describes a binary gender system, in which only two sexes are accepted. Adherents of this normative concept maintain that one's gender identity
and one's gender role
ought to be congruent with one's external genitalia, and that one ought to display a heterosexual sexual preference
- A woman has: female genitalia, a feminine gender identity, a feminine gender role (i.e., feminine behavior), and should desire male sexual partners, but not female ones.
- A man has: male genitalia, a masculine gender identity, a masculine gender role (i.e., masculine behavior), and should desire female sexual partners, but not male ones.
or feelings which could destabilize this basic assumption are strongly disapproved of or even forbidden.
This scheme obviously has no room for:
It strives to incorporate these people within the bounds of heteronormativity in the following ways:
- Are assigned a gender at birth, by performing (often mutilative) medical procedures on them as soon as possible to make their body "fit" the assigned gender and by encouraging strong social pressure (by parents, doctors, teachers etc.) on the intersexual to behave according to the prescribed gender. Until today this is standard procedure in Europe and North America, although now it is more frequently challenged.
Gays, lesbians, and Bisexuals
- Lesbian, gay, and bisexual behaviour is strongly disapproved of, always socially, and almost always legally. If it cannot be suppressed so far as to at least disappear from the public view, then the notion is strongly encouraged that gay men are not really "men", but have a strong female component (and vice versa) and/or that in a lesbian or gay partnership there is always a "male" (=active) and a "female" (=passive) partner. This has in some cases gone so far that homosexuals were encouraged (in Europe and North America in the 1960s and 1970s) or even forced (in South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s) to undergo sexual reassignment procedures. As for bisexuals, the imposition of stereotypes focuses on the false notion that they are confused as to their true sexual natures and desires, rather than on their gender roles, but bisexuality is still considered contrary to the standard of heteronormativity.
The heteronormative system is usually justified with either religious or traditional arguments, or, especially in Western culture, with (pseudo-)scientific, (pseudo-)medical and (pseudo-)psychological arguments.
- This behavior either has been pathologised so far that transgendered people routinely were locked away in psychiatric wards, or the plain right to live was taken away from them. This happens either by formally punishing transgender behavior by death (even today in Saudi Arabia), or by refusing to track down and/or prosecute murderers of transgendered people (currently, in parts of North America and Europe).
- A special case of incorporating transgendered people into a heteronormative system is transsexualism. If transgender behaviour in a person cannot be suppressed, it is allowed on the condition that the person becomes entirely a member of the other sex, so that his or her behavior thereby confirms the binary gender system. (Please note: This is a description of the heteronormative treatment of transsexual people, not a description of a course freely chosen by transsexual or transgendered people.)
Heteronormativity is often strongly associated with, and sometimes even confused with patriarchy. However, even a patriarchal system does not necessarily have a binary gender system; some patriarchal systems do have a third gender.