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LGB families like these in a 2007 pride parade are labelled as non-heterosexual by researchers for various reasons.[1]

Non-heterosexual is a sexual orientation or sexual identity that is not heterosexual.[2][3] The term helps define the "concept of what is the norm and how a particular group is different from that norm".[4] Non-heterosexual is used in feminist and gender studies fields as well as general academic literature to help differentiate between sexual identities chosen, prescribed and simply assumed, with varying understanding of implications of those sexual identities.[5][6][7][8] The term is similar to queer, though less politically charged and more clinical; queer generally refers to being non-normative and non-heterosexual.[9][10][11] Some view the term as being contentious and pejorative as it "labels people against the perceived norm of heterosexuality, thus reinforcing heteronormativity".[12][13] Still others note non-heterosexual is the only term useful to maintaining coherence in research and suggest it "highlights a shortcoming in our language around sexual identity"; for instance, its use can enable bisexual erasure.[14]



Many gay, lesbian and bisexual people were born into cultures and religions that stigmatized, repressed or negatively judged any sexuality that differed from a heterosexual identity and orientation.[15][16] Additionally the majority of heterosexuals still view non-heterosexual acts as taboo and non-conventional sexual desires are generally hidden entirely or masked in various ways.[7] Non-heterosexual is more fully inclusive of people who not only identify as other than heterosexual but also as other than gay, lesbian and bisexual.[17] Some common examples include same gender loving, men who have sex with men (MSM), women who have sex with women (WSW), bi-curious and questioning.[8][18][19] Non-heterosexual is considered a better general term than homosexual, lesbian and gay, LGBT or queer for being more neutral and without the baggage or gender discrimination that comes with many of the alternatives.[9] For instance, until 1973, the American Psychological Association listed homosexual as a mental illness, and it still has negative connotations.[20]


Non-heterosexual is found predominantly in research and scholarly environments possibly as a means to avoid terms deemed politically incorrect like lesbian, dyke, gay, bisexual, etc. that lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people use as self descriptors.[16][21][22] When used by those who don't identify as LGB or when used by LGB people disparagingly, the terms are generally considered pejorative, so non-heterosexual is a default and innocuous term unlikely to offend readers.[1] For example, the Kinsey scale can be divided between those exclusively heterosexual and everyone else.[23] The term has come into more prominence in the academic field starting in the 1980s and more prominently in the 1990s with major studies of identities of non-heterosexual youth and a smaller number of studies specifically looking at non-heterosexual college students.[24] Non-heterosexual is also used to encompass transgender and intersex people, because although these are gender identities rather than sexual identities, they are within the LGBT and queer umbrella communities.[16][25] Additionally, non-heterosexual encompasses a wide variety of terms used by different cultures whose own terms might never neatly translate to a homosexual or bisexual identity; for researching and extrapolating data it is a practical and accepted term.[26]

In a 2004 book that integrates "the academic disciplines of cinema studies, sociology, cultural and critical studies" regarding the Big Brother phenomena, non-heterosexual was used as a universal term to help compare information from over thirty countries.[7] In exploring and studying the emerging field of gay, lesbian and bisexual seniors, non-heterosexual is a default term to demonstrate that the "vast majority" of literature assumes that older people are heterosexual and makes "no effort" to explore the experiences and attitudes of those who are not.[27] In Welfare and the State the authors describe the perceived advantages of lesbians in the workplace as they, in theory, wouldn't have children so would be advantageous to the labor force.[28] The authors point out, however, that not only do many lesbians have children but they routinely identify as heterosexual through much of their lives or at least until their children are old enough that a non-heterosexual identity would not greatly impact their families negatively.[28]

Non-heterosexual is also used when studying lesbian and gay families and family structures.[25][29] It came into wider use in this context when the AIDS pandemic's impact on gay male communities was being explored as many gay men created families out of extended networks of friends and these became their support systems.[25]

Critique ofEdit

The use of the term ‘non-heterosexual’ to refer to LGBTQ people as a blanket term could perpetuate heterosexuality as the norm. It implies that any identity that cannot be defined as ‘hetero’ is abnormal.[citation needed] The term means the opposite of heterosexual, thus implying a deviance from the social norm.[citation needed] Historically the term was used to force people into one of two distinct identities; the “normalization of a sex that was ‘hetero' proclaimed a new heterosexual separatism — an erotic apartheid that forcefully segregated the sex normals from the sex perverts.” [30] The heterosexual-homosexual binary that is implied by using the term ‘non-heterosexual’ as a variation of ‘homosexual’ is often interpreted as a stand in for ‘the opposite of heterosexual’ rather than a description of various identities.[31] This ignores those who identify as bisexual, pansexual, queer, etc. The term ‘heterosexual’ is a relatively new term that was created to separate the majority from the Other, and the continued use of ‘non-heterosexual’ as an umbrella term for those in the LGBTQ community perpetuates the notion of the normal versus the Other. Non-heterosexual is also rather problematically used as a catch-all term, encompassing gender identity as well as sexual identity.[31] The term ‘non-heterosexuality’ continues the erasure of bisexuality from discussions around sexuality and identity because of its roots in the heterosexual-homosexual binary. Sexuality and gender are different concepts and by labelling the entire LGBT+ community as being within the category of non-heterosexual it prioritizes certain groups as the term is sexuality specific.[31] This encompassment of identities leads to the erasure of differing gender identities in the conversations around ‘non-heterosexual’ communities.

