foster nationalism/patriotism. Puar argues that the invocation of "the terrorist" as a non-national, perversely-sexualized, perversely-racialized Other, has become part of the normative script of the US-orchestrated 'War on Terror'. Terrorist bodies must be discerned, Othered, and quarantined, through being cast as racially and sexually perverse figures. This, correlatively, helps to discipline and normalize subjects worthy of rehabilitation away from such bodies, i.e. to signal and enforce the mandatory terms of patriotism. (Hence there is a double deployment: the emasculated "terrorist" is not merely an Other, but is also deployed as a barometer of ab/normality involved in disciplinary apparatuses.)

Puar suggests that domesticated homosexual bodies provide ammunition to reinforce nationalist projects, by figuring the heterosexual norms in the guise of 'tolerance' and 'diversity'; situating domesticated homosexual bodies vis-à-vis perversely racialized bodies of pathologized nationalities (both inside and outside US borders); and by fostering nationalist homosexual positionalities indebted to liberalism (via normative kinship forms, as well as via consumption spheres that set up state/market dichotomies), which then police (via 'panopticon and profile') non-nationalist, non-normative sexualities.

We can go further than 'homonationalism', and observe that nationalist and patriotic normativity need not be limited to hetero- and homosexual-identifying bodies. It has the capacity to traverse and stratify the whole of society, regardless of membership in any particular minority grouping.

Conclusion

For the purposes of the present article, it can be said that normativity and patriotism/nationalism collaborate in the task of State racism, whose first function is to fragment, to create caesuras, within the population. From this perspective, 'community norms', normativities of all types – national, sexual or racial – are deployed to effectuate the more precise control of populations, or of groups within populations.

Those who self-identify within any minority grouping – including self-identified 'pedophiles' – must be wary of normativizing standards within their community, and normativizing tendencies within themselves. The imposition of such standards, along with the insidious growth of nationalism (witness the hatred that self-identifying minorities direct against other minorities – 'terrorists', 'illegal immigrants', 'welfare claimants'), evinces complicity with the practices of the dominant order.

All borders and boundaries – whether spatio-geographical (territorial), cultural (separating out the 'generations'), or philosophical (those that block thought) – must be resisted, wherever they appear.

References

  1. Rubin, Gayle: "Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality", in Carole Vance, ed., Pleasure and Danger (Routledge & Kegan, Paul, 1984)
  2. Franke, Kathleen: "The Domesticated Liberty of Lawrence v. Texas" 104 Colum.L.Rev. (2004)
  3. Duggan, Lisa: The Twilight of Equality: Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy (Boston: Beacon Press, 2003)
  4. Chasin, Alexandra: Selling Out: The Gay and Lesbian Movement Goes to Market (Palgrave Macmillan, 2001)
  5. Puar, Jasbir: Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (Duke University Press, 2007)