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Thu May 14, 2015, 01:46 AM

Heterosexism: the Heterosexual Privilege issue

Heterosexism is defined as:

a system of attitudes, bias, and discrimination in favor of opposite-sex sexuality and relationships. It can include the presumption that other people are heterosexual or that opposite-sex attractions and relationships are the only norm and therefore superior. source: Wikipedia


Seems pretty cut and dried, but many don't understand the profound effects this systematic discrimination has on GLBT people. Sure, most people are aware of homophobia, even what it is, and that it is "bad", but when it comes to 'heterosexism' one experiences raised eyebrows and looks of puzzlement. A primary example is marriage equality. It has been battled in various states for the past 10 some odd years, and now it is going before the SCOTUS. While many are optimistic equality will win out in the end, there are other battles needing to be fought, which are seemingly going unnoticed; this would be an example of the heterosexism which permeates through society.

Heterosexism is not realizing, even with a SCOTUS win for marriage equality, the struggle is not over. It doesn't mean same-sex couples can pack it in and kick up our heels. Heterosexism is not realizing homophobic laws are still on the books and, worse still, enforced in various states and locales. Heterosexism is not understanding how the recent decision to modify the FDA ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood is still homophobic (see: FDA Releases Plan to Ease Restrictions on Gay Blood Donation). Heterosexism is not realizing or noticing states are already springing into action to pre-emptively work against a possible SCOTUS win on marriage equality (see: Tex. bill would bar local officials from issuing same-sex-marriage licenses). Heterosexism is not being aware in the past year, upwards of 80 anti-LGBT bills have been introduced in 28 states (see: Anti-LGBT Bills Introduced in 28 States). Heterosexism is being unaware GLBT people can be evicted from their homes, lose their jobs, lose their children, and face a host of other offenses on a daily basis. Heterosexism is being blasť when a gay/lesbian person has to search high and low for an anniversary card tailored to GL needs. Heterosexism is being flippant with understanding a GLBT relationship and trying to mold it into a "heterosexual model". Heterosexism is not understanding a loss from the SCOTUS will create the potential for states, which currently have same-sex marriage allowances, to step backwards in time.

An article from The Wall Street Journal titled: Firms Tell Gay Couples: Wed or Lose Your Benefits, highlights the depths of heterosexism. The thought process for those business to drop same-sex benefits (dependent on a positive ruling from SCOTUS) in favor for spousal benefits ignores the reality of the political, social and legal landscapes of the US. In states where GLBT folks are protected in housing and employment, such a policy might be acceptable because all couples, gay or straight, would be on equal footing. However, there are many states where GLBT people are not protected in issues of employment or housing, sometimes both; therefore, making a G/L couple potentially choose between benefits from one spouse's job and the potential for the loss of a home, the other partner's job, or both. Unlike most same-sex benefits, which are solely between the worker and employer, marriage is a matter of public record. It is that public record which can create a host of problems.

Heterosexism and homophobia often intersect, but many people have worked on their homophobia and recognize it when it happens. The same can't be said of heterosexism. It is time for people to understand this phenomena and address it and work to confront it, just as they have with homophobia.

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Response to Behind the Aegis (Original post)

Thu May 14, 2015, 01:57 AM

1. K&R Seems like homophobia is the fist in the gut. Heterosexism is more its microaggressive cousin

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Response to Number23 (Reply #1)

Thu May 14, 2015, 02:03 AM

2. LOL! Interesting analogy....but, yeah, that's about right!

I view "heterosexism" more like white/male/Christian/able-bodied privilege and "homophobia" more like racism/sexism/etc. Privilege is easy to overlook, ignore, or not even acknowledge (as witnessed a number of times here in regards to white and male privilege threads).

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Response to Behind the Aegis (Reply #2)

Thu May 14, 2015, 02:07 AM

3. I agree. And I've often felt that homophobia is a remarkably inadequate term to describe

alot of the discrimination against gays.

There's no doubt that fear is a major contributor to the discrimination but that's only one component. I don't know why a more descriptive term to describe the economic and cultural discrimination that gays face hasn't come about. It ain't all fear.

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Response to Number23 (Reply #3)

Thu May 14, 2015, 02:21 AM

4. That's where "heterosexism" comes it to play.

I had a conversation with another member about this a few weeks back. "Heterosexism" is more about "superiority" and "homophobia" is more about hate, but they often overlap, so it makes it really confusing to untangle the web. Take, for instance, adoption of children by gay people or same-sex couples. I see those restrictions as "heterosexuals will be better providers of stability" more than "homosexuals are bad." Though, one may certainly affect the other.

