Pin It
Netflix’s Love Is Blind
Love Is BlindVia IMDb

Straight people are not OK – the rise of heteropessimism

With Love Is Blind and Love Island dominating our viewing, it’s becoming blindingly obvious that major aspects of straight culture are downright nonsensical

If you’ve been anywhere on the internet recently, you’ll likely have seen reference to Love Is Blind, the WTF Netflix reality show with an ableist title asking a bunch of cis-hets (and one maligned bisexual) whether they can fall in love with someone without ever seeing them first. Using quasi-scientific terminology throughout – something which has the uncanny effect of making the whole thing sound like it’s about a cult – the ‘experiment’ begins with a brief courtship period in specially designed ‘pods’, and culminates with weddings 28 days later. Cue: hasty proposals, a dog being force-fed wine, mummy issues and – spoiler alert – multiple people being rejected at the altar. 

It’s a lot, to say the least, and it makes us seriously pause and consider what all that cultural messaging about ‘soul mates’, ‘happily ever afters’, and 2.5 kids does to your brain. Queer people might grow up without a lot of role models or relationship guidance, but at least that means we don’t think our problems will magically resolve themselves once we find someone to walk down the aisle with. Confronted with the kind of foolishness epitomised by Love Is Blind, we can’t help but ask, with a genuine note of concern: are the hets OK?!

Growing ever more desperate in its execution, we’re coming to realise that a lot of straight culture is downright nonsensical. Keeping within the realm of dating shows, the dearth of basic human warmth on this season of Love Island laid bare a skeleton of ritualised ‘couplings’ and infantile ‘challenges’ (see: throwing pies in one another’s faces) that mimic the IRL institutions and ceremonies that work to legitimise heterosexuality. Meanwhile, queer culture – specifically coming from queer people of colour – has set today’s cultural agenda (albeit often through its appropriation): think drag, electronic music, and being good at Twitter. Cis-heterosexuality is lagging behind.

Cathy Keen, the community and events manager for Feeld (an app used by people interested in polyamory, kink, and alternative sexual preferences), says that, according to Feeld stats, there has been a sizeable decrease in the amount of straight-identifying people using the app, with a simultaneous rise in “heteroflexible” people. “Since January 2018, the amount of Feeld members identifying as ‘straight’ has dropped by 14 per cent, and the amount of members identifying as ‘heteroflexible’ has risen by 17 per cent,” Keen tells Dazed. “We are still looking into what is behind this interesting shift,” she continues. “However, while conducting one-to-one interviews with a small group of members, our research team discovered that some prefer not to use the word ‘straight’ to define their sexuality because it feels limited.”

This is something that queer theorist, and author of the seminal work, In A Queer Time And Place, Jack Halberstam echoes. “In large cities in the US and places in western Europe, people on the left are really willing to rethink their engagement with sex and gender normativity,” Halberstam notes. Rejecting some of the hostility around the term, he views heteroflexibility as a genuine sign of progress. “I don’t see it as some kind of fashionable ‘selling out’,” he says. “I think real work is being done there, and it’s linked a bit to some of the movements around exposing sexual harassment.”

“I do think there’s an ethical imperative to believe that the form of straight culture that exists right now could be changed. It’s harming and killing a lot of people – most of them women” – Indiana Seresin

In other words, #MeToo demonstrates that, in Halberstam’s words, “people have had it, we’re sick of it – we’re sick of women having to revolve around men”. He continues: “There’s a critique of heterosexuality becoming available, finally, so that young women can see there’s something beyond getting married, having babies, getting divorced in your forties, and having to date the 70-year-olds.”

That’s not to say that every straight woman is contemplating becoming a political lesbian, which is in itself a pretty flawed idea, and not a way to bypass misogyny. Rather, now there’s greater awareness of the extent of cis-het men’s abusive behaviour, there’s a cultural rethink of wider narratives around straight relationships. Since #MeToo, it’s impossible not to cringe while rewatching romantic films made pre-2005 – from the workplace sexual harassment in Bridget Jones’s Diary to the emotional manipulation in The Notebook. This is no doubt why Netflix show You hit the zeitgeist; its softboy-cum-murderous-sociopath protagonist Joe is the uncanny embodiment of every chick lit ‘nice guy’ that would actually be pretty dangerous IRL. 

As more and more people are second-guessing heterosexuality, they’re increasingly open to alternatives. Beyond clinging to political queer identities that have emerged post-Stonewall, in the west at least, there’s seemingly more of an attitude that you fancy whoever you fancy – gender and labels don’t necessarily have to factor in, as evidenced by research that has found that the numbers of people identifying as heterosexual in Britain are falling, particularly among younger people. As traditional notions of heterosexuality are being phased out, they’re becoming a source of critique, both within and out of the queer community. See the meme accounts devoted to the stupidity of heterosexual conventions – from ‘ball and chain’ jokes to willful ignorance about the female orgasm

In October 2019, writer and academic Indiana Seresin wrote a viral article for The New Inquiry outlining ‘heteropessimism’ – a term describing these kinds of performative online critiques of heterosexuality, but with a specific emphasis on the straight women who share and partake in them too. Placing its focus on the incompetence and toxicity of cis-het men, Seresin suggests that the online discussion of this nature denies the possibility that straight culture could ever redeem itself. For all of us out there waiting for the queer utopia to arrive on the horizon, we’re probably hoping that heterosexuality finally does die out, but the truth is that some women will continue being attracted to some men and vice versa, until the end of the human race. To pretend otherwise is not just unrealistic but pretty biphobic if you think about it. 

Speaking to Dazed, Seresin explains that just because cis-heterosexuality is being portrayed as a prison now, she doesn’t believe it always will be. “The versions of straight culture that exist right now are historically and culturally specific, which means they will inevitably change.” Yet she also wants to emphasise that something should be done to address some of straight culture’s most dangerous elementss; in particular, her essay foregrounds the issues of possessive jealousy, domestic violence (which is also an issue in queer relationships), and the overlap between cis men who abuse their female partners and cis men who commit mass shootings. “I do think there’s an ethical imperative to believe that the form of straight culture that exists right now could be changed,” Seresin says. “It’s harming and killing a lot of people – most of them women.”

For queer people, it can feel empowering to laugh at straight culture; be that Love Is Blind, Love IslandMarried At First Sight, or ridiculous romcoms – it’s a way of reminding ourselves that if we were straight, our lives might be easier, yes, but we might also end up married to someone who wouldn’t ever try to make us cum. For people who primarily identify as straight, getting in on critiques of cis-heterosexuality could well be a performative distancing tactic, like Seresin suggests, but it could also be a way of normalising a critique of straight culture from within straight culture.

Realistically, if anyone’s ever going to eradicate some of the toxic bits of cis-heterosexuality, it’s going to have to be the str8s themselves. They’ve already leeched off enough of queer culture and thought; they need to be transparent about how they benefit from straight culture, and more critical of the ways that cis-heterosexuality can enforce gender roles or contribute to compulsory monogamy. Joking that their heterosexuality is an affliction can be funny, sure, but it’s only worthwhile alongside some more engaged analysis. 

As we head towards a future where we can date and fuck whoever we please, heterosexual relationships will still exist – the goal is not to stop men and women from getting together, it’s to make cis-heterosexuality a lot more kind to all who partake in it, as well as those who are punished for falling outside of its parameters. So no, the hets are not alright, but in the future they might be.