I’ve had three reminders recently that we live in a very heteronormative world. Straight is the default, and that’s what media usually privileges. We see it in movies and hear it in songs: boys like girls, and girls like boys. Of course, we gays have the occasional movie like Love, Simon (sweet) and Boy Erased (sad), and more and more young adult fiction features queer characters. But despite those examples, straight is the default, and sometimes that’s just exhausting to encounter over and over again.
On one of my drives to work this week, I was listening to a local radio station. The DJs were talking about how Jason Momoa had shaved off his beard for a new movie role. I have only seen him as a host for Saturday Night Live.
The DJs were arguing over which version of Jason they preferred. Did the beard add to his looks? Now the DJs were a man and a woman, and they were both discussing Jason’s beard or lack thereof, but in the end, the woman DJ said, “Tell us on social media what you think, ladies!” I had been enjoying the conversation until then. I was actually thinking it was pretty cool that the (straight) male DJ had engaged in conversation about a man’s looks. But hearing the woman DJ include only women in the online discussion was a reminder to me that as a gay man, I’m different. I’m in the minority. It feels nice to be included, and let me tell you, I’m sure lots of gay men (especially bearded ones like me) have opinions about Jason Momoa’s facial hair.
Another heteronormative reminder happened last night at a concert. I went with a friend to hear My So Called Band plays some 90s covers at Tower Theater. We stood down front like true fans. When my friend visited the bathroom, the band was singing “I Try” by Macy Gray, a song I vividly remember her performing on SNL in the 90s and wondering what I even just heard. Somehow all these years later, I remembered most of the words.
Directly behind me was a trio of twenty-somethings: a bearded guy and two blonde girls. Just like me, they were singing along at the tops of their lungs. I’m not sure what gave them the courage, but one of them tapped me on my shoulder to get me to join them. We started doing hand motions to the lyrics while singing along and were having a great time. The guy and I talked about the song a little bit (which is how I found out his age). Then he leaned into me and said, “What a babe!” nodding his head toward the female singer.
I made a split-second decision and decided not to out myself to this stranger. I can’t remember if I just nodded or said “Uh-huh.” The moment passed quickly, but part of me was disappointed that I had closeted myself. It really didn’t feel worth it to tell this (handsome) bearded twenty-something that he, not Carly Gwin, was more my type. The prospect of that conversation made me giggle on the inside.
Finally, this morning I heard a new song on the radio on my drive back home from Daylight Donuts. (Chocolate long john FTW!) The song, “Earth” by Lil Dicky, celebrated Earth and featured lots of celebrity cameos. The song was still playing when I got home, so I looked up the music video on YouTube.
This catchy song has some silly lyrics, but as soon as the third verse started with “I’m a man,” my heteronormative alarm sounded. This song is currently #1 trending on YouTube, so I was prepared for more straight stereotypes. Lil Dicky is dressed in a loincloth like Tarzan or Adam for most of the video, but in this verse, he dons some clothes to cover up his erection upon seeing a woman:
“And, yeah, we like to wear clothes, girls still look beautiful
And it covers up our human dick (Woo)”
A song purportedly about saving the planet also somehow felt the need to remind everyone that men are attracted to women.
All these messages from popular culture and everyday conversation reinforce the notion that everyone is straight, which is not true. Heteronormativity means that queer / LGBTQ+ stories and identities are ignored, dismissed, or forgotten.
Now that I’ve talked about these three moments, I wonder if you realize you have recently seen or heard a story, song, TV show, or movie that privileges straight people. And if you’re talking with a stranger, don’t assume they are cisgender or heterosexual. This Teen Vogue article has some great advice on how to check yourself.