ACA Blog

Feb 25, 2014

The Limitations of Heteronormativity

Our society presents itself as heteronormative. The Oxford Dictionary defines heteronormativity as "a world view that promotes heterosexuality as the normal or preferred sexual orientation." As a result we are trained to assume that individuals whom we encounter are heterosexual by default. The following situation would serve as a good example: You speak to an acquaintance and during the conversation learn that the acquaintance is gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Your reaction may be "Oh" or "Hmm…" or "Oh okay" or anything that indicates that you just received an unexpected piece of information. Certainly, I am not speaking for everyone in this world; however, such responses and reactions are more common than not, particularly among individuals who identify as heterosexual.

It is fascinating to observe how my own brain works. I've been involved in the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, invisible minority, asexual, and ally) population for a while now and, as an ally, I am still no exception to the tendency to assume heterosexuality; however, I trained myself to catch my assumptions and purposefully acknowledge that an individual in front of me may not necessarily identify as gay or bisexual or, in fact, anything at all. It means that, if I inquire about the individual's private life, I would have to watch my language. In other words, I won't ask "Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife?" and instead use "partner" or "significant other."

As a counselor, I recognize that language is powerful - it can build or destroy. When working with marginalized clients, language becomes even more imperative. The LGBTQIA individuals, living in a heteronormative society, do not want to come to a counselor who unintentionally pins them down to a heteronormative box. Certainly, some clients are more resilient, but there are some who are not and who may decide to not return to another session. My basic suggestion for those who are interested in expanding their perception is to practice mindfulness in their daily lives. Review your assumptions about those whom you know and whom you've just met and ask yourself questions like, "Did I assume that this person was heterosexual?" "Did I assume that these two women in a relationship must only like women?" "Did I assume that this woman who has only been with men in the past necessarily identifies as heterosexual?" or "Did I assume that this person identifies as anything at all?" Challenging these assumptions will also help with choosing more inclusive language.

Evelyn Pavlova is a counselor and an Ally, whose preferred population is LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, invisible minority, asexual, and ally) individuals. Her areas of interest are eating disorders, mood disorders, mindfulness, and spirituality. Read more about her new counseling journey at


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  1. 4 Casey 26 Feb
    I really enjoyed this provocative article. Really got me thinking and reflecting. I am a counselor-in-training. I will have my Masters in August. I have a gay son, several gay and lesbian cousins and a transgendered nephew. I try to keep from assuming things, but need to remember this!
    Thank you so much!
  2. 3 Maya Georgieva 27 Feb
    Thank you, Evelyn for this great reminder! This is totally true for me. I am yet to overcome my heteronormativity.
  3. 2 Ahmad 18 Mar
    Hi dear Evelyn,
    I appreciate your article. It was great.
    I have studied sexology . you points to important topic. unfortunately many people engage with this problem. thank you for your attention. to this matter.
    I look forward to hearing from you.
  4. 1 Ellen 21 Aug
    Great article, but a stands for asexual/ aromantic. A better acronym is gsrm, which stands for gender, sexual, and romantic minorities. 


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