The Fall of Heteronormativity. Globally.
When I was a kid, 10 years ago, homosexuality didn’t exist around me. There wasn’t any gay couple in my village, and although my mom had told me about homosexuality, I couldn’t connect it with any visual reference. I felt that I was gay, and I felt alone.
But happily, I was born with the Internet. Soon, I read on forums online stories of kids like me and it comforted me. I also bumped into gay stuff here and there — or was I looking for it? I remember Maxxie in the brilliant series Skins, this gay character in a French telenovela and the ambiguous Haku in the Naruto anime.
All in all, for 12 years, I had seen maybe five LGB people on my screens. And zero trans. For the rest, it was always straight couples, straight romance, straight guys turning into vampires… This is heteronormativity, the “system of practices, norms, and institutions which privilege, assume, and require heterosexuality,” and invisibilizes other sexualities.
Statistics vary, but it is often estimated that about 95% of the world population is heterosexual. In that sense, it makes totally sense that most love stories, main characters on anime, big crushes on series, are heterosexual ones. But could LGBT still have 5% of the representation?
Heteronormativity is the “system of practices, norms, and institutions which privilege, assume, and require heterosexuality,” (Fielding 2016) and invisibilizes other sexualities.
Of course we, LGBTQ+ people, can identify with heterosexual stories, but it’s not the same. It sounds silly to remind it, but lesbians and gays cannot procreate, we face discrimination in all societies, we’ve often had to come out or hide about being who we are… There are a lot of themes that are proper to sexual minorities and that we were not introduced to growing up. Themes that could help us accepting about our sexuality during teenagehood, themes that could also open dialogues and dig homophobia away from where it is rooted inside many young minds.
I dare say I have hopes for the kids born this decade. While ten years later there’s still not many LGBT people in my village, things are changing more quickly on the screens. Indeed, there has been a recent surge all around the world in LGBT characters and themes in movies and series.
As always, the US produced some of the biggest hits such as Moonlight (2016) and Mysterious Skin (2004), but also emblematic ongoing shows such as Queer Eye (2018-) and RuPaul’s Drag Race (2009-). Europe also produced world famous movies such as Blue Is The Warmest Color (2013), The Favorite (2018) or Call Me By Your Name (2018). There are too many good movies to mention them all. Each of these cultural productions bring in a very different take on LGBTQ+ stakes, a result of the diversity within this umbrella term.
But reducing LGBT movies to a list of Western productions would be completely wrong. The trend has also hit East Asia with for example the drama Ossan’s Love (2018) in Japan, The Handmaiden (2016) in Korea, or the Chinese/Hong-kongese movie Happy Together (1997). Let us also mention How I Felt When I Saw That Girl (2019) in India and the beautiful Georgian movie And Then We Danced (2019). Around the African continent, the Kenyan movie Rafiki (2018) or South African Inxeba-The Wound (2017) were recently released. As for Latin America, there is the Guatemalan movie José (2018), or Brazilian movies such as The Way He Looks (2014)… I’m adding a lot of hyperlinks for further digging.
All around the globe, movie directors have been claiming a visual space for LGBTQ+ characters. They are treating universal themes such as homophobia, gender norms or sexual questioning, each with their unique sensibility. Such overview makes me hope that heteronormativity is on the decline.
Maybe I’m too optimistic, as toxic norms such as patriarchy or racism are still prominent despite all the feminist waves and PoC movements. Still, I want to be that optimistic, as after all LGBTQ+ people never had as much visibility as today around the globe. Let us hope it is not merely a trend, but a threshold. Let us hope that, from now on, at least 5% of the movie production will include LGBTQ+ characters and themes.
Movie directors around the world have been deconstructing the heteronormative discourse in the past decade, creating a visual space for LGBTQ+ stakes to be discussed.
I was born and raised in a heteronormative world. I have experienced homophobia but overall, I’ve had a very happy childhood and teenagehood. Now that I’m all grown up, my personality shaped and my values settled, I wonder about what could have been if I had been raised with different norms? In a world that accepts other sexualities and gives them visibility. I wish I had lived in such an environment, but overall I also know that I’ve been lucky.
Not everyone is. It’s not a hazard if presumably 25% of American pre-teens committing suicide are LGBT youth. If more than half of the LGBTI+ kids in France report having been bullied, ridiculed or mocked at school. A number climbing up to 73% in Brasil. Homophobia remains deeply rooted all around the world. In some places it is institutionalized with laws against LGBT sexual or romantic relationship and in every country homophobia exists through violence, insults, negation…
This cinematographic overview shows, if it was necessary, that LGBTQ+ discussion is not a Western topic. Yes, Western countries have been the first to legalize same-sex marriage and American academia is leading the way in gender and queer studies, but LGBTQ+ issues belong to all of us.
Western societies tend to be more “liberal” on issues such as gender norms, abortion, sexuality, … but it does not mean that they own the discussion. The reality is more complex. Having lived 5 years in Japan, I felt way less homophobia over there than in France (my home country). And yet, a Singaporean friend I met there told me that LGBT communities were more accepted in his country… despite gay sex remaining criminalized. Besides, I’ve never seen in France such openness and diversity as I’ve seen during the carnival and the Gay Pride of São Paulo, despite Brazil being one of the most violent countries for LGBT people.
My point is: it is extremely hazardous to associate LGBTQ+ stakes with any culture. There are hundreds of millions of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, queers, asexuals, intersexes, pansexuals, demisexuals… all around the world, born the way they are and growing up in societies where the norms are utterly clashing with their sensibility. The decline of heteronormativity is a global phenomenon with unique local embodiments.
The recent boom in LGBTQ+ movies is a global liberation to discuss the diversity of the LGBTQ+ experiences. It is an unprecedented opportunity to learn from the array of international coverage on the topic. Those movies respond to each other, allowing us to decentralize our viewpoint, to deconstruct what being gay or lesbian means thanks to the diversity of perspectives.
The decline of heteronormativity is a global phenomenon with unique local embodiments.
Today’s children still live in a heteronormative world. This absolute norm that is eclipsing all other sexualities may be crumbling down, but it will probably withstand for many more decades. Today, many LGBTQ+ kids still feel alone, still face homophobia, transphobia, queerphobia, still are underrepresented on mainstream television and cinema. There is still much, much more to do until they can grow in queernormative societies, where their diversity is appreciated and respected.