Katz traces the concept of heterosexuality to its roots in the late Victorian Era, before which sexuality (in Western society) was almost exclusively linked to the "True Love... [of] proper procreation, marriage, the legal organization for producing a new set of correctly gendered women and men." In this era of "True Love," sexual desire was not part of the ideal romance; instead, it was relegated to the shadowy figures of the perverse "masturbator" and "prostitute." In the late nineteenth century, Katz describes an economy-driven middle class shift from production to consumption which led to a parallel change in the way the body was viewed; where previously, the body was seen only as a tool for the production of labor, goods, and offspring, the new notion arose of the body as the consumer of goods, leisure, and pleasure. As physicians gained biological knowledge and social authority, the new "heterosexuality" was touted as the healthy drive men and women shared toward procreation, contrasted with all non-procreative sexual activity, which was seen as diverse. Here, Katz points out the construction of the hetero/non-hetero dichotomy: "The attention paid the sexual abnormal created a need to name the sexual normal, the better to distinguish the average him and her from the deviant it."
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the focus of heteronormativity shifted slightly to allow the introduction of sex for pleasure, but the importance of its procreative aim was still socially enforced, and heterosexual attraction was established as the absolute "normal," further marginalizing any non-procreative sexuality. Specifically, the hetero/homo binary was constructed in such a way as to allow more freedom to the idealized heterosexuality for pleasure and procreation, by drawing a strict distinction between "normal" and "other." This heteronormativity was instrumental in the social enforcing of strict gender distinctions, and it re-framed female sexuality as distinct from "early Victorian idea of the pure True Woman." Just before World War II, the term heterosexuality began to gain notoriety, again, as distinct from the perversion of homosexuality.
Paralleling the regression of feminism following World War II, the return to heteronormativity as procreative drive and nuclear family-centered drove the post war baby boom. At the same time, "sex liberalism was in ascendancy," manifesting in the comprehensive study of human sexuality by Alfred Kinsey in the late 1940s. Kinsey postulated a continuum of sexuality to challenge the previous notion of the pure hetero/homo binary, a trend which strangely regresses a bit in the advent of homosexual activism between 1965 and 1982.
Lastly, Katz lays out his "new hypothesis," which aims to view heterosexuality and heteronormativity as social construct, rather than as biological "norm." He encourages us to "pull heterosexuality, homosexuality, and all the sexualities out of the realm of nature and biology [and] into the realm of the social and historical." Similar to the way we must distance ourselves from the concepts of male/female to truly study gender, we must move away from heteronormativity to truly understand the social and historical structures of human sexuality.
My mother, who works with a few LGBTQ outreach groups and heads a chapter of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), regularly runs up against the social problem of heteronormativity, and she sees the social enforcement of the heterosexual ideal in the insecurities of the homosexual, bisexual, and transgendered members of her groups. To help her groups understand the plurality of gender and sexuality, she employs a graphic referred to as the "Genderbread Person"
In the image, you can see the different aspects of gender and sexual identity and expression presented on four Kinseyan continuums: gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and sexual orientation. In fact we can probably take this several steps further and postulate that there are perhaps infinite distinctions in and around these four categories, but if the study of sociology tells us anything, it is that change occurs incrementally.
As someone who identifies as homosexual, this reading both fascinates and worries me. I long for a world that is post-gender, post-orientation, and post-binary, but a big part of my personality and self expression is that of a gay male. Can I really let these ideas go? Can I follow Katz's new hypothesis? What about you, readers? How important is the duality of homo/hetero to your individual identity? Do you think we, as a society, will ever shed our heteronormativity?
(Source: Katz, Jonathan Ned. "The Invention of Heterosexuality." Socialist Review, vol. 20, no. 1, Jan.-Mar. 1990, pp. 7-34)