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Response to Number23 (Reply #3)

Thu May 14, 2015, 07:27 PM

17. +1000

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Response to Behind the Aegis (Original post)

Thu May 14, 2015, 02:36 AM

5. Rec. nt

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Response to Behind the Aegis (Original post)

Thu May 14, 2015, 02:48 AM

6. To be fair, most don't know how to think any other way.

They've lived their entire lives thinking they had everything neatly categorized, only to discover their collection of realities is not so simple. A little introspection is needed on their part.

Education is a good thing. Yelling impedes education.

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Response to Behind the Aegis (Original post)

Thu May 14, 2015, 03:02 AM

7. I have never understood the hate

While many are optimistic equality will win out in the end, there are other battles needing to be fought, which are seemingly going unnoticed; this would be an example of the heterosexism which permeates through society.

BtA. Ya know maybe I have been blind, and stupid. I never saw because that was not the way my parents raised me. I met my first gay couple when I was five, my parents welcomed Joe and Charlie to our home. I never knew it was not ordinary.

Yes we do have work to do. We will all do it together.

I love you.

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Response to Behind the Aegis (Original post)

Thu May 14, 2015, 03:54 AM

8. Adrian Piper used to say in situations where she overheard bigoted remarks, "Your racism is not

my problem". The idea was to make the bigot responsible for what they said and the hurt it causes.

That was thirty years ago. Fast forward and GLBT has expanded to LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQA, TBLG, each with its own set of needs and sensitivities.

I have no problem making minor adjustments to greetings and speech in general to avoid offending even straight acting gay men and lesbians. However I am at a loss as to how I am expected to anticipate or intuit the special needs and sensibilities of Allies, Questioning and Asexual people.

And does simple human interaction have to be constrained by having to wonder whether someone is unsure of their sexuality or resents all categories because they think all sexuality is OK?

Should we have to agree with this normative inflation and say, even Gays and Lesbians are privileging their status by referring to themselves as Gay or Lesbian?

At a certain point the politicization of language reduces communication to absurdity. Sentences lose meaning and are reduced to a series sounds signifying nothing.



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Response to Monk06 (Reply #8)

Thu May 14, 2015, 04:00 AM

9. What does this have to do with anything I wrote?

"even Gays and Lesbians are privileging their status by referring to themselves as Gay or Lesbian? "

What the hell does that even mean?

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Response to Behind the Aegis (Reply #9)

Thu May 14, 2015, 04:19 AM

10. Hetero sexism is meant to signify the assumption on the part of heterosexuals that everyone is

heterosexual unless otherwise informed. So if a straight acting gay man says his spouse is ill and I ask what is wrong with her, that is an instance of hetero sexism. If I understand correctly

I just expanded the idea to the entire lexicon from GLBT to LGBTQIA.

While it is obvious how language can be altered to accommodate the sensitivities of gay, lesbian and trans people, it is not at all obvious that language can be changed to accommodate every variety of sexuality or lack of sexuality that you can imaging. Language can only go so far in satisfying normative and political demands.

An as far as your final query goes, my trans sister in-law has said trans people are made to feel second class, inferior or merely ignored by gays and lesbians. She says she has experienced overt hostility from G and L people in bars. So that's what I mean about TQIA identifiers perceiving G and L people having a privileged status within the sexual identity community.

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Response to Monk06 (Reply #10)

Thu May 14, 2015, 04:32 AM

11. You made an incorrect assumption.

"Heterosexism is meant to signify the assumption on the part of heterosexuals that everyone is heterosexual unless otherwise informed." So, let's read the definition again:

a system of attitudes, bias, and discrimination in favor of opposite-sex sexuality and relationships. It can include the presumption that other people are heterosexual or that opposite-sex attractions and relationships are the only norm and therefore superior.


Do you see anything saying "on the part of heterosexuals"? No? Yeah, me neither. How it appears to me is your comments are a "poor heterosexuals" type of sentiment because they are the privileged class.

Your comments about language are nothing but a red herring and seem to be yet another "poor heterosexuals" having to adjust to new vocabulary. It really makes no sense at all. It is as absurd as a white person complaining black people can't/aren't called "colored" or "negroes" anymore.

"An as far as your final query goes, my trans sister in-law has said trans people are made to feel second class, inferior or merely ignored by gays and lesbians. She says she has experienced overt hostility from G and L people in bars."

That isn't heterosexism, that is anti-transgender bias. It is true the gay and lesbian community can be bigoted in that area, but then again, that is CISgendered privilege, which was NOT the topic. Heterosexism is about sexual orientation, not gender identity. And transgender issues are important too, but in regards to what is happening as described in my post, this is about those of us who are gay and lesbian or in a gay/lesbian relationship. Transgender people can be gay, lesbian, asexual, or straight.

