The Blog

Being 'Normal': We Can't Avoid a Hetero-Normative Society, But We Can Help Make It Less So

I shouldn't have to order my Valentine's Day card online to be able to customise it, so that it's not one of the thousands that says 'boyfriend' that features a girl giving a boy a bunch of flowers.

It's fairly understandable that we live in something of a hetero-normative society. The overwhelming majority of people grow up seeing male and female couples as couples before seeing any of the other variations as couples, so those formative years are spent looking at male-female as the norm. And for the record, that isn't a homophobic action - it's merely ignorance of the big picture because of a narrow understanding of a new world.

Children always have something new to learn. Why is a fork called a fork? What's the name for the gaps between the poles that stick down on a staircase? What do you call the bit around the back of the radiator? All of these are more pressing issues for a child than 'are those two men in love like that man and that woman are?'

But there needs to be something in place to prevent as much hetero-normativity as possible. Which is why, when UKIP's Paul Nuttall slams Labour's proposals for sex education reforms, sighs of despair should be heard across the country. "It cannot be right that one minute they are in nursery happily playing and the next they are behind a desk being taught about adult sexual behaviour," Nuttall says, missing the point completely.

Nobody is seriously suggesting sitting five years old down and showing them detailed diagrams of genitalia, complete with all of their possible uses. Not one person is with hand on heart putting forward the idea that infant school kids are shown what goes where in order to hit various erogenous zones.

Age-appropriate sex education could be something as simple as this: some families have children, while some don't. Some are made up of a man and a woman. Some are made up of two men. Some are made up of two women. Some children only have a dad, while others only have a mum. Some people are born as boys but inside are really girls. Some people are both boys and girls.

And all of this is ok.

Lo and behold, the next time the kid is out on the high street with its parent, it doesn't see it as wholly bizarre that two men walk hand in hand down the pavement. It doesn't point and question it, but it rather sees something that it's been taught about in school.

I'm frequently told that I should feel lucky not to live in the 1960s, where homosexuality was a crime. But just because I can't be imprisoned for loving the person that I do, doesn't make everything good - I might only get beaten up for it now instead, how dare I complain and not just accept the black eye and bloody nose.

I shouldn't have to order my Valentine's Day card online to be able to customise it, so that it's not one of the thousands that says 'boyfriend' that features a girl giving a boy a bunch of flowers. My partner bought me one that showed two non-gendered characters, holding hands - and was captioned 'I like it when we hold hands'.

I like it too - but we've done it three, maybe four times, in the just-over-a-year that we've been seeing each other and on one of those occasions a man crossed the street to tell us how wrong it was that we were doing that after a very quick 'peck on the lips' kiss. Funny how heterosexuals aren't told about "flaunting it for everyone to see" when they hold hands in the street, in this world where loving the opposite gender is normal and anything else is freakish.

The claim of a leaflet at UKIP's party conference that early sex education classes are a recruitment drive is worrying on two levels. The first is that it shows a deeply ingrained ignorance of how non-heterosexuality works in the horribly misguided belief that being informed about it makes people want it more. The second shows a desire to paint anyone who doesn't conform to the hetero-normative society we live in as the bad guy.

They're saying you should be wary of people who are different because they're a danger to you or your children. It stokes the fires of the ignorant who believe gays are paedophiles, anybody of a different skin colour is coming to take your job, and that women should stay at home and clean like the good little girls they are.

There's little we can do about some instances of hetero-normativity, but there's a lot we can do about others. I'm in my mid-twenties and just over a decade ago my sex education in high school had no mention of anything other than man plus woman equals baby (unless you're extra careful). There was also a bit of 'don't fuck anyone or you'll get nasty diseases' scaremongering going on there.

To leave teenagers in the dark about the nuances of sexuality is just as bad as hiding from younger kids that people are different and that there's nothing wrong with that. And it doesn't help when the likes of Russell Tovey do all they can to crowbar themselves into one of society's boxes.

It may seem like a humorous comment for a Daily Mail columnist to talk about rearranging the alphabet, but that there are important distinctions being made between Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual (LGBTQIA). Believe it or not, people aren't offended by others not knowing what's what, as long as they're respectful - and the point of age-appropriate sex education is to help bolster that understanding.

While we promote ignorance, we promote the 'norm' and nothing else. Those who don't conform to the hetero-normative layout imposed on the world aren't asking to be elevated above anybody else. They're simply asking not to be treated like shit from time to time.