By referring to LGBTQ people as non-heterosexual, it enforces the idea of “compulsory heterosexuality” and that anyone who does not fit into that category is going against the norm.[30] “As Patrick Hopkins has argued, heterosexism and homophobia are founded on and sustained by binary gender categories, specifically the assumption that there are distinct and proper masculine and feminine gender roles and identities against which deviation is measured.” [32] The use of the term non-heterosexual indicates a departure from what is acceptable in society while highlighting the juxtaposition between the ideal heterosexual and unideal non-heterosexual. “Heterosexism is about dominance, and the practices that support it are often replicated, reinforced, and reflected by the attitudes, behaviors, and practices of even [the] best-intentioned allies.” [33] Presenting heterosexuality as the norm frames ‘non-heterosexuality’ as the abnormal. Heterosexuality as a categorization and as a term, was not created until the late nineteenth century, prior to this relations between the sexes were not believed to be overtly sexual. In the Victorian era sex was seen as an act between “manly men and womanly women, [as] procreators, not specifically as erotic beings or heterosexuals.” [30] The division between the heterosexual and the non-heterosexual came in the 1860s after the “growth of the consumer economy also fostered a new pleasure ethic,” [30] the erotic became a commodity to be bought and sold. At the same time the ”rise in power and prestige of medical doctors allowed those upwardly mobile professionals to prescribe a healthy new sexuality.” [30] Men and women were now meant to enjoy sex. Relations between those of the ‘opposite sexes’ was seen as healthy and encouraged by medical professionals. This creation and celebration of the ‘Normal Sexual’ ultimately resulted in its counterpart: the ‘Sexual Pervert,’ anyone who fell outside of the heterosexual ideal. “In its earliest version, the twentieth-century heterosexual imperative usually continued to associate heterosexuality with a supposed human ‘need,’ ‘drive,’ or ‘instinct’ for propagation, a procreant urge linked inexorably with carnal lust… giving praise to vent to heteroerotic emotions was thus praised as enhancing baby-making capacity, marital intimacy and family stability.” [30] The basic oppositeness of the sexes was seen as the basis for normal, healthy sexual attraction. The term heterosexuality was created as a way to subjugate and other anyone who did not confirm to mainstream ideals of sexuality. It was a term that created a sense of validation that heterosexuality was the normal, healthy version of human sexuality.[30] The use of non-heterosexual today continues this history of othering people based on a belief that anyone who is not heterosexual is inherently abnormal.

Although “non-heterosexuality” is considered a blanket term for all LGBTQ identities, it is often interpreted as another word for homosexual which contributes to the continuation of systematic bisexual erasure. Bisexuality has a long history of being overshadowed and ignored in favour of the belief in monosexuality, it “[represents] a blind spot in sex research.” [34] The term non-heterosexual suggests a division between heterosexual and homosexual, the heterosexual-homosexual dichotomy, rather than the heterosexual-homosexual continuum, which accounts for identities that are not exclusively heterosexual or homosexual. By separating identities into either/or, bisexual identities are left in a place of ambiguity, “bisexuals transgress boundaries of sexually identified communities and thus are always both inside and outside a diversity of conflicting communities.” [35] The implied homosexual-heterosexual dichotomy that the term puts in place negates its use as a truly inclusive term; “[the] categories are constructed in such a way as to allow everyone access to one and only one, and to insist that anyone who is not already neatly situated in one category or the other had best be on the way to one.” [36] This focus on either/or logic, heterosexuality or non-heterosexuality, where non-heterosexuality is closely associated with homosexuality rather than general queerness, slights those that the term attempts to describe; “where bisexuality does rate a mention, it is almost always rendered an epistemological and incidental by-product, aftereffect, or definitional outcome of the opposition of hetero/homosexuality.” [34]

