A very dear friend just blogged about his response to heteronormativity and the heteronormative male ideal. It was a jolly good post, which you should read
. Being just that kind of person
I took one comment and blew it out of proportion, because it interested me. Instead of hijacking his blog, I decided to post it here. Apologies if this is a little jumbled, I wrote it in a remarkably short space of time and only had the ideas I express as my fingers were hitting keys, I intend to revisit some of what I've said at a later date.
"Taken on stereotypes alone, I want to veer away from heteronormative male as much as I can; it physically disgusts me."
To say one wishes to avoid a certain, stereotypical way of being implies that there is a clear and well defined 'other'. And if that is lacking, there is at least a clear way of knowing what it is one is distancing oneself from. Whilst heteronormative gender performance and relationship forms are common, and in being common feel easy to deconstruct, there are nuances which can be erased by the broad stroke of a queer agenda.
Common is often synonymous with unthinking. Understandably so when you look at the most vocal proponents of the status quo; the [hated] Daily Mail and it's readers is an example which rushed to the forefront of my mind. One also cannot neglect to mention the culture of the 'lad' and the associated press of lads' mags, the page three girl and football related sponsorship and advertising. In short, we glance at a culture which evolves without moving forward and grows via the insidious ooze of repetition and we feel we know it, absolutely. The moment we see the dragon for what it is, we believe we have seen the route to slaying it; produce a counter-culture founded on the same principles of social interaction and familial structures but subvert each of these on the individual and group level. In short, we try to queer it.
The logic behind this seems sound at first glance: why are heteronormative relationships and gender roles so common? Because the model of heteronormative relationships and gender are baked right into our culture and society, they are numerous, they are supported by every fibre of society. One of the most common, if not the
most common narratives in our culture is boy meets girl. Boy meets girl. Not boy meets boy, not girl meets girl, not boy meets girl and they then meet another girl. Not any other permutation.
The effect of this narrative on the individual level is shocking when you pause and look at your own life. At the moments of uncertainty, the moments when you feel like a social retard and cling onto whatever model of social interaction you can find, you will most likely find that model is a heteronormative one. Years and years of repetition mean that heteronormativity is not just common, it just *is*. We do it because....because we do it. Heteronormativity is self legitimating; if we follow those rules things will work out.
Recently, when I found myself single and entering intimate relationships with men for the first time in 6 years I reverted to what I knew; there exists, in my head and I'm sure yours, a complex list of dos and donts for interactions with the opposite sex. We may reject them, we may belittle and ridicule them, but we can all identify and perhaps describe some cardinal rules for romantic interaction. They are there, baked right in.
So, the little voice of dissent suggests, reject them! Turn them on their head. Ignore that prudish voice which tells you girls should be girly, shouldn't be assertive, shouldn't....do. But where does that leave us? Rejecting heteronormativity surely only achieves one thing: we aren't being heteronormative. But the relationship to heteronormative remains a dichotomous one: we either do, or we don't. Furthermore, by prescribing that gender roles should be delineated, as the front line of queering culture often does, we run into language which starts boxing people up again - yes there are now more than two boxes, but are the boxes still there? It's hard to fight against a system unless you propose an alternative, it's easy to get people on side when you show them an alternative which is clearly expressed; "don't expect everyone to fit into a girl/boy binary! Let people choose their own gender identity, like bigender, or intersex, or trans, or cis, or fluid!" People can understand that, we're presenting our argument in an contained and quantifiable manner. It seems to be a step in the right direction to say "don't say two genders, say many! And here are some examples" but are we in fact aiming for the middle ground before we've tried to achieve the ideal?
To me, the place we should be going, the place where heteronormativity does not exert influence is comparable to anarchy. To present queer family models as an antidote to heteronormative family models is still to present a model
. Whilst making our campaign intelligible to those we are attempting to liberate is important, we need a clearer sense of purpose. Why aim to remove heteronormative models of being only to replace them with more delineated, but still fairly concrete ones?
We need to view heteronormativity as continuous with non-heteronormative behaviours and identities. The binary of queer/heteosexual was established by a heteronormative society, why are we still playing on their terms? Let me elucidate my point of view with an example: my brother is in a heteronormative relationship, but his performance of gender is sometimes very queer. Is he playing at being non-heteronormative or is he non-heteronormative? This seems like a logical question, and one which encourages us to question what it means to be a heteronormative male. But what I propose is we don't question whether someone's behaviour is inherently heteronormative or queer, rather we ask 'why ask?' Am I a heteronormative woman? In some respects; yes, in others; no. A better question is "am I compelled to act in a certain way depending on my surroundings?" And the answer to that is 'sometimes'. In this way we can identify the places where a prescriptive, restrictive force suppresses a natural expression - and there we can target society.
In short, what if we were to fight it, not flying the opposing standards of 'heteronormative' and 'queer' but by proposing absolute freedom of expression and creating narratives about the instinctive and impulsive expression of ways of relating to each other. With a broad stroke we sweep away the dichotomy and create through imaginative desire the new system in which there is only a spectrum. Instead of the deification of the twin pillars of 'heteronormative' and 'queer' we level the ground. We don't distance ourselves from heteronormative as though it were an infectious, terminal condition but we embrace it and engage with it, forcing it to look in the mirror and see that whilst we can choose to live that way, we can choose to live slightly differently to it, or dramatically differently to it. As long as heteronormative ways of being do not continue to hold unchallenged power then there is surely no harm in associating with it, we can resist it's normalising force without needing to demolish every single brick of its edifice.