Saturday, December 20, 2008

All people are heterosexual

On today’s agenda is definitely something new for Asexual Explorations readers—my very first interview.

In exploring the question of whether all people are sexual beings, I happened upon a group I hadn’t known about before—the heterosex-positive movement. They are involved in sex education, and one of their core values is the belief that all human beings are heterosexual. Intrigued and more than a little skeptical, I decided to contact them, and I have been fortunate enough to even get an interview with Walter T. Foster, the Center for Healthy Heterosexuality regional coordinator for the state of Illinois.

AE: Mr. Foster, I'd like to start by thanking you for being available to do this interview today.

WF: It’s my pleasure. And please call me Walter.

AE: Ok, Walter. The organization that you work for, the Center for Healthy Heterosexuality, has as one of its core values the belief that all people are heterosexual from the time they are born until the time they die. Since many of the readers of Asexual Explorations don’t consider themselves heterosexual, I’m sure that many of them will find this claim more than a little shocking. Could you explain what you mean when you say that all people are heterosexual?

WF: Certainly. This is an objection we get pretty frequently. The problem is that most people think of heterosexuality in very narrow, traditional terms. They think it's about males and females having sex—and usually ‘sex’ is defined in terms of coitus to the exclusion of other forms of sexual contact. But if you really understood heterosexuality, it is so much more than that. It involves our feelings, our values, our behavior, our bodies, our families and so many other things. Heterosexuality is so broad that to say someone isn’t heterosexual is like saying they aren’t a human being.

AE: Could you explain how all of these things are part of heterosexuality?

WF: Even though sexual attraction generally starts around the age of ten, heterosexuality begins long before then. Think of all of the images of heterosexuality that people receive from a very young age—images of heterosexual couples, families with a mother and a father, stories about a boy and a girl falling in love. When I was in Elementary School, sometimes kids would tease each other about liking someone of the opposite sex. There was this one chant about “So and so and so and so sittin’ in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage.” Heterosexual narratives about love-marriage-baby are taught beginning at young ages, along with the development of gender roles, which are also a core part of heterosexuality. Also, heterosexuality is core to our intergender relationships—not just sexual ones, which form a minority of intergender relationships—but in other ones as well. There are constantly things that are understood to be appropriate or inappropriate for such relationships that wouldn’t be for intragender relationships. Heterosexuality is a core part of how people go about their daily lives and interactions, regardless of who, if anyone, they are having sex with. All of this interacts with our beliefs and values and so on.

AE: I see what you mean about heterosexuality being a large part of our culture, our learning and so on, but I’m still a bit skeptical about saying this means that everyone is heterosexual. Some people say that they’re gay or lesbian or asexual and say that they don’t experience sexual attraction to members of the opposite sex. Are you saying that they’re wrong?

WF: No, no, that's not what I mean at all. Definitely, some people aren’t attracted to members of the opposite sex, but the problem with saying that they’re not heterosexual is that that’s based on a traditional, narrow understanding that equates heterosexuality with sexual attraction and behavior. In addition to nonsexual aspects of heterosexuality in our everyday lives, often even heterosexual sex can be separated from sexual attraction and desire. Take for example, the story a teenage girl I know. Let’s call her Mary, though that’s not her real name. She goes to a party one Friday planning on hooking up with some guy. It’s not because she’s horny. In fact, in order to get herself to even go through with it, she gets completely drunk because she knows that if she were sober, there’s no way she could go through with the process. So why does she do it? Because she thinks everybody else is, at least all the cool people. If she doesn’t have sex, she’s afraid the other girls will make fun of her for being a virgin. They’ll look down on her and treat her as a child for not having gone through with what they see as a rite of passage. This is all part of ‘heterosexuality.’ I don’t know what Mary’s sexual orientation is, but that doesn’t mean she’s not heterosexual.

AE: Is that healthy heterosexuality?

WF: It is what it is.

AE: Well, it's hard to disagree with that, and this way of understanding heterosexuality is definitely an interesting take on things, but I'll confess I'm still a bit skeptical. In one of the blogs that I read, the author said, and I quote “I identify as lesbian, and I can basically guarantee for you that no matter how broad, inclusive, and accepting ‘heterosexuality’ grows, I will never feel quite comfortable or truthful or right identifying as straight.” I’m guessing that you would disagree.

WF: Yes. That would be correct. As I said before, I think this stems largely from a very traditional view of heterosexuality. On the one hand, I fully understand her hesitancy to consider herself straight. In some ways, it’s like the word ‘queer.’ Some people find it to be a useful identifier for themselves. However, others, because of its history and their own personal histories don’t feel that they could ever.

AE: They use the word queer to unite around oppressive heteronormativity.

WF: Yes. Unfortunately, heterosex-positive sounds somewhat similar heteronormative, but they’re definitely very different.

AE: I’m sure that they are. Anyway, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. It’s
definitely an interesting perspective on things.

Next time, I will conclude this series with a reanalysis of the claim that all people are sexual beings.


Ily said...

Hee hee...Very creative and effective!

Mary Maxfield said...

Holy crap, this is genius. Not only did it make me giggle (and cringe-- "why does she have to be named Mary??"), but as someone who was maybe more sold on some of the sex-positive arguments than you, it's also made me reconsider some things. Nice.

ACH said...

Unfortunately, my ability to come up with names is rather lacking in creativity. He's named Foster because I knew what I wanted his initials to be and went through census data to find the most common surname in the US beginning with the letter F. The choice of Mary was done through an equally uncreative, and highly analogous, process.