We know what you're thinking: What is homonormativity? To put it in simplest terms, homonormativity is saying you’re not like most gay men. Homonormativity is dismissing black men in the club because, while you respect black people, you’re "just not attracted" to them. Homonormativity is thinking differently about someone you love on Twitter when you see they use a wheelchair IRL. Homonormativity is gay white men dominating queer TV representation and white cis men playing trans women. Homonormativity is the nation organizing for gay marriage, but not for trans lives. Homonormativity is a privileging set of hierarchies, social norms, and expectations that cause the oppressed to oppress one another.
Homonormativity is everywhere. It permeates into every fiber of queer life, ruining the community from inside out and top to bottom (no pun intended).
In the simplest terms, homonormativity is a set of rules used to decide which people in the queer community are the best. Homonormativity dictates that men should be muscular and masculine, while women should be slender and feminine. It encourages heterosexual mimicking wherein queer people get married, adopt children, attend church every weekend, and live in a suburban neighborhood with a white picket fence (think Modern Family). None of these things are inherently negative, but they can be when these desires of both lifestyle and trait determine who we interact with, who we help, and who we support.
Homonormativity made same-sex marriage priority number one, when trans people still can’t use bathrooms safely, can still be fired for being who they are, and can still be viciously abused by the prison system. Homonormativity tries, in essence to control how we feel about ourselves and others and it attempts to morph the queer community into the heterosexual community, having us act and live just like them.
Unfortunately, the topic of homonormativity still has yet to be commonly found outside of elite, intellectual texts that take way too long to get through and are often difficult for most people to access or comprehend. This is a big deal!
When information like this is inaccessible to the masses, you’re left with generations of queer people who can’t find the words to express the oppression that they’re facing. As a high school student, I didn’t know what I was being given from other people was wrong. I didn’t know people disliking and shaming me for being feminine was wrong. I thought I should hate myself too, and so I did. Luckily, I was blessed with a gay uncle who had spent a great deal of his life exploring cultural academia. He was able to talk me through this trauma and oppression, arming me with words like homonormativity and microaggression, which helped me not only live my reality, but to make it better. What I learned, at the simplest level, was how to advocate for myself.
If I hadn’t had the uncle that I do, I may still have been enforcing homonormative values on myself (butching it up) and on others (saying I wouldn’t date feminine gay men). As a community, we have to make knowledge about homonormativity available to everyone, so that people can speak up. The thing about societal trends like homonormativity is that they’re made to be insidious. We accept trends and norms as natural, when they are anything but natural. There is no correct way to be gay, or bi, or trans, or queer. Once you name homonormativity and point it out, it loses power.
We need homonormativity to lose power because it wrecks lives, tears communities apart, and even kills. Homonormativity can explain why masculine gay men are often left alone, tolerated at worst and accepted at best, by society, while feminine gay men (particularly POC) are still frequently attacked by aggressive mobs on the daily. Homonormativity is why there is actual legislation against the trans community, based on gross accusations and stereotypes about them, that will force them to use the bathroom of the gender they were assigned at birth (as if this legislation won’t cause unspeakable harm to these individuals). This is not liberal, culture-policing. This is real life.
The change needs to start from the bottom up. We need to be conscious about how we talk and how we conduct ourselves in public, both physically and online. We need to listen when people different from us talk, and recognize our own privileges and adjust accordingly (because no one is totally oppressed, we all have privileges somewhere). We need to organize for issues that are not gay marriage and fight for the rights of people who do not share our identities. We need to let queer people be queer people and stop enforcing molds created by a heterosexual world that wants us to be less like us and more like them.
Homonormativity is all of us this and more, but what it needs to be is history, not the present and future.