Non-heterosexuality is often used to describe those in the LGBT+ community with non-cisgender identities. This is seen as problematic as sexual orientation and gender identity are different. However the distinction between the two is relatively modern. Historically “[transgender people] were classified as homosexuals by everyone, including the physicians who specialized in their treatment, and it is only in the past fifty years or so that transgender has been theorized as different in kind from homosexuality.” [37] Many people still fail to understand or make the distinction between gender minorities and sexual minorities.[38] The term itself is sexuality specific as it contains the word “sexual” with no mention of “gender.” [31] Much in the way the term non-heterosexuality erases sexual minorities through its implied notion of the hetero/homosexual binary, it also ignores gender minorities. While trans* people and people with non-binary gender identities are part of the LGBTQ community, having been subjected to many of the same injustices,[39] labelling trans* and genderqueer identities under the term non-heterosexual blurs the important differences between sexual orientation and gender identity. Not all trans* people would identify their sexuality as being non-heterosexual, many trans* people are attracted to the ‘opposite’ sex and therefore identify as heterosexual.[39] Additionally “those with non-binary gender identities are likely to place [themselves] in a position in which heterosexuality is nonsensical, due to there being no “opposite” gender to their identities” [39] While a non-binary person is less likely to identify as heterosexual, the assumption that as someone with a ‘non-heterosexual’ identity, they must be homosexual is also problematic as it ignores sexual orientations that are not dictated by the gender of the person but rather who they are (or are not) attracted to such as bisexual, pansexual, queer, androsexual, gynesexual, skoliosexual, or asexual.[39]

Queer people “are often expected to account for [their] sexual identifications by either proving [their] normality (that is, [they] are inside the sphere of heteronormativity), or by accepting that [their] difference from the heterosexual norm constitutes some form of essence.” [40] The term non-heterosexual is used to highlight the absolute difference between heterosexual and queer identities. The language needs to change to describe LGBTQ people as autonomous beings “rather than considering [them] solely as sexual beings constituted within a heterosexual logic of sameness or difference.”[40] The implied binary that the term non-heterosexual perpetuates erases those whose identities fall in the spectrum between heterosexuality and homosexuality. The hetero/homosexual dichotomy continues the systematic erasure of bisexual identities by emphasizing an assumed oppositeness with nothing allowed in between.[38] Although non-heterosexual is meant to encompass the entire LGBTQ community it has a continued use outside of the community as another word for homosexual.[31] It emphasizes sexual orientation over gender identity because the term itself is sexuality specific although it is used for identities that are unrelated to sexuality.[31] The interpretation of the term continues a history of gender identity being overlooked in discourse surrounding the LGBTQ community in favour of prioritizing sexual orientation.[39] It ignores those who identify as non-binary, as the term non-heterosexuality has been interpreted as categorizing those who are sexually attracted to people of the ‘same sex’ as opposed to those who are attracted to those of the ‘opposite sex.’ [38] Because if the broad spectrum encompassed by the term, general use favours sexual orientations that are defined by their reliance of the gender binary such as gay or lesbian rather than promoting orientations that are not dictated by the gender of the person identifying their sexuality. Non-heterosexual also implies that one can not be part of the LGBT+ community and identify as heterosexual as it ignores the differences between sexual orientation and gender identity.[39] The term “non-heterosexual” is too broad yet at the same time it is routinely interpreted as pertaining to a minority category of people within the intended group of identities. Because it is so non-specific it is open to interpretation by those outside of the LGBTQ community or by those who are not as educated about the spectrum of sexual orientations and gender identities leading to a greater emphasis on the identities that are already well known and an erasure of the identities that are already not a large part of mainstream dialogues.[31]

See alsoEdit


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  18. ^ Joseph, Sherry (2005). Social Work Practice and Men who Have Sex with Men. Sage Publications Inc. p. 27. ISBN 0-7619-3352-2. Retrieved 24 July 2008. 
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  20. ^ Gaddy, Jim (3 February 2003). Spectrum trains members to educate students: Group to host sexual identity discussions. The Daily Reveille. ISBN 0-306-47296-1. Retrieved 24 July 2008. 
  21. ^ Quam, Jean K.; Sarah Thornton (1997). Social Services for Senior Gay Men and Lesbians. Haworth Press. pp. 11–40, 93, 113. ISBN 1-56024-808-4. Retrieved 24 July 2008. 
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  35. ^ Daumer, Elisabeth D (1992). "Queer Ethics; Or, The Challenge of Bisexuality to Lesbian Ethics". Hypatia. 7 (4). JSTOR 3810080. 
  36. ^ Held, Lisa (1997). "In Praise of Unreliability". Hypatia. 12 (3): 174–182. JSTOR 3810228. 
  37. ^ Weiss, Jillian Todd (2004). "GL vs. BT: The Archaeology of Biphobia and Transphobia Within the U.S. Gay and Lesbian Community". The Journal of Bisexuality: 25–55. Retrieved 5 December 2016.  horizontal tab character in |title= at position 63 (help)
  38. ^ a b c Weiss, Jillian Todd (2004). "GL vs. BT: The Archaeology of Biphobia and Transphobia Within the U.S. Gay and Lesbian Community". The Journal of Bisexuality: 25–55. Retrieved 5 December 2016. 
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  40. ^ a b Riggs, Damien W (2007). "Reassessing the Foster-Care System: Examining the Impact of Heterosexism on Lesbian and Gay Applicants". Hypatia. 22 (1): 132–148. JSTOR 4640048.