The heteronormative bias

Sex on Tuesday

In the fall semester of my freshman year, one of my friends had to fill out a form to get out of his housing contract in the residence halls. This form said something akin to the following: Choose your gender. Below that were not two but three boxes. “Male,” “female” and “other.” I remember staring at this and wondering to myself what “other” was.

I wasn’t totally in the dark. I’d read “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides in high school, a fantastic novel about a hermaphrodite man and his struggle to be accepted by his family and society as male. At the very least, I knew that gender wasn’t just binary.

Fast forward a semester. In my typical klutzy fashion, I had fallen off a block during my theater class and bruised a bone in my foot. It felt fine the day it happened, until I woke up at 5 in the morning the next day in excruciating pain. While on the Tang website figuring out what time the emergency room opened, I noticed that SHIP insurance covers hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery.

It seems like there are two paths any given organization, publication, etc. can take. It can be aware of and respectful toward the different genders and sexualities, much as our campus is trying to do. Or it can pretend that they don’t exist.

Next time you pass a magazine stand, check out the article blurbs on every front page. If the magazine is geared toward women, like Cosmopolitan or Allure, the titles say things like “Ways to Please Your Man Between the Sheets” or “How to Use Your Femininity to Attract a Man.”

On the other hand, if it’s a men’s magazine like GQ or Esquire, you’re hit with titles like “Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Pleasing Women” or “The 100 Sexiest Women of the 21st Century.” Any issues with the quality of the content aside, most mainstream media that has anything at all to do with sex only deals with it from a heterosexual perspective.

As a writer, I have a choice. That choice is to either follow in the footsteps of my university and try to make this column all-inclusive or to follow mainstream media, which not only exacerbates the problems but helps create them.

Now, I’ve mostly dated men. If I had to put myself in a box, I’d pick “straight.” This is by no means a rant about how whenever I open a magazine, I feel marginalized or, worse, completely ignored. Nor am I making a claim that I am well-versed in feminist theory, gender theory or any other kind of applicable theories.

In fact, just the opposite. I have no clue about any of this. Case in point: Before doing a bit of research for this article, I thought “heteronormative” just meant self-identifying as straight. I now know that the term actually expresses a preference or bias toward heterosexual relationships and is a form of discrimination.

The point of expressing my ignorance of this topic is twofold. First, it’s to share my desire not to be some offshoot of Cosmo or GQ. I want this column to be all-inclusive. If it ever fails to be sensitive to the different genders and sexualities out there, please know that it’s a result of my own ignorance, not an explicit intention to overlook anyone. Readers, you’ll notice I use the gender-neutral (though grammatically incorrect) pronoun “they” when talking about your sexual partner.

I want to break the heteronormative tradition. I don’t want anyone to feel marginalized or ignored when reading this column. If you at any point feel that I have left a group out, please don’t hesitate to tell me. As the new Sex on Tuesday columnist, I’m here to address the entire Berkeley community, not just those who happen to be cisgender and straight.

The second reason to acknowledge my ignorance is to point out that a lot of people on our campus are probably just as ignorant of these issues as I am. Over the next semester, I plan to educate myself about these topics. I’m sure some of my newfound knowledge will slip into my columns.

If you’re LGBT or otherwise queer, I hope you’ll feel as though the Sex on Tuesday column is a place you are both acknowledged and celebrated. If you’re heterosexual, I hope this column can be a place where you can come not only to read about sex but also to learn something about other sexualities. And if you’re just plain sexual, my friends, you’re in the right place.

Contact Elisabeth Bahadori at [email protected].