THE BLOG
10/25/2011 12:42 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

How Gay Relationships Are Blown Apart by the Misuse of 'Heteronormative'

My partner Adrian and I have been together for nine monogamous years. We celebrate the fact that we're both men, that we've found true love, and that we want to get married. We also hate the fact that, despite our best efforts, we still struggle with heteronormative constructs, which can be deadly to gay relationships. They are time bombs scheduled to explode at the exact moment one of the latent, stereotypical gender roles preprogrammed into our subconscious emerges. When they do, we are usually completely unprepared and lack the tools to handle them.

In 2009, Sean Slavin published an article in the journal Sexualities that explained "heternormative" this way:

Such practices as open relationships, casual sex with regular partners (fuck buddies), and alternative family structures distinct from sex, exist widely among gay men and various combinations often do provide a mix of sex, romance and relationship. The insistence that these things should exist in one relationship is heteronormative...

He adds that one of the primary problems heternormative constructs create is that:

gay men struggle to make meaning in their relationships using a heteronormative discourse. This suggests that gay men must continue the struggle to have their relationships recognized by the law and wider society, but they must seek recognition for the relationships they have, not the ones that are ideal or acceptable (e.g. gay marriage).

Gay men are increasingly embracing monogamy, marriage, and parenthood. Those are the relationships many of us have and that even more of us want.

Don't think that being in an open relationship makes you safe. Constantly throwing gay men who want marriage and monogamy under the bus by cavalierly labeling our relationships and aspirations for love as heteronormative is counterproductive. It demonstrates a failure to acknowledge how deeply heternormative constructs and the underlying gender roles are engrained and that they pose an ongoing threat to all gay relationships.

For example, Adrian and I had to learn how to let go of the traditional roles men are expected to play in relationships. The first few years we were together, we were constantly competing with each other and had no idea why. We later discovered it was because ideas like being the "head of household" and the "king of the castle" had been so seamlessly introduced into our minds as children that we didn't recognize them as the source of conflict between us as gay adults.

The first few heteronormative time bombs that exploded in our relationship nearly ended us. Now, Adrian and I operate under the assumption that more of these weapons are out there lurking in belief systems we thought we'd purged when we made peace with our sexuality. Not everyone has been so lucky. We all know gay men whose relationships were blown apart by some insurmountable, enigmatic obstacle. They are the guys who get a blank look on their face when talking about their ex while saying, "We loved each other. We just couldn't make it work."

I propose the reason they couldn't make it work was due to latent, malignant, heteronomative conditioning. Adrian and I are aware of the phenomenon, and we still struggle with it. With the possibility of federally recognized marriage just over the horizon, there needs to be a discourse among gay men about building successful, long-term relationships. A key component of that discussion should be developing ways to find and purge the dangerous, heternormative constructs that were emblazoned upon our delicate psyches as children.

We've failed to recognize the destruction heteronormative ideals have wreaked in the gay community, and, as a result, they've blown apart untold numbers of our relationships, broken far too many hearts, and created an army of cynical, single gay men who have forever given up on finding love.

True love does exist, but in order for it to thrive, our community has to stop hurling the word "heteronormative" around like it's a weapon and start acknowledging the fact that it is. It is a time bomb silently waiting for the most inopportune moment to destroy any hopes we might have at achieving successful, long-term monogamous (or open) relationships.