(This article has been translated in Polish here.)
In spite of increasing acceptance and support for queer people, we still live in a society that affords heterosexual individuals more rights, power, and freedom.
Straight people might not consciously think about or acknowledge it, but straight privilege influences everything – from their daily lives to their career goals.
As a result, straight narratives vastly differ from queer ones. Let’s break down some of the ways that straight privilege comes into play.
1. Your Orientation Is Naturalized from Birth
One day while I was shopping, I was simultaneously repulsed and amused to find baby onesies that said things like “Ladies Man” and “Lock Up Your Daughters.”
Putting aside the obvious gross misogyny, I couldn’t believe how early people jump at the chance to shoehorn their children into heterosexual narratives.
A similar phenomenon occurs whenever baby boys smile at me in the grocery store. Their mothers will say something like “Look at how he’s flirting with you!” Ma’am, your son barely has a grasp of object permanence, so I doubt he knows what a girl is.
Heteronormativity is established before kids are even out of diapers.
Although it’s annoying and borderline creepy, it gives straight people an easy template for romance.
When a boy has a crush on a girl or vice versa, they don’t have to question why they like that person or the larger implications of liking that person. Their attraction to another gender is already anticipated and expected.
2. You Don’t Have to Come Out
Building off of #1, you don’t have to announce your heterosexuality to the world.
Very few parents are going to be surprised or angry that their child is straight. People that you’re sexually compatible with are still going to be readily available without having to confirm that you’re both straight.
And if you’re thinking, “Queer people only have to come out once! It’s just a matter of gathering up the courage and ripping off the Band-Aid!” you’re wrong. Queer people have to come out over and over again throughout their lives.
Next time you go to Thanksgiving dinner or score a date or make a friend, be grateful you don’t have to discuss and defend your sexual identity.
3. You Don’t Have to Justify Your Identity or the Legitimacy of Your Orientation
No one is going to insist that heterosexuality is just a phase. You won’t be asked to prove your straightness by rattling off your romantic or sexual history or trace it back to a particular moment in your childhood. You won’t be told to pick a side.
Heterosexuality is already legitimate in that it’s backed by centuries of sociocultural dominance and political laws.
You can move through the world with your orientation and lifestyle unquestioned.
4. Your Right to Get Married is Never Questioned
Whereas straight couples have had the right to get married just about anywhere without question since forever, up until the very recent US Supreme Court decision, same-sex marriage was only legal in 30 states. And our right to get married is still being continuously attacked.
5. You Cannot Be Fired for Your Job Because of Your Sexual Orientation
It might be unsettling to hear this in 2015, but you can still be fired for being queer in the majority of states.
6. You Don’t Have to Fear Violence Because of Your Orientation
Depending on the area, a queer person risks facing everything from street harassment to hate violence – and, yes, even the threat of being murdered – when they go out in public.
Straight couples can hold hands or kiss in public without fear of scrutiny, retaliation, or death.
7. You Don’t Have to Worry About Losing Your Family, Friends, or Financial Support as a Result of Revealing Your Sexuality
Sometimes, when a queer person decides to come out, they risk disappointing their parents or losing a friend.
In more extreme cases, parents will stop paying their child’s college tuition or kick them out of the house. In fact, 40% of homeless youth are queer and trans kids.
Sure, sexuality can create some messy situations no matter who you like, but straight kids probably aren’t going to lose the roof over their heads if they get caught with their significant other.
8. You Have Ample (And Fairly Accurate) Media Representation
Just about every form of media is positively dripping with heterosexuality. TV shows, magazines, music, film – everywhere you look, straight people are flirting or getting it on or realizing they’re meant to be.
From dewy Disney fantasies to awkward coming-of-age tales and zany romcoms, the heterosexual couple is a bedrock of our culture. In seemingly endless incarnations, straight people always manage to get their happy ending, no matter how many obstacles are in their way or how stubborn they are.
As for queer people…not so much.
It’s taken us decades to get overt representation on screen. Diversity might be increasing, but even as queer characters start to get bona fide love stories, there are still subtle codes that reinforce the implication that we’re always a little bit less than worthy of true fulfillment.
Remember that rosy coming-of-age story? Replace it with homophobic and/or religious parents, a deeply closeted lover, and a heaping helping of self-loathing. Lighthearted or nonchalant stories of sexual self-discovery are few and far between.
Gay male characters tend to fall into one of two stereotypes: the effeminate outcast who’s horribly bullied or the closeted jock whose internalized homophobia underlies a temper and a violent streak.
If you’re a lesbian, put simply, you’re always crying or dying. Writers have a nasty habit of killing them off as part of some half-assed, poorly executed social commentary – in subtext, of course!
Let’s just say I look forward to the day when every channel plays reruns of a cheesy sitcom about your average American same-sex couple and their quirky kids who get into too many shenanigans.
9. You Can Talk About Your Partner and Your Love Life without Worrying About Accidentally Outing Yourself
Whether it’s hastily changing pronouns in stories or creating fictional significant others or just avoiding the subject of dating at all costs, queer people often have to go to meticulous lengths to avoid outing themselves.
Everyone has different reasons for not wanting to be out to certain people or not wanting to be out at all. Regardless of circumstance, it can be very stressful for LGBTQIA+ folks to navigate even casual conversation with the constant fear of outing yourself to the wrong person.
Imagine not being able to speak freely about the person you love or just not being able to swap silly dating misadventure stories with your friends.
Straight people have the luxury to divulge as much information as they want about their personal lives without worrying about the reactions of their audience.
10. You Have the Opportunity to Learn About Your Privilege, Rather Than Experiencing Oppression Firsthand
It is important to understand and recognize straight privilege in order to better ally yourself with the LGBTQIA+ community and to help create a future where the institutions that perpetuate such privilege and oppression no longer have an influence.
Use your position of power to amplify the voices of those who might not otherwise be heard.
Erin Tatum is a Contributing Writer at Everyday Feminism. She’s a feminist, queer theory lover, and television enthusiast living in Pennsylvania. She is particularly interested in examining the representation of marginalized identities in media. In addition to Everyday Feminism, she’s also a weekly contributor to B*tch Flicks. Follow her on Twitter @ErinTatum91.