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ARTS

Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality

A new book explores the way that test-tube babies, "Disney damage" and advances in genetic research are redefining human sexuality

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The self-identification of small numbers of sexually non-normative individuals was not something that generated a sensibility of "the heterosexual" or "the normal-sexual" in the rest of the population. What generated this sensibility in the mainstream was the increasingly common experience of looking in the mirror to see if a deviant or degenerate looked back.

Though Straight may at first seem dense, it is worth the effort it takes to get to the juicy stuff. Blank discusses everything from Disney's harmful representation of the prince coming along to save his princess – "Disney damage," as she and her friends call it – to the complications sex-assignment surgery and test-tube babies are creating in the search to define ourselves sexually. When marriage is not required for children, and neither are two members of opposite sexes, what does that mean for how we view the roles of the male and the female, and the ways in which they interact?

Because heterosexuality is presumed "normal," it often escapes the sort of examination to which homosexuality is subjected. Blank discusses all manner of social and scientific studies conducted to find a biological "cause" for homosexuality, a "gene" that may make one predisposed to such an abnormal state of being. But with Straight, Blank calls the accepted state into question, and in doing so undermines its relevance. In referring to a tiff with a doctor about pronoun usage, Blank writes:

The simple fact is that no sexuality is as simple as my doctor wanted to make it. Neither is the language we use to talk about it. … [S]exuality is a complicated alchemy that mixes biology, gender relations, hierarchy, resources, and power. "Heterosexual" and "homosexual" were, on one level, nothing more than a smart man's attempt to use language to redefine the terms of a particularly nasty game of Us vs. Them.

Straight comes at an opportune time, as the nation struggles to define marriage and the rights of those who identify as anything other than classically straight. Blank ultimately concludes that heterosexuality is a concept invented by society, and society thus has the power to redefine it. Both supporters and opponents of the gay rights movement would do well to read this book with an open mind; Blank's words bring some sober clarity to a battle that often feels vitriolic and rooted in uninformed prejudice.

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