The invention of the heterosexual

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Catchfire Catchfire's picture
The invention of the heterosexual

New book by Hanne Blank

If you met Hanne Blank and her partner on the street, you might have a lot of trouble classifying them. While Blank looks like a feminine woman, her partner is extremely androgynous, with little to no facial hair and a fine smooth complexion. Hanne’s partner is neither fully male, nor fully female; he was born with an unconventional set of chromosomes, XXY, that provide him with both male genitalia and feminine characteristics. As a result, Blank’s partner has been mistaken for a gay woman, a straight man, a transman — and their relationship has been classified as gay, straight and everything in between.

Blank mentions her personal story at the beginning of her provocative new history of heterosexuality, “Straight,” as a way of illustrating just how artificial our notions of “straightness” really are. In her book, Blank, a writer and historian who has written extensively about sexuality and culture, looks at the ways in which social trends and the rise of psychiatry conspired to create this new category in the late 19th and early 20th century. Along the way, she examines the changing definition of marriage, which evolved from a businesslike agreement into a romantic union centered around love, and how social Darwinist ideas shaped the divisions between gay and straight. With her eye-opening book, Blank tactfully deconstructs a facet of modern sexuality that most of us take for granted.

See also:

Butler begins Gender Trouble with an attack on one of the central assumptions of feminist theory: the supposition that there exists an identity and a subject that requires representation in politics and language. For Butler, "women" and "woman" are fraught categories, complicated by classethnicitysexuality, and other facets of identity. Moreover, the universality presumed by these terms parallels the assumed universality of the patriarchy, and erases the particularity of oppression in distinct times and places. Butler thus eschews identity politics in favor of a new, coalitional feminism that critiques the basis of identity and gender.

She begins her critique of identity and gender by challenging her readers' assumptions about the distinction often made between sex and gender. (In this distinction, sex is biological while gender is culturally constructed.) In the first place, Butler argues, this distinction introduces a split into the supposedly unified subject of feminism, and in the second place, the distinction proves false. Sexed bodies cannot signify without gender, and the apparent existence of sex prior to discourseand cultural imposition is merely an effect of the functioning of gender. That is, both sex and gender are constructed.


In Volume One, Foucault points to a watershed in human history marking attempts to control people's sexuality for the stability of the community. He highlights the Counter-Reformation, during which - he argues - the Catholic Church emphasised the need to attend confession more often. He notes a shift in 19th century France from regarding people as "subjects" or "citizens" to "a population", a scientific concept that could be manipulated according to the needs of the economy. This was a trend that occurred across Europe as the Industrial Revolution spread.

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Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Interesting articles.

I recall reading an article written by a rabbi, the premise of which was that the concepts of "homosexuality" and "heterosexuality" go much further back and really emerged with the emergence of Judaism as a faith. Before that, and certainly in Greek, Roman, Pagan societies, bisexuality was the norm and while men and women would form family units in order to procreate and establish a household, etc., men were still expected to have sex with other men (or boys) and that the sexual distinction was not based on male-female but rather on who was doing the penetrating and who was being penetrated, the one doing the penetrating being the dominant one and that it was Judaism which really established the idea that men should only have sex with women and, ideally, within a marriage (though early Judaism allowed for a man to have more than one wife).


proof:  what do straight men like to watch in porn?  primarily other men cumming.  That is the climax event of almost every porn film.  Coincidence?  i think not.

Red Tory Tea Girl

"gay woman, a straight man, a transman"


Oh good... cis doesn't exist for this author. Well, I'm encouraged... also the argument that a sapient species is somehow inbetween despite their gender identity...

I have referenced this kind of writing before:

"When I'm reading an article that discusses trans issues, I can always tell who the author is by looking for a few key words and constructions. Typically, when an article uses "trans" as a prefix and is good about making sure that the identified sex of the person in question is the only sex that matters for the article, that article is written by a trans person, or by a really good ally. The second kind is one that makes me sigh and acknowledge that it is progress but clearly a quarter loaf. You've read these articles all the time; the words seem to have nervously shuffled inside the door of the argument but clearly aren't comfortable being there. You see the word "transgender" used a lot to refer to a subset much smaller than the word actually applies to. They'll use "biological" when they mean "cis," etc., but they're generally supportive of the right of trans people to live their lives with a reasonable amount of dignity, just as long as they don't demand so much that it offends the other constituency groups that these people depend on for their Liberal Credibility PointsTM."


Red Tory Tea Girl

To reiterate, this piece degenders people in the interests of subverting heteronormativity... which, is, um, plainly bad.