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Response to Behind the Aegis (Reply #11)

Thu May 14, 2015, 04:56 AM

12. I harbour no special emphathy for poor heterosexuals I assure you lol


My comments on language, from being a red herring, cut to the heart of the question of how to talk about sexuality and sexual identity given how complex both of these categories have become.

And regard your comment, "That isn't heterosexism, that is anti-transgender bias". If I accept this at face value doesn't that mean that heterosexism is simply anti gay bias or even more simply homophobia?

And finally you say Heterosexism is about sexual orientation not gender identity.

I am a bit flummoxed by that. You say your topic is about heterosexsim and how it affects people who are in a gay and lesbian or gay/lesbian relationship. I get that but I don't understand how sexual orientation is different from sexual identity. I would have thought they are different ways of referring to the same idea.

I come from a background in philosophy of language which pre-dates these issues and my main influence was Wittgenstein so I am pre disposed to economy in language.

I think we can both agree the topic is complicated.

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Response to Monk06 (Reply #12)

Thu May 14, 2015, 05:16 AM

13. I am not assured.

You don't seem to understand gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, and heterosexual are sexual orientations. Transgender relates to, well, it's in the name, gender, i.e. gender/sex identity. All transgender people are gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, or heterosexual, but not all gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, and heterosexual persons are transsexual; most are likely cisgendered. You are conflating gender identification and sexual orientation, and while closely related, they aren't the same and different issues are involved.

"And regard your comment, "That isn't heterosexism, that is anti-transgender bias". If I accept this at face value doesn't that mean that heterosexism is simply anti gay bias or even more simply homophobia?"

Again, you are conflating two different issues. Homophobia and heterosexism cross paths, but aren't always the same. Your reductive statement is similar to saying "white privilege is simply anti black bias or even more simply racism". There isn't anything "simple" about any of them.

"I am a bit flummoxed by that. You say your topic is about heterosexsim and how it affects people who are in a gay and lesbian or gay/lesbian relationship. I get that but I don't understand how sexual orientation is different from sexual identity. I would have thought they are different ways of referring to the same idea. "

Once again, you are conflating two issues. "Sexual orientation" is how one is "oriented to act sexually" meaning same-sex (male/male, female/female), other (opposite) sex (male/female), both sexes (male/female, male/male, female/female), or neither (asexual). "Sexual identity" (or sex/gender) is how one identifies physically, meaning, male, female, both, neither. I am 'oriented' to homosexuality because I identify as male and seek others who identify as the same.

"I think we can both agree the topic is complicated."

Yes, it is complicated, made even more so by not understanding the issues. The issues in the OP deal with the discrimination and challenges facing those who aren't heterosexual by way of those who are (mostly) the majority, heterosexuals, trivializing or obfuscating our concerns and issues.

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Response to Behind the Aegis (Reply #13)

Thu May 14, 2015, 06:03 AM

14. So I am male and heterosexual. My gender is male my orientation is heterosexual. Sorry if I sound

thick by dwelling on what you said but no harm there. In that case the distinction between orientation and identity is easy to understand.

So if I expand it to the other categories we still have two genders but several more identities and orientations, you say intersect or overlap. Sorry again just getting it straight in my own mind.

The difficulty I was trying to elucidate was how do you alter, change or expand everyday language practice in such a way as to avoid stepping on someone's concerns or feeling based on their orientation and how they identify?

It's not obvious to me this can be accomplished by natural language in a way that would fit easily in day to day conversation such as how you greet people or start a simple conversation without having to resort to a more specialized language of identity that is not widely understood and perhaps may never be.

For example based on my unrelated experience in philosophy, I can understand and talk about philosophy at a fairly technical level. But I couldn't strike up a conversation in Starbucks about it unless the other person has studied Philosophy. That's why I haven't had many chances in the last thirty years to get into those sorts of discussion. I can't blame others for not having the same language background as mine.

In short expanding the lexicon of sexual identity may increase your conceptual understanding of the topic but there is no guarantee that the lexicon will be universally adopted. To paraphrase Wittgenstein, everyday conversation is a form of negotiation between two linguistically competent speakers wherein they come to mutual agreement about what words mean. This may vary from on conversation to another or even one sentence to another but again there is no guarantee.

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Response to Behind the Aegis (Original post)

Thu May 14, 2015, 12:58 PM

15. This is an excellent explanation

And very helpful. Heteronormative standards are part of what leads to heterosexism, and I swear fighting against it is like carrying a bucket of water with holes punched in the bottom.

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Response to Behind the Aegis (Original post)

Thu May 14, 2015, 06:55 PM

16. Kick for a kick ass post!

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