Compulsory Heterosexuality: A Harmful Social Construct


Hannah Kim, Staff Writer

Hercules" (1997): Megara Was Easily the Best Disney Princess - ReelRundown

I think I knew I was queer from a young age. My gay awakening was Meg from Hercules; ever since I set my eyes on her in that beautiful lilac dress, gorgeous red hair, and confidence- I could not stop blushing. Finally coming to terms with the basis of my sexuality freshman year after years of homophobic ideals drilled into my head was a moment of clarity; it felt as if I was taking one step closer to finding myself. Yet to this day, I am confused. I know sexuality is a vast spectrum and there is no need to fit yourself into a box, but I can’t help but question where I am in that spectrum. Does anyone else out there have a similar dilemma?

In 1980, Adrienne Cecile Rich published a piece of literature titled ‘Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Experience’, coining the term ‘compulsory heterosexuality (comphet)’. Ahead of her time, she came out with a work that emphasizes the enforcing of heterosexuality through a patriarchal society. So, what exactly does that mean and why does it matter? It means that heterosexuality is deeply rooted in our environment, that it is assumed and very much enforced to be the ‘natural’ sexuality, and there are many dangerous consequences (both internally and externally) because of it to the LGBTQIA+ community. 

Although Adrienne Rich’s work specified lesbian experiences, I think this concept can be applied to queer/ gender fluid life as a whole. Our world has painted being queer as ‘not normal’ or even evil in some cases, and that has given consequences to young queer minds. There has always been a system of oppression against the LGBTQIA+ community, where the repercussions of expressing your identity or straying from the hetero norm have caused someone punishments in every aspect of their lives. The idea of compulsory heterosexuality focuses on this, and how this thesis has caused some to repress their identity or assume sexuality for themselves (without considering their true selves). This of course bleeds into gender norms. Now, this is not to say that a straight/ cisgender person’s sexuality or gender is not valid, or that everyone is gay or trans (or in the spectrum), and that is perfectly fine. 

Everyone should consider what makes them happy, and not just fit a social norm. Of course, there are so many factors even to this day that represses the identity of so many, but that is what we must dismantle. Our society has always favored a cis-gendered monogamous heterosexual relationship and pushed it out upon us. Whether it be direct through our long bigoted history of hate crimes or indirectly through media only showcasing preferred ideals, heterosexuality is embedded into our lives. Again, this is never meant to shame those who are straight, nor declare that heterosexuality is evil or anything of that sort. Does it just beg the question; how many queer people are still assuming that they still are heterosexual (or even partly so) because of this historic system? 

This topic hits close to home for me, and I wonder how many of those in my community are going through the same thing. I already know that I am not immune to internalized homophobia just because I am queer, I grew up in a very traditional religious background. For god’s sake, I brought a bible to middle school one day to showcase a verse I had found that I believed defended my opinion on homophobia. There are undoubtedly ideals that I still have to dismantle in my head, and it hurts to think that the impulsive thoughts I have cause harm to my community (like when it comes to monogamy or gender/ sexuality stereotypes). But do my internal sexual identity issues go beyond that? Am I assuming that I still am attracted to the opposite sex because of the environment in which I was raised? Or that because I am a girl I owe something to the male population? I know in my years there have been too many moments where I have had to sit myself down and ask if the way I presented myself in certain circumstances was to entertain the male gaze or for my appeal. It is a dilemma I find myself facing continuously, and I have yet to figure it out. Learning of comphet has furthered my questionings, and I sometimes find myself fitting into the virtues in an almost ironically perfect way.

 Again, there is no need that I or anyone else has to place themselves in a box or confine their sexuality/gender identity. I know that I am still young, and have more than enough time to get to know and watch myself grow. And that’s okay, but there is still a strong part of me that just wants to rip off the band-aid and just know that one thing about myself. This is also something that I have to unlearn; I do not need to just be one certain thing and nor does anybody else. We are all continuously growing and unraveling bits and pieces of what we are. It can be so frustrating, but I think I need to stop and understand that this is what makes life so interesting; what makes everyone so complex and beautiful in their way. 

I think the idea of comphet is so intriguing, and it touches on so many important factors in which we need to recognize and dismantle a toxic patriarchal hetero normative society. Where queer/ gender fluid people don’t have to worry about basic rights, dangers from hateful people, or where no woman has the subconscious need to subject themselves to a man. 

I believe we are capable of such change, and one day I hope to see a day where someone doesn’t have to ‘come out of the closet’ and can bring home a lover to their parents regardless of gender without a second thought. A day where it’s not a spectacle to see a queer couple post a cute picture on Instagram. A day where people don’t ogle at a gender-fluid/ androgynous person and make it into a game to figure out ‘what they are’. A day where anyone can wear a dress or a suit and not have it be tied to what you identify as.  A day where being a ‘house-husband’ isn’t something that people make fun of. A day where love and self-content triumph over societal norms. 

My journey with sexuality and identity will span on for the rest of my life. Who knows? Maybe I am just a big old lesbian hidden behind systemic assumptions that I have yet to dismantle for myself. That’s just something that I will have to sit with until I better understand myself, and I would like everyone who may be facing a similar situation to know that there is nothing wrong with that. This is something that takes time, identity is fluid and different for everyone. 

You are still valid regardless of what you currently identify as, and I wish you all luck on your journey to finding who you are -even beyond sexuality or gender identity. Compulsory heterosexuality does bring up a systemic issue that needs to be talked about. But while we wait to discover ourselves, what do we do? What happens when you are in a gray zone and cannot understand yourself just yet? Accept yourself. Be open to change. As great as it is to know yourself, there is so much more to your life than just understanding your gender identity or sexuality. My greatest takeaway for anyone reading this article is this: don’t limit yourself, and be kind to yourself and those around you while we are finding out who we have yet to become.

Quotes About Growth And Flowers. QuotesGram