Fourteen gay men were heinously killed in Toronto forty years ago; most of those cases remain unsolved up to date. News reports in 1978 showed fourteen killings in three and a half years, including cases of men who were left naked, tied to beds, stabbed, slaughtered and with their apartments looted. The cases presented some similarities: the men were last seen leaving the Gay Village, murdered in a violent manner, and they were all members of the gay community. Despite the obvious connections, the dominating ruling of heteronormative prejudices led the brutal and violent deaths not to be considered gay serial killings. This has just been a dramatic example of what heteronormativity can evoke, considering that this system is based on the idea that heterosexuality is the normal, superior orientation opposed to other non-conforming orientations, so embedded at an institutional level, that it hinders and encourages a hostile environment for children and young adults to grow and develop freely from discrimination.
Heteronormativity is defined as the systematization of the rules of heterosexuality as the only normal and natural expressions of sexuality, or in other words, it states that there are only two valid sexual orientations and genders, and anyone who does not fit those stereotypes is marginalized. Its causes may slightly differ theoretically, but it has been a wide consensus that systemic discrimination and religion, and specifically Roman Catholicism, have played a major role. This holds the axiom on which males are expected to follow a dominating role in society, and women are seen as merely the reproductive system to biologically procreate and populate the world under male subjugation. Similarly, the Catholic Bible states that God created Adam and Eve, a man and a woman for the purpose of repopulation, continuing not only discouraging homosexuality as a sin, but also encouraging heterosexuality. This basic premise served as the primary seed for the social construction of heteronormativity at a political and legal level, imposing codes of conduct and duties for men and women so deeply in society that anything different was considered an abomination. Even though there have been outstanding accomplishments in terms of gender equality since the queer and feminist movement battled the Catholic hierarchy and the patriarchy in the twentieth century, there is still a long way to go with fighting heteronormative education and prejudices in modern society.
On a sociocultural level, heteronormativity imposes two exclusive genders and sexual orientations, also known as the gender binary system, providing the basis as to how each individual must be educated. Since this practice has been deeply rooted in society since the beginning of time, having a different perspective leads to being judged and misconceived as unnatural when it has in reality been culturally constructed. Heteronormativity results in the assumption that everyone is either a man or a woman, and bearing in mind these binary roles, society expects them to act accordingly, ultimately giving rise to stigmatization or discrimination to non-conforming orientations. For instance, girls are often expected to have better handwriting than boys; boys are expected to become engineers, soldiers or even presidents, but never secretaries, housekeepers or nurses; boys have a tendency for toughness while girls are naturally sweet and passive, as the former are taught to play with trucks and the latter with dolls; boys should wear blue polos and shorts and girls pink dresses and skirts, and when it comes to dating, men generally need to make the first move towards women as the opposite is just unconceivable. These are the most common sociocultural effects as a result of a society plagued with heteronormative notions. Having a simple dual perspective on gender may have worked in the past, even though that is still arguable; however, now that humans have evolved into more complex beings, such backwards ideals are damaging current and new generations to live and develop freely from an environment that can denigrate them with contempt.
Following this line of thought, deviants from this heteronormative society, such as the LGBTQ+ community, usually faces legal challenges and systematic oppressions. Statistics on violence against this community especially those who are transgender are quite troubling; the disappearance of many trans people in Toronto since 1975, whose bodies have been found years later and those who are still missing brings about the uncertainty of how many of them have been affected or are still being affected by this wave of violence and homicides that is not being legally prosecuted as hate crimes.
Last but not least important are the emotional repercussions of the heteronormative ruling. The existence of bullying and homophobia can have a striking effect on an individual’s gender identity and sexual orientation, not to mention the psychological effects that leave a lot of people alienated, alone, and forced to remain in the so-called closet to protect themselves from any social embarrassment or loathing. Furthermore, from a young age, people are subjected to heteronormative mentality through media, politics, social norms and so on, until it is firmly fixed in their minds, with a seeming reluctance to diversity; this causes a struggle in new generations to develop and express themselves, frustrated by retrograde prejudices and labelling. For instance, for a gay man to be constantly asked whether he has a girlfriend just because of the fact that his own sexual orientation is being assumed in the first place, and then having to put up with insensitive, inappropriate questions and feeling the need of explaining himself, can definitely be upsetting and emotionally exhausting. The lack of acceptance from family, friends, colleagues and coworkers also contributes to depression and anxiety in new generations, as does bullying, which impacts up to eighty-two percent of them, according to a 2016 statistical analysis. Another example in a different environment can be linked to the idea of masculinity and femininity, and the frustration involved when a heterosexual man wants to engage in a sport considered as feminine and therefore socially unacceptable for male participation, such as gymnastics, figure skating or cheerleading; those who actually engage in this type of sports are often seen and bullied as ladylike and gay. Regarding this line of reasoning, heteronormativity is as damaging to the LGBTQ+ community as it is to people who are outside of it; it affects everyone.
Needless to say, even though a great progress has been made over the last 50 years when it comes to battling systemic discrimination and the Catholic hierarchy, there is still a lot of work left to do and a step further is needed to stop this issue expanding its roots and contaminating modern generations. A change of paradigm is essentially required.
Make sure you’re not replicating heterosexual narratives to form an opinion. I can do this now far more authentically, because I finally accept myself for exactly who I am.