Stuck in hetero-Matrix.

How does the heteronormative discourse dictate the perceptions of a relationship?

Hubert Jankowski, University of Wrocław

You probably know the Wachowski sisters’ famous trilogy. A highly talented computer hacker Neo with a little help of Morpheus and the gang finds out that reality is, in fact, an advanced computer system made to control human beings. No matter how abstract the film’s plot may sound, the reality we live in is also nothing else but Matrix.  

It may not be as technologically advanced and, unfortunately, does not allow us to avoid bullets in slow-motion. Yet, we are stuck in a system that holds individuals back from being themselves and tries to fit the society into the pre-prepared moulds. The system that gives us patterns and expects us to recreate them in every aspect, including creating and maintaining relationships.

The invisible boundaries

Such social ‘arrangements’ are based on the Judeo-Christian heritage, resulting in noticeably patriarchal and strictly heteronormative structures. Heteronormative in this instance means that these structures reduce human sexuality and gender expression to strictly heterosexual and cisgender ignoring the whole wide spectrum of sexuality and gender expressions. It is not always easily noticeable, especially for those that ‘fit in.’ They unconsciously choose the blue pill over the red one to spend their lives in blissful ignorance. Why should they care then? Luckily, we live in times when more and more people choose to swallow the (red) pill and see reality as it is. Thanks to those that decide to stop turning a blind eye, the system starts to crack. 

Although there is significantly more visibility of non-heteronormative love in the media and ongoing secularisation of everyday life, the change is very slow. In the Judeo-Christian Matrix we live in, the whole concept of a relationship is tethered by strictly binary gender roles. There is no place for improvisation, establishing one’s own rules. In a model relationship, there is a strong, survival ensuring male and a sensitive, caring female. It does not mean that there is anything wrong with making or enjoying the so-called ‘traditional’ relationships. What is wrong is the idea that everyone must fit in. The more traditional the environment, the stronger the expectations. Such a traditionalist concept of a relationship significantly limits our perception of a relationship in general, let alone same-sex relationships. 

Our factory settings

Even coming from a liberal and progressive background, it is highly impossible to escape falling into such patterns of thought. It is coded in our cultural DNA, constituting the very cornerstone of our Matrix. The traditional gender roles and the very strict concept of heterosexual romance are present in all of the holy books. We hear about it in all fairy tales. We learn about it from primers. We see it in commercials. It is not that it is the only image that is encoded in our minds, but for sure it is the most common and strongest. We experience those patterns so often that we automatically assume this is how the reality is indeed shaped, regardless of the truth being completely different. Taking this into account, the recognition of same-sex relationships within the culture itself seems like a big step. Even if it is in fact very heteronormative recognition. The visibility of non-heteronormative individuals is crucial because it is, in fact, the first step to their acceptance. LGBTQ people need to be well-represented in the media for society to see that they are just people living their lives. Doing their jobs, participating in political life and, of course, loving and being loved.

Accepting the concept of a same-sex relationship is just a first step that actually most of the societies in our cultural circle has already taken. Now, we have to deal with the fact that the burning need that comes from the core of our system and forces us to press non-heteronormative couples into heteronormative standards is simply irrational or even foolish. Actually, no couple should ever be forced into traditionalistic standards. 

To break free is to break the rules

Yet, many people still assume that there is a ‘man’ and a ‘woman’ in every relationship. And it is not about sex here, but about the socially constructed perceptions of gender - a set of qualities and duties traditionally assigned to a gender. Hence, in the ‘non-heteronormative’ relationships, partners are still expected to play according to the rules of the Matrix and adopt particular patterns of behaviour. That is why some same-sex couples continue to face irrational questions like ‘who is the man.’

The traditional heteronormative concept of a relationship and the social expectation to live up to its standards are probably some of the most destructive mechanisms that modern couples are facing. It affects how we see each other in a relationship, what we expect from our significant ones. And what is even more dangerous, how we see and what we expect from ourselves. Instead of adjusting yourselves to the relationship, tailor the relationship along with all your qualities and habits. How much happier we would be if we could lose that cultural baggage and instead of trying to recreate the cultural strictly heteronormative patterns, focus on creating our very own recipe for a healthy relationship? In the end, living in the Matrix might seem easier for many, but, in fact, accommodate just a few.