Great Expectations: Holding Hands and Heterosexual Privilege

Privilege FlowerAs someone who has for the most part been involved in “straight” relationships (despite identifying as bisexual/pansexual), the question of heterosexual privilege is something that troubles me often. When I’ve been in relationships with women, I have without a doubt felt more “legitimate” in identifying as queer, even though I realise the problem inherent in this thought process. The pressing political need for recognition has also been more salient during these times. Turns out walking through the mall holding hands with your girlfriend garners a lot of gawking. I never experienced any danger of any kind but I have many friends who recount feeling unsafe because of their queerness in public spaces.

polyamorous quintet or just friends?

polyamorous quintet or just friends?

“Straight” hand-holding gleans no such double takes. In fact, people assume that you are coupled up even if you’re not holding hands. This is opposed to the girl-on-girl scenario wherein if you escape blatant discrimination it’s probably just because people think “hmmnn…maybe they’re just really close friends?”

The list of privileges for the straight hand-holders seems obvious (see this post from Queers United for the full gamut of heterosexual privileges to mull over). For one thing, there’s recognition of the relationship, but there’s also no real danger of encountering social-norm policing about said relationship manifesting as violence of any kind, physical or psychic.

However, the problem of the notion of heterosexual privilege is that it ascribes heterosexuality to heterosexual-seeming couples, thereby risking erasure of the queer complexities unknown about the relationship being judged. Unless you wear your kink, polyamory, bi-proclivities or otherwise on your sleeve, the man-and-woman-holding-hands scenario is going to be lumped into the category of normative heterosexuality. This point isn’t to deny that material and social privileges exist for the heterosexual-seemers, but it undoubtedly contributes to a problematic social notion that sexuality can easily be defined by the categories of straight and gay (with in-betweeners oscillating between the two poles).

The sea-monkey family: heteronormative, or queer as f***?

The sea-monkey family: heteronormative, or queer as f***?

Part of this problem is the assumed erasure of past experiences and desires in relation to the person you are currently holding hands with. How often do we hear the story of someone coming “out of the closet” after years of a “fake” heterosexual marriage? These kind of narratives reinforce the notion that desires should conform to one spectrum of the hetero-homo pole, in such a way that all temporality is reconfigured in light of one’s current sexual trajectory. That is not to say that the labels and identities that people align themselves with don’t matter – they should be respected. But next time I catch myself in some hetero-hand holding, I’ll try and remember who I was, am and might be… and in doing so resist the tempting oversimplification that happens when I see other possible dyads, triads, partners and complex kinship relations hanging out in public spaces.

5 thoughts on “Great Expectations: Holding Hands and Heterosexual Privilege

  1. My daughter just pointed me to this blog. I’d like to communicate directly with the author, who I hope will contact me directly. My coauthors and I have two large papers on hand-holding in seams-sex couples accepted for publication in the Journal of Homosexuality. If there is specific and strong interest in the topic, I could share with individuals preprints.

    Meanwhile, I was thrilled to see the subtitle, “EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT GENDER BUT WERE TOO AFRAID TO ASK” but them I typed in a ton of topics on gender in the search window and all came up blank. So I am wondering if the subtitle is just a marketing ploy or a real long term goal of the author. Can someone fill me in on that?

    • Hi Richard,
      Thanks for your interest and comments. In answer to your question, I aim to write about topics that I feel problematise ordinary notions of gender as a simple binary between man + woman. My subheading is not a marketing ploy, since I do not receive any revenue from the site. If you see any advertisements on here, they are directly from WordPress and not me. If you scroll down my home page, you’ll see that two of the main tags for all of my pieces are “feminism” and “gender”. If you click on them you’ll see the kind of articles I’m posting where I explore issues that I find relevant to gender questions. I am also working from the basis of Judith Butler (who wrote ‘Gender Trouble’ – I’ve written a few posts on her, if you’re interested) who asks, “is there a crisis of gender that is specific to queer contexts?” (GT preface 1999, p.xi).
      Obviously my blog is not in any way thorough on the topic of gender (my subheading is supposed to be witty!). But I do have a list of “top blogs” on the main page that provide different perspectives on queer and gender too. If there are specific things you’d be interested in hearing me write about let me know.

      •  Is this a valid email address?   Can one send attachments though this address?

        Yours truly,

        Richard Wassersug, PhD

        Adjunct Professor Department of Urologic Sciences University of British Columbia Gordon & Leslie Diamond Care Centre Level 6, 2775 Laurel St. Vancouver, BC V5Z 1M9, CANADA

        telephone: 604-875-4111, ext 62338 fax: 604-875-5024 cell: 604-347-5601

      • Dear Binarythis,

        I would like to send you some relevant references. Is there an email address that you could send me? Here is an example of some of the papers that would seem closely linked to your key interests:

        Che, A, I Siemens, M Fejtek & RJ Wassersug 2013 The influence of political jurisdiction, age, and sex on handholding in public by same-sex couples. J. Homosexuality, (20 ms. pp.) Accepted. April 2013.

        Che, A, I Siemens, M Fejtek & RJ Wassersug 2013 Who takes the lead hand? Correlates of handholding position in lesbian couples J. Homosexuality, (18 ms. pp.) Accepted. April, 2013.

        Wassersug, RJ, E McKenna & T Lieberman 2012 Eunuch as a gender identity after castration. Jour. Gender Studies, 21:253-270.

        Wassersug, RJ 2010 On the invisibility of the emasculated. Anthro. Today, 26:1-3.

        Wassersug, RJ 2009 Mastering emasculation. J. Clin. Oncol., 27:634-636.

        Johnson, TW.& RJ Wassersug 2010 Gender Identity Disorder Outside the Binary: When Gender Identity Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified Is Not Good Enough . Arch. Sexual Behavior 39: 597-598.

        Richard W.

  2. Ok, so first of all, I canNOT stop reading your blog! 🙂
    Secondly, I’m interested in knowing your thoughts about something like the Kinsey Scale, which, my limited understanding is that it’s fairly old, no longer in use, but basically tried to describe sexuality by scale instead of clearly defined categories?

    Also, do you see sexuality as truly scalar or more like a fuzzy set (where some areas are clearly defined, but there are no actual boundaries)?

    It would be fascinating to see how people viewed sexuality if more than two genders had evolved.

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