Be careful what you assume, and be careful what you consider “normal.” So sings the perpetual chorus in über-diverse San Francisco, where we like to believe we ask the obvious (and inclusive) questions that less-enlightened populations overlook. But there’s a big assumption a lot of us probably have overlooked. It involves heterosexuality. No, not that “Some people aren’t,” but rather, “It hasn’t been considered the norm — or even a thing at all — for very long.” Author, historian, and lecturer Hanne Blank breaks it down in Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality. The words “heterosexual” and “homosexual” were created in 1869 in Germany, Blank writes, as part of a legal fight over same-sex relationships. The concept was adopted by some influential thinkers (including Freud), and within several decades it became something everyone thought had just always been there. The 1934 Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Blank points out, includes a secondary definition for “heterosexual” of “normal sexuality.” Blank’s longtime companion has a condition known as Kleinfelter Syndrome, meaning he has an XXY chromosome pattern, so he’s biologically neither male (XY) nor female (XX). Based on this, she wonders early in the book, can their relationship be considered “heterosexual?” Broader inquiries follow, and Blank shows how equating hetero with normal affects our laws, cultural institutions, scientific study, artistic expression, and ideas of love and romance. Underlying it all are assumptions about others — and ourselves — that most of us have never thought to even acknowledge. Any questions?
Tue., April 24, 7 p.m., 2012