The Invention of Heterosexuality?


Thomas Rogers interviews Hanne Blank in Salon:

Blank mentions her personal story at the beginning of her provocative new history of heterosexuality, “Straight,” as a way of illustrating just how artificial our notions of “straightness” really are. In her book, Blank, a writer and historian who has written extensively about sexuality and culture, looks at the ways in which social trends and the rise of psychiatry conspired to create this new category in the late 19th and early 20th century. Along the way, she examines the changing definition of marriage, which evolved from a businesslike agreement into a romantic union centered around love, and how social Darwinist ideas shaped the divisions between gay and straight. With her eye-opening book, Blank tactfully deconstructs a facet of modern sexuality that most of us take for granted.

Salon spoke to Blank over the phone about the origins of heterosexuality, the evolution of marriage and why the rise of the “bromance” is a very good thing.

... [Salon:] As you point out in the book, for much of human history, marriage had absolutely nothing to do with sexuality or sex.

[Blank:] It’s more that marriage didn’t have a lot to do with desire. Marriage has always had to do with sex, and the ability to have marital sex and preferably procreate has always been central to marriage. But what was not so important was whether or not you necessarily wanted to have sex with that person. It was your duty, it was paying the marriage debt, and you were gonna do it, by golly, but this was a co-worker, this a partner in business enterprise — not a person you chose to satisfy your own personal whims and desires with. If you happen to also like them and think that they were swell or pretty or handsome then that’s great. But that’s not what you were in it for.

And now everything has changed, because we now prioritize attraction, desire, love, romance, over the strictly economic and community-building aspects of marriage. We live in a culture now where we find it very odd when women don’t support themselves, if somebody chooses to be a stay-at-home mother. That is a huge change, and that’s a huge change just in my lifetime. I’m in my early 40s and I know that when I was a very small child those discussions were not happening in the same way. The economic and legal enfranchisement of women has gone hand-in-hand with both women’s and men’s ability to choose marriage partners based on their own desire, desires for sex, love, companionship, all of those things, and to put that first.