Critique of compulsory heterosexuality

Abstract

The concept of compulsory heterosexuality was initially developed by lesbian feminists and gay liberationists in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Compulsory heterosexuality proved to be a major conceptual innovation because it made possible a structural sociology of sexuality. The center of analysis shifted from the individual homosexual and from individual acts of discrimination to the institutional enforcement of normative heterosexuality and its consequences for nonheterosexuals. This essay provides a critical analysis of this concept as it has been elaborated from the late 1960s to the present. The author outlines the analytical and historical limits of the critique of compulsory heterosexuality without abandoning a notion of the institutionalization of normative heterosexuality.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Bawer, B. (1993).A place at the table. New York: Simon & Schuster.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Bech, H. (2007). The disappearance of the homosexual. In S. Seidman, C. Meeks, & N. Fischer (Eds.),Introducing the new sexuality studies (pp. 151–157). New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Brown, R. M. (1975). The shape of things to come. In N. Myron & C. Bunch (Eds.),Lesbianism and the women’s movement (pp. 69–78). Baltimore: Diana Press.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bunch, C. (1975). Lesbians in revolt. In N. Myron & C. Bunch (Eds.),Lesbianism and the women’s movement (pp. 29–38). Baltimore: Diana Press.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Butler, J. (1989).Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Butler, J. (1994). Against improper objects.Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, 6(2/3), 1–26.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Byron, S. (1992). The closet syndrome. In K. Jay & A. Young (Eds.),Out of the closets: Voices of gay liberation (pp. 58–65). New York: New York University Press. (original work published 1972)

    Google Scholar 

  8. Eskridge, W., Jr. (1999).Gaylaw. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Furies Collective. (1975). Introduction. In N. Myron & C. Bunch (Eds.),Lesbianism and the women’s movement (pp. 9–13). Baltimore: Diana Press.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Fuss, D. (1991). Introduction. In D. Fuss (Ed.),Inside/out: Lesbian theories, gay theories (pp. 1–10). New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Fuss, D. (1995).Identification papers. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Gamson, J. (2002). Sweating in the spotlight: Lesbian, gay, and queer encounters with media and popular culture. In D. Richardson & S. Seidman (Eds.),Handbook of lesbian and gay studies (pp. 339–354). London: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Gay Liberation Front [Chicago]. (1992). Gay revolution and sex roles. In K. Jay & A. Young (Eds.),Out of the closets: Voices of gay liberation (pp. 252–258). New York: New York University Press. (Original work published 1972)

    Google Scholar 

  14. Gay Liberation Front Women [New York City]. (1992). Lesbians and the ultimate liberation of women. In K. Jay & A. Young (Eds.),Out of the closets: Voices of gay liberation (pp. 201–205). New York: New York University Press. (Original work published 1972)

    Google Scholar 

  15. Halberstam, J. (1998).Female masculinity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Hale, C. J. (2003). Leatherdyke boys and their daddies: How to have sex without women or men. In R. Corber & S. Valocchi (Eds.),Queer studies (pp. 61–72). Maiden, MA: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Halperin, D. (1995). The queer politics of Michel Foucault. In D. Halperin,Saint Foucault: Towards a gay hagiography (pp. 15–124). New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Ingraham, C. (1996). The heterosexual imaginary. In S. Seidman (Ed.),Queer theory/sociology (pp. 168–193). Oxford, England: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Ingraham, C. (1999).White weddings. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Jackson, S. (2006). Gender, sexuality and heterosexuality.Feminist Theory, 7, 105–121.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Johnson, D. (2004).The lavender scare. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Purple September Staff. (1975). The normative status of heterosexuality. In N. Myron & C. Bunch (Eds.),Lesbianism and the women’s movement (pp. 79–84). Baltimore: Diana Press.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Radicalesbians. (1992). The woman-identified-woman. In K. Jay & A. Young (Eds.),Out of the closets: Voices of gay liberation (pp. 172–176). New York: New York University Press. (Original work published 1972)

