Compulsory Heterosexuality, Lesbian Existence, & The Heterosexist Matrix
Lesbian feminist Adrienne Rich wrote an explosive essay in the year 1980 “Compulsory Heterosexuality & Lesbian Existence”. In the essay, Rich identifies social signifers in relation to the ways in which heterosexual people discriminate against lesbians. Although I am not a lesbian, there are important elements to Rich’s powerful essay that explores the issue of heterosexism. Rich states that “Compulsory Heterosexuality” is political and is forced on to the masses. There is indeed an assumption that our lives have to relate to heterosexual culture. We live in a heterosexist matrix where heterosexuality is the norm. An example, of compulsory heterosexuality are the assumptions around socialization, marriage, and procreation.
My older brother and wife are new parents they had their first child yesterday a baby girl. My sister has a child her son is five years old. I do not have children nor do I want to have children and this is my choice. The reason I don’t want children isn’t because I am gay it is because I am simply not interested in having a child. My sister made a comment today that ” you probably wouldn’t be able to raise a child anyway and you are selfish.”
I snapped back “I don’t want a child nor do I feel the need to have one.” I firmly believe my sister’s attitude is a perfect example of compulsory heterosexuality the assumption that having a child will complete me as a person. Maybe in my family’s eyes they view me as the “other” because two of their children have produced grand children for them and I have not.
I can honestly say if they feel this way that’s their problem not mine. I am just glad my sister and brother have given my parents grand kids because they always wanted grandchildren. I will admit though there is a part of me that is cognizant of the fact as a gay man some straight people view being gay as a choice. My sexual orientation is not a choice I did not choose to be gay. Should I lie and live a double life like so many gay people still do? Should I pretend to be straight just to appease my family? Of course not!
My personal happiness is more important then their views about homosexuality. However, there are millions of gays and lesbians across this planet that live double lives until the day they die because they “fear” what their families will think if they do “come out” being gay. Some gay people appease their families by marrying someone of the opposite sex to create the illusion of heterosexuality. I weep for these gays and lesbians because they should be able to live their own lives on their own terms not because of what their families think or believe is right.
Being gay is just a part of who I am as a person it isn’t the complete Orville. I am a multi dimensional person. I do realize though being gay and being socialized in a heterosexist matrix my life will be different then my siblings. I won’t be attending little league games, or dance recitals or parent teacher night appointments this will not be my life.
Even though, I am out to my family, there are times when I don’t really feel that my family is “really” my family and that they “really” understand me. My family seems to have this attitude that because they “know” I am “gay” that they are somehow “very progressive” when they are not. My family tolerates the fact I am gay this is not acceptance. I cannot change my family but I realize I can only make myself happy. It is just annoying dealing with these acid tinged homophobic statements.
Being gay is a part of my life where I feel I can “really” be myself. For instance, when I visit the gay subculture in Toronto that is a part of my life that is important to me. It is important to me to be able to socialize and be around other gay and lesbian people. Although I am out I do understand being “gay” is a crucial part of my life and I won’t deny this. We live in a heterosexist culture where everything relates to heterosexuality such as the movies, magazines, billboards, advertisements, books, television, even the news.