Category Archives: heteronormativity


(This post relates to an earlier one, Effing our own movement.)

The following is an excerpt from a lesbian friend’s Facebook feed, two of her acquaintances chiming into a conversation about Ellen DeGeneres:

I’m sure you know someone who’s boned someone who’s boned someone who knows Ellen’s hairstylist…that just seems to be how these things go. 

I wanna bone Ellen….does that help?

I find it extraordinary when lesbians use the language of patriarchal sex.  Whereas heterosexual women use “bone” in reference to actions that happen to them by men (e.g. he boned me,  I want to be boned) or something external to them that they do not control (eg. he has a boner), some lesbians choose to position themselves as the male, attaching a verbal penis to themselves (e.g I wanna bone Ellen).

As a heterosexual woman, I can’t fathom why.  I have to constantly negotiate the perils of heteronormativity and patriarchy in all relationships—from work to personal.  All of my (dating, sexual, partner) personal relationships have been defined by who does and does not have the “bone.”  A lesbian, however, has to actively choose to put the “bone” into her personal relationships with other women.

When lesbians use the language of patriarchal sexual dominance, they disempower themselves.  Power, for all women, will be achieved when we are free from patriarchal paradigms, including the heteronormative idea that all relationships must have a male, real or metaphorical.


The place from which to fight

This video, I HATE being a Girl, hit a strong note.  So although I came across it today at gendertrender, I decided to write about it here.

I hated being a girl, too.  I still hate having been a girl.  I can’t rewrite that.  Being a girl was rough.  And when as a girl I looked around me at the adult women in my life, I didn’t want to be them either.  In the small world in which I grew up, that was primarily my mother, mocked by my father, constantly, for how she spoke, what she thought.  My mother cried a lot, privately.  I know that because I sometimes stumbled on her, and she would be angry at me and tell me to go away and not talk about it.

By the time I was in high school, I had already been molested, stalked, a victim of an attempted abduction, and sexually harassed (all by different men).  By college, I had already fended off two rape attempts, was fondled by a university employee, was again a victim of stalking, and was a victim of sexual abuse by a physician in his exam room.

I hated my girl body.  Hated it.  It was the nexus of so much pain.  The only part of my body I liked was what I called my “boy butt.”  Small and unfleshy.  I would use a hand mirror to look over my shoulder at a larger mirror to admire it.  Everything else, I hated.

Fast forward three decades.  I love my woman’s body.  My misunderstandings from youth—that the problem was my having a female body—have all eroded through the process of fighting back.  Not just fighting back against the rapists or filing charges against the university employee but also through personal, internal fighting back.  Although I can identify flashes of fighting back as far back as my memories go, it wasn’t until my thirties that I truly began to understand that “the problem” did not originate in my body.  It was something very large and very insidious.  It was something that hated that I was a woman, and wanted me to hate that core part of myself, too.

That systemic hatred of women–reinforced over and over in patriarchy through rape, incest, domestic violence, and even the simplicity of media and advertising—absorbs so deeply into our psyches that it makes us turn on ourselves.  Some women cut.  Some women starve themselves.  Some women kill themselves.  Some women ask a doctor to take a knife and cut off their breasts and carve out their vaginas.

The beautiful, intelligent young woman in this video wants to be a man because “you wouldn’t have to worry about so many different things.”  Yes, women do have to worry about many, many things.  But we are women, and that is the place from which to take a stand and fight.

The boy in the dress

The trick-or-treaters came in droves this year.  I started to worry that I would run out, because I take pretty seriously having plenty of good Halloween swag for the kids.  I still remember when I was 10 and arrived at a house with my hopeful paper bag, and a couple was exiting the house, well dressed, purse, polished shoes, jewelry.  Going out.  One feigned, “Oh!  Is it Halloween?  I guess we forgot,” and dropped a nickel in my bag.  Then they scuttled to their car to spend the night hunkered down in whatever fancy restaurant they were headed to.