    Google Scholar 

  24. Raeburn, N. (2004).Changing corporate America from inside out. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Renold, E. (2006). “They won’t let us play...unless you’re going out with one of them”: Girls, boys and Butler’s “heterosexual matrix” in the primary years.British Journal of Sociology of Education, 27, 489–509.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Rich, A. (1993). Compulsory heterosexuality and lesbian existence. In H. Abelove, M. Barala, & D. Halperin (Eds.),The lesbian and gay studies reader (pp. 227–254). New York: Routledge. (Original work published 1978)

    Google Scholar 

  27. Richardson, D. (1996). Heterosexuality and social theory. In D. Richardson (Ed.),Theorizing heterosexuality (pp. 1–21). Buckingham, England: Open University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Roseneil, S. (2002). The heterosexual/homosexual binary: Past, present and future. In D. Richardson & S. Seidman (Eds.),Handbook of lesbian and gay studies (pp. 27–44). London: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Rubin, G. (1984). Thinking sex: Notes for a radical critique of sexuality. In C. Vance (Ed.),Pleasure and danger (pp. 267–319). New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Sedgwick, E. K. (1990).Epistemology of the closet. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Seidman, S. (2003).Beyond the closet. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Seidman, S., & Meeks, C. (2008). Politik der Befreiung, Kulturen der Anpassung: Die Suche nach Authentizität in der amerikanischen Homosexual-lenbewegung [Politics of emancipation, cultures of conformity: The search for authenticity in the American homosexual movement]. In N. Pethes & S. Schicktanz (Eds.),Sexualität als Experiment: Identität, Lust und Reproduktion zwischen science und fiction (pp. 78–97). Frankfurt, Germany: Verlag.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Shelley, M. (1992). Gay is good. In K. Jay & A. Young (Eds.),Out of the closets: Voices of gay liberation (pp. 31–33). New York: New York University Press. (Original work published 1972)

    Google Scholar 

  34. Small, M. (1975). Lesbians and the class position of women. In N. Myron & C. Bunch (Eds.),Lesbianism and the women’s movement (pp. 49–62). Baltimore: Diana Press.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Smith, A. M. (1997). The good homosexual and the dangerous queer: Resisting the “new homophobia.” In L. Segal (Ed.),New sexual agendas (pp. 214–231). London: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Solomon, B. (1975). Taking the bullshit by the horns. In N. Myron & C. Bunch (Eds.),Lesbianism and the women’s movement (pp. 39–48). Baltimore: Diana Press.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Stryker, S., & White, S. (2006).The transgender studies reader. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Sullivan, A. (1996).Virtually normal. New York: Vintage.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Third World Gay Revolution [Chicago] & Gay Liberation Front [Chicago]. (1992). Gay revolution and sex roles. In K. Jay & A. Young (Eds.),Out of the closets: Voices of gay liberation (pp. 252–258). New York: New York University Press. (Original work published 1972)

    Google Scholar 

  40. Third World Gay Revolution [New York City]. (1992).What we want, what we believe. In K. Jay & A. Young (Eds.),Out of the closets: Voices of gay liberation (pp. 363–367). New York: New York University Press. (Original work published 1972)

    Google Scholar 

  41. Walters, S. (2001).All the rage. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Wiegman, R. (2006). Heteronormativity and the desire for gender.Feminist Theory, 7, 89–103.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Wittig, M. (1992).The straight mind and other essays. Boston: Beacon Press. (Original work published 1980)

    Google Scholar 

  44. Wittman, C. (1992). A gay manifesto. In K. Jay & A. Young (Eds.),Out of the closets: Voices of gay liberation (pp. 330–341). New York: New York University Press. (Original work published 1972)

    Google Scholar 

  45. Young, A. (1992). Out of the closets, into the streets. In K. Jay & A. Young (Eds.),Out of the closets: Voices of gay liberation (pp. 6–30). New York: New York University Press. (Original work published 1972)

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Steven Seidman.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Seidman, S. Critique of compulsory heterosexuality. Sex Res Soc Policy 6, 18 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1525/srsp.2009.6.1.18

Download citation

Key words

  • normative heterosexuality
  • heteronormativity
  • homosexuality
  • gay liberation
  • lesbian feminism