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May 2013

In the United States, assumptions of heterosexuality operate as a hegemonic or taken-for-granted ideology—to be heterosexual is considered normal, to be anything else is to become suspect. The system of sexual meanings associated with heterosexism becomes normalized to such a degree that they are often unquestioned.

For example, the use of the term sexuality itself references heterosexuality as normal, natural, and normative. The ideological dimension of heterosexism is embedded in binary thinking that deems heterosexuality as normal and other sexualities as deviant. Such thinking divides sexuality into two categories, namely, “normal” and ‘deviant’ sexuality, and has great implications for understanding Black women’s sexualities.

Within assumptions of normalized heterosexuality, two important categories of ‘deviant’ sexuality emerge. First, African or Black sexuality becomes constructed as an abnormal or pathologized heterosexuality. Long-standing ideas concerning the excessive sexual appetite of people of African descent conjured up in White imaginations generate gender-specific controlling images of the Black male rapist and the Black female jezebel, and they also rely on myths of Black hypersexuality. Within assumptions of normalized heterosexuality, regardless of individual behavior, being White marks the normal category of heterosexuality. In contrast, being Black signals the wild, out-of-control hyperheterosexuality of excessive sexual appetite.

Within assumptions of normalized heterosexuality, homosexuality emerges as a second important category of “deviant” sexuality. In this case, homosexuality constitutes an abnormal sexuality that becomes pathologized as heterosexuality’s opposite. Whereas the problem of African or Black sexual deviancy is thought to lie in Black hyperheterosexuality, the problem of homosexuality lies not in an excess of heterosexual desire, but in the seeming absence of it. Women who lack interest in men as sexual partners become pathologized as ‘frigid’ if they claim heterosexuality and stigmatized as lesbians if they do not.


Patricia Hill Collins

This is from the 2nd edition of her book Black Feminist Thought - Knowledge, Consciousness and The Politics of Empowerment. Even amidst heterosexually being presented as “normal,” there are categories of deviant sexuality within heterosexuality that are ascribed upon Black bodies. Even as some heterosexuals cling to theoretical “normalcy” of heterosexuality, which is heterosexist and homophobic to do so, sexuality as Black heterosexuals is still not viewed as “normal” anyway (when juxtaposed to Whites), even as Black heterosexuals still have heterosexual privilege (when juxtaposed to LGBTQ Black people). It’s important for heterosexual Black people to stand with LGBTQ Black people, always.

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