Because my 2017 is about centering Queer shit.
In all of my learning (and unlearning), a lot of things that I once held as “normal” due to societal influence now make less sense. One of those things being our collective use of the word “straight.” What’s with that term and why is its usage so common? “Straight” is something that I’ve really taken notice of and have been interrogating internally over the last few months.
Over time, I’ve found myself being among those who find the term “straight” an to be an implication that heterosexuality is inherently “normal,” or the standard. And if that’s the standard, then is everything else wrong…or crooked? The notion of a man and woman (cisgender) as “the norm” seems incredibly archaic, given more modern understandings of sexuality and gender. We know that the ability to procreate isn’t limited to cisgender heterosexuality. We also know that the “nuclear” family structure is colonial bullshit. There are numerous, proven examples that family can take various forms where all involved can thrive—even if your sexual identity isn’t one that could conceive a child. Not to mention, there are cishet couples incapable of bearing children. Plus, given the rate of divorces among cis-hetero couples, it’s a pretty safe guess that the whole “nuclear” concept ain’t working for them, either.
Therefore, why the need to continue keeping heterosexuality at the center? I feel like the usage of “straight” only reinforces it. With all of these thoughts in my head, I decided to look up the origins of the term “straight,” which led me to the following:
The term straight originated as a mid-20th century gay slang term for heterosexuals, ultimately coming from the phrase “to go straight” (as in “straight and narrow”), or stop engaging in homosexual sex. One of the first uses of the word in this way was in 1941 by author G. W. Henry. Henry’s book concerned conversations with homosexual males and used this term in connection with people who are identified as ex-gays.
If this description is to be believed, then the origins of “straight” describe erasing Homosexuality for pursuit of heterosexuality. It describes the desire to not be Gay and uphold Heterosexuality as the standard (basically, how I interpreted the word before even seeking out that additional info). So, taken in full context, the term “straight” is inherently oppressive of Queerness and is the direct antithesis of Gayness.
Granted, language evolves over time and this is no exception. Its modern usage is simply to describe a person who’s heterosexual and generally isn’t intended to slight Queerness, in and of itself. So, I don’t want this piece to be taken as some kind of direct order that any supporter of Queerness shouldn’t be using “straight.” It’s not that I’m personally offended by the word. I’m simply saying, given full context of how the word comes off to me, plus its likely origins, I’m no longer interested in using the term, myself. And if I make a few people think about their usage, in the process, that’s an added bonus!
My activism and advocacy are about centering marginalized identities to envision an existence where everyone’s humanity is seen on equal footing. For me, using a term like “straight” works against that. Therefore, I’ll be sticking with “Heterosexual”…or “hetero” and “cishet,” since those both make the bigots seethe, and I’m all about that. ☕
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