Why People Should Stop Imposing Heteronormative Roles
On straight or LGBTQIA couples and human beings in general
The time I “formally” came out to family was pretty straightforward as it could get. I invited them out for dinner so I could tell them the truth that the woman I’ve been bringing to family affairs is not my best friend but my partner. That’s it. Their response was divided between unsurprised ahhs and all the why’s you can imagine. The latter covered the full spectrum, from basics like kailan pa [since when], paano mo nalaman [how did you know] to the more complicated, such as sino yung lalake at babae sa inyong dalawa [who’s the guy or girl between the two of you]?
But who could blame them? Many of them were born into a different generation where homosexuality (if you identified as one) was a secret kept to the grave. So their lack of exposure and curiosity were unsurprising. I answered their queries as candidly as I possibly could, save for the last question about who played which role. I could have explained better, been more patient and calm. Instead, I succumbed to the challenge and conceded that sure, I play the guy’s role.
But truthfully, my partner and I don’t assume heteronormative roles because we see each other as equals. We take turns in taking care of one another, our family, our household; sometimes she wants to wear a pretty dress, other times I want to wear a man’s suit. But our choices don’t define the “part” we assume in the relationship.
denoting or relating to a world view that promotes heterosexuality as the normal or preferred sexual orientation
A little history
Humans’ obsession with gender roles dates back to the early aughts. Here’s what I’ve gathered from the research I’ve done: when men started to have sex with men in the 1700s, they were labeled as sodomites and from there, their need and/or desire to prove they weren’t attracted to the same sex became important, especially in the aspect of sexuality. This, according to Randolph Trumbach, author of Sex and the Gender Revolution, and The Rise of the Egalitarian Family, led to the upswing of extramarital sex, the spread of venereal diseases and violence towards women, particularly in the West. It was the women men looked to, to affirm their heterosexual masculine status.
Generations later, things began to change. Evolving cultures and historical influences saw changes in attitudes and behaviors; societies created their own norms about sex and gender roles. But it seems that a large number of men today and yesterday, from different parts of the world, are still driven to prove their heterosexual identity. More so in patriarchal societies in which norms on the general context of sex focus on the control of female sexuality (what we can and cannot wear, the censorship of the female genitalia in media, the stigma around periods, etc.)
How it affects you and me
Gender norms tell us this: the bodies we were born into dictate, as well as govern the lives of women and men in every part of the world. In fact, “You can walk out the door in the morning with a penis and your income is 20 percent higher on average for nothing that you did,” said Gary Barker, international director of Promundo, an organization that engages men and boys around the world on issues of gender equality, in an article by TIME.
RELATED: The ABCs of Gender
Talking about traditional gender roles and sexual behaviors, of which both are largely influenced by religion, followed by friends and media, we’ve all felt the pressure to be a certain kind of man or woman, gay man or gay woman, trans man or trans woman. This impacts a person’s mental health negatively and in some cases, has led to depression and /or suicide in an attempt to fit a mold. But why must we conform? The way we perceive and categorize gender is way too simplistic anyway. Alice Dreger, a leading historian of science and medicine, once said in her TED Talk in 2010 that “Nature doesn’t draw the line for us between male and female…we actually draw that line on nature.” Anatomy is not or is not the only basis of identity.
You don’t need to assign or fulfill a ‘role’
As we progress into the future, the more we (hopefully) unlearn what we know. Gender norms are relative to contextual factors, i.e., geography, religion, media, education, friends and family. So how you act and behave should not be largely based on societal prescriptions. Yes, gentlemen, wives can be the breadwinners and men can want to stay home and take care of the children. Women can pursue “un-feminine” occupations if they wish to and that doesn’t always make them lesbian. Not all gay men are flamboyant. You can be attracted to both sexes and that’s fine (read: What is Bi-erasure?).
What we can do
Some experts in the field say that the answer to all this is evolution and extinction. But hope is not lost. Change is not impossible. Cliche as it sounds, it all starts from within. Start with education and stop imposing the traditional version of masculinity on ourselves, upon the men we know and our children. Remind one another that there is no need to assert our manliness or womanliness; there is no for him or for her, or at least it’s not for everyone.
After all, everything we know about gender and sexual behavior, anatomy aside, seems purely based on man’s antipathy for being labeled a sodomite.
Art Alexandra Lara