Bad.  That was just bad.  But if you come to my house, you’ll get swag.  Good swag.

One of the clusters of kids who came for candy this year was three boys in their early teens:  two galactic warlords of some sort and their companion wearing an ill-fitting dress and some sloppy girly makeup.

I was immediately put off by the “man in the dress” satire.  Although I was busy handing out candy and not thinking in complete sentences, I was musing something along the line of here’s a young guy who needs someone to contradict his gender paradigm before it becomes so entrenched it can’t be uprooted. But I paused, and more thoughtfully wondered, is he a boy who would really like to wear dresses, beautiful dresses, with tidy makeup, but could only feel safe as a Halloween satire of himself?

Either way, it was a troubling costume.  It was either a parody of a girl or a parody of a boy’s silence about his identity.  I couldn’t help notice that he did seem very sad.

Shake those boobies

The three of us are flopped down in a restaurant booth.  One of us is eating a veggie burger, another is drinking a beer.  I am wishing I had one or the other, but the grill is now closed and I’ll be driving home soon.

We’ve ducked out of the LGBTQ fundraiser to commiserate.   We are trying to sort out the gender intensity of the evening.  A drag king show followed by a burlesque strip show.  Applause always louder the more gender correctness each performer achieved.

I was enjoying the drag king show at first.  Hadn’t seen one before.  It was a new group, giving its first public performance, and it started out raw.  Stage nerves, I’m sure.  But as the hour moved along, each of the five kings got more and more into her character.  It was campy.  It was fun.

Then one of the performers started to get really good.  She was becoming a certain kind of he.  He had narrow hips and a white pair of pants tightly stretched over an artificial penis.  He pumped the air with his fists. He thrust his hips as if he were pounding someone who was subordinate, someone on her or his hands and knees. He was turning into someone I really could not like.

But the crowd roared, urging him on to purer and purer masculinity.  And he got better and better.  It was micocosmic mirror of everyday gender socialization.  Do it right, and your parents love you.  Do it wrong, and you get beat up on the playground.  So you do it right.

While the burlesque was getting set up, I stepped out.  It was a standing room only crowd, and I had two hours of wall flowering in, without a wall to lean against.  I found a place to sit a while.  When I returned, the burlesque was in its third act.

I had seen this burlesque troupe before, in a coffee shop.  It had been a bit tamer there, especially the crowd. The dancer was just teasing her way down to the final strip, which would reveal two coin-sized pasties that she would twirl with the momentum of her spinning breasts.  The dancer played the part of, or was in truth, the perfectly socialized and properly gendered straight woman–stripping down to her skivvies and shaking those boobies to the enthusiastic encouragement of a primarily LGBTQ crowd.

A friend sidled up to me.  “Are you experiencing cognitive dissonance?” she asked.

“Oh, god, yes.”

“Do you think anyone else is?”

I pointed out mutual friend in the audience.  Five minutes later, we are in the restaurant.

My friend with the burger offers, “Remember, this is the 500-year plan.”  Whenever we talk about gender justice, racism, and transforming the world, she usually alludes to “the 500-year plan,” the time it may take to dismantle the oppressions embedded in our cultures.  Sometimes she sounds hopeful, as if she is comforted to know that it will change.  At other times, like tonight, her voice sounds more like, “Oh, crap.  This is going to take 500 years.”

My friend with the beer, who works at the rape crisis center in our small city, says, “There were 35 children raped this month.”  She says it because she knows how it’s all connected–how dramatic gender divisions and their hierarchies of power relate to predators and victims.  The other two of us get this, too.  We don’t even need to discuss her comment.  It’s not a non-sequitur.

The burlesque has ended and the floor has been cleared for dancing.  My friends head back to the dance, but I’m good for the night.  As I walk back to the car, the wind is blustery and feels like the impending winter, sharp and sorrowful.  500 years.  That’s a long, long time.