Have you ever asked someone if they were “gay” (whether or not it was relevant to the conversation), then told them (without being asked) that you were straight? Why does anyone feel the need to ask others what genitalia they prefer in a partner? Shouldn’t that be a private matter? Why do so many people feel the need to strongly confirm to others that we are straight (especially given it’s a “given” most people are straight)? Two interrelated elements which complicate erasing discrimination are the normalization of heterosexuality and the ritual of confession. As discussed in the Unconscious Bias and Stereotyping page, viewing someone as belonging to a group can be loaded with potential consequences, in addition to confession being rude invasion of privacy.
Confession is the process of “outing” people or insisting that LGBTA members “out” themselves. This extremely common phenomenon in contemporary American society comes with the connotation that “gay people” are somehow not being honest by not divulging this private information to others, almost as if they are supposed to warn strangers upon first meeting them. Alternatively, heterosexuals are not as pressured to divulge details of their sexual lives to people they meet, family members, coworkers, or just about anyone, BUT they often will strongly confess they are when speaking to someone who is not. This is not that same thing as choosing to “come out of the closet”; it is socially pressuring people to confess private information to people it does not concern with potentially very real consequences once others “find out”. The irony is that LGBT individuals pressured to publically confess is said to be harmless, just for curiosity, and often followed by some version of “it doesn’t change how I think about you” when clearly there was some need to ask. If it did not matter, why do people regularly point it out, ask, or feel betrayed if the person did not volunteer the information?
The fact that as a culture, we feel the need to make LGBT individuals confess their sexualities reinforces the idea that non-heterosexuality is at least odd, if not bad. This and the fact that it is “assumed you are straight” unless there is evidence otherwise, combine to create the problem of the normalization of heterosexuality. The basic idea is that when we assume that heterosexuality is a “given” for the vast majority of people, we set LGBT individuals up to be “others”, to be “less than”, to be “different”.
But different is good right? In Western culture, we strongly value uniqueness and individual differences, but this is actually the opposite. Instead of looking at the “gay person” as unique, we lump them in with millions of others, who are all “different” with different connotations. Not that all specific connotations themselves are “bad”, simply that unconscious bias tends to lump people together, overlook uniqueness, and disenfranchise entire groups of people, one individual at a time.