Academic journal article Women and Language

Understanding Heterosexism -- the Subtle Continuum of Homophobia

Academic journal article Women and Language

Understanding Heterosexism -- the Subtle Continuum of Homophobia

Article excerpt

Heterosexism is a pervasive social disease which is widely (and silently) accepted throughout family, media, and society. Nearly all of the media (which constantly reflect [mandate] the focuses and desires of society) is exclusively heterosexual. The way our society is constructed and the influence media have in society only work to implement heterosexism. I question the ways in which individuals may strive to cast out heterosexism, how we may refute compulsory heterosexuality, i.e., heterosexism. In turn, I hope to shift our society's reference points such that people as they are, (including asexuals, bisexuals, and homosexuals) are considered by our society to be "normal."

Monique Wittig calls heterosexuality "a political regime" (xiii). Following from this, heterosexism is the enforcement of that regime. The overbearing presence of heterosexism within our society only highlights the hierarchy of heterosexuality as a power over homosexuality. Heterosexuality is given more validity, more location, and infinite space to speak. As a result, homosexuals live in silence, unrecognized and invalidated. Unrecognition is the forerunner of these. If one is not presented in the everyday language and images surrounding us, one is in essence dismissed. As a homosexual, one has to fight for the notion that we even exist. lt is by and from this unrecognition that violence against homosexuals is allowed to go virtually unchecked. Knowing this, one cannot help but have some grain of fear arising from having to question whether or not one is protected. There is also the fear of not being accepted by friends, co-workers, family, and acquaintances. In not having some part of one's self recognized, one may lead a fractured identity in which the homosexual aspect is muted. There is not space for that part to speak in the everyday realm. The barriers constructed by heterosexism would try to mold us. We must resist. We must speak until we are heard. We must fight the barriers, stand up for ourselves as our whole (not fractured) selves. We must work to undo the myths surrounding homosexuality, which flow from the stream of unrestrained ignorance. We must educate. That is the ultimate purpose of this paper: education. The following are examples from old journals of mine, added in an attempt to personalize this essay, in order that one might realize: it is not all just abstract theory; the personal is indeed political.

16 January 1991

Katy seems to like me really well this weekend. It's like - I don't know! She doesn't seem to like me some days, and this weekend she seemed to like me a lot. We watched "Running on Empty," and after, I gave her a big hug goodnight and it was the most natural thing in the world.

I remember this night with great clarity. Sixteen years old, I was surrounded by endless games of who had the most requests for a date on any given weekend, surrounded by a land of high school where "lesbian," "dyke," and "fag" were all offered up as insults. Though I'm not certain I would've been "insulted," I was still afraid of the strange power those words carried. (Even in adult circles, the connection of feminists with lesbians is threatening to many women, and works to scare many women away from working for women's rights, helping to keep heteropatriarchal systems in place). So there I was, still young, afraid of what I could be, standing in the hallway hugging Katy who I knew was somehow different, yet, what was that feeling, why did I suddenly want to kiss her, what's going on?!!! "Gays and lesbians as youths or young adults have little or no help in understanding or defining themselves as gay or lesbian." (Fejes & Petrich 397). Now that I am old enough to have the awareness that lesbians do exist, that I am part of a real group of human beings of women who love women, I am dismayed at the lack of homosexual content which exists within the school curriculum. Remembering high school, the words of Adrienne Rich hit home: "When someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked into the mirror and saw nothing. …

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