In Search of the Elusive Definition of Heterosexuality

Abigail Zuger, M.D. in The New York Times:

BookScientifically, as Ms. Blank summarizes, tongue in cheek: “We don’t know much about heterosexuality. No one knows whether heterosexuality is the result of nature or nurture, caused by inaccessible subconscious developments, or just what happens when impressionable young people come under the influence of older heterosexuals.” Far more scientific firepower, in other words, has been directed at the brains, genes, hormones and general physiologic processes behind homosexual attraction, leaving heterosexuality like a silhouette, outlined only by what it is not. Yet the great behavioral descriptionists, Alfred Kinsey and others, have made it clear that sometimes it is exactly what it is not — or, rather, it is what many feel it should not be. From same-sex adults sharing a bed (for warmth? from friendship?) in the 19th century to married men “on the down low” in the 21st, self-defined heterosexuals have routinely behaved in ways that seem to contradict the basic principles.

But who wrote those principles? Who validated them? Ms. Blank points out that the standards of heterosexuality to which so many desperately aspire have largely been the work of our culture’s biggest dreamers, including the authors of 19th-century penny novels and 21st-century chick lit. Who, after all, has given us more clear-cut, universally appealing examples of suitably behaved male and female heterosexuals than Walt Disney? Meanwhile, the annals of law are now filling with all the subtleties that Disney ignores, for people who fail to fit into a binary sex/gender system still have both children and property. Empires may rise and fall, but those eternals remain. Ms. Blank offers the provocative solution that soon we will move on from our present fixation on the binary to a more fluid understanding. “If male and female are two of a variety of sexes, and masculine and feminine two of a variety of genders, then heterosexual and homosexual are two of a variety of ways to combine them,” she notes.

More here.