I was watching a pregnancy test commercial when I suddenly felt the urge to cry. There it was, this beautiful montage of happy parents, screaming friends, and excited future siblings, all of a variety of races. But I felt a sense of loss. Something was missing.
When the screen momentarily blipped black, signaling the end of the short advertisement, I realized that this feeling was familiar. It was the same sadness I felt when I’m asked what type of men I am attracted to, what celebrity husband and wife I aspire to be like, or when family members ask if I have a boyfriend. Society perpetuates a heteronormative culture that excludes an entire community.
Heteronormativity exists in the media, the way we perceive people, and brands and products we consume.
The pregnancy commercial was missing a clear representation from the queer community—people who can also experience bringing a new life into the world.
My sadness pushed me to reflect on other examples of heteronormative culture. I quickly realized that it is everywhere. And that we begin perpetuating it from birth.
How often is an adorable baby boy labeled a future “chick magnet” or someone the parents will have to “watch out” for? Even before these children are fully able to form sentences, we assume their sexual orientation. And it doesn’t stop there. How about boyfriend jeans, boyfriend jackets, or boyfriend tees? The name alludes to the idea of a woman wearing the clothing of her male partner. It also associates the type of clothing—loose-fitting and comfortable—to men.
Search “couple in love” on Google Images. How many same-sex couples are returned as results? I’ll give you a hint: on page one there are none.
My ex-partner and I used to bet on who the waiter would give the bill to while eating at a restaurant. At first, I was ignorant to how assumptive people could be. I could not believe that the bill would never go to me, who apparently seemed more feminine on the surface. But she was right. Waiters always gave her the bill.
We need to stop. Not only are heteronormative assumptions exclusive, but they can also be inherently sexual. You’re assuming you know who someone is sexually attracted to.
There have been some strides by companies such as Bud Light, Coca-Cola, and Hallmark who debuted commercials with queer representation. But not without backlash.
And frankly, it’s not enough.
While we may not be able to control media representation, we can control how we interact with others. We can choose not to perpetuate heteronormative culture. This means not assuming the sexual orientation of your friends and family. And not assuming that a woman married to man must be straight. It also means understanding that there are not male and female roles in a same-sex relationship.
Not everything has to be modeled off of a heterosexual relationship. Not everything revolves around your own normal.