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By 02/03/2023No Comments

By Gaia Giuliani

The terms was coined within the field of gender, queer and feminist studies first by Michael Warner in early 90s and then re-articulated by Gayle Rubin and Judith Butler, although the debate on the normativity of heterosexuality was already discussed by feminist philosophers Monique Wittig in France and Adrienne Rich in the United States. The term is now applied across many hard and social sciences. It critically defines all material and symbolic discourses, practices and policies that make heterosexuality something natural, internally coherent, and morally superior to any other sexual identity, orientation, and behaviour. It assumes gender and sexual binary as seemingly natural, as much as natural are considered traditional gender roles. As a naturalised social norm, heteronormativity is also used to identify any sexually conservative narrative – from the more conservative, teocon, and authoritarian positions to conservativism within progressive parties and movements – which openly contrasts the so-called “gender ideology”. Heteronormativity and (hetero)sexism are mostly equivalent, the first referring to subscribed universalised ideal to which everyone must adhere, the second to the discrimination that this imperative engenders. By critical intellectuals, activists and parties, heteronormativity is invoked when political action based on sex/gender binary is taken against lesbian and gay rights, let alone the rights of intersex, transvestis, and transgender people. Nevertheless, a new turn is taking place inside the populist far and extreme right movements and parties (like Le Front National in France, Casa Pound and Fratelli d’Italia in Italy) which declared themselves as open to the recognition of sexual minorities, as long as these minoritised components of the society are not challenging an idea of the national society as inherently heterosexual. In fact, heteronormativity is generally mobilised against not-heterosexual conduct, unless performed as something which is subordinated to an individual’s heterosexual public life and public stance. Therefore, heteronormativity is identified when either LGBTQ+ people live a “double life” or they are reproducing heteronormative gender roles in their private life, regardless their more or less openly assumed LGBTQ+ identity. Heteronormativity is, in fact, considered as pervasive as any other social norm which regulate social reproduction and societal structures: it is interiorised and reproduced more or less consciously by any individual. More recently, heteronormativity has been rethought within critical thinking (postcolonial, decolonial, Critical Race Theory, black feminisms) in order to map its intersections with other systems of oppression – namely those inherited from colonialism and slavery including current border regimes.

Related References

Ahmed, Sara. 2006. Queer Phenomenology. Orientations, Objects, Others. Duke University Press. 

Berlant, Lauren, and Michael Warner. 1998. Sex in public.Critical inquiry 24 (2): 547-566. 

Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Routledge.  

Cohen, Cathy J. 1997. Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: the radical potential of queer politics.GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 3(4): 436–465. 

Giametta, Calogero. 2017. The Sexual Politics of Asylum. Routledge. 

Connell, Raewyn, and Messerschmidt, James. 2005. “Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept.” Gender & Society 19(6): 829–59. 

Mai, Nicola. 2018. Mobile Orientations: An Intimate Autoethnography of Migration, Sex Work, and Humanitarian Borders. Chicago University Press. 

Morgensen, Scott Lauria. 2011. Spaces between Us. Queer Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Decolonization. University of Minnesota Press. 

Rich, Adrienne. 1980 “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.” Signs 5 (4): 631–60. 

Rubin, Gayle. 1993. Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality.” In Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, edited by Carole Vance. 

Schilt, Kristen and Westbrook, Laurel. 2009. Doing Gender, Doing Heteronormativity: Gender Normals, Transgender People, and the Social Maintenance of Heterosexuality.Gender & Society 23 (4): 440–464.  

Wittig, Monique.1980. The straight mind.Feminist Issues 1: 103–111. 


See also (last access 26/1/23)

Cite this entry as:

Giuliani, Gaia. 2023. ‘Heteronormativity’. In Populisms and Emotions Glossary, edited by Cristiano Gianolla and Maíra Magalhães Lopes. Available atário