Thomas Rogers: So where does the term ‘heterosexual’ come from?
Hanne Blank: Thanks to psychiatrists in the 1880s and 1890s—a part of the medical profession that was deeply unscientific at that time. It meant that somebody with a medical degree and all of the authority it brings could stand up and start making value judgments using specialized medical vocabulary and pass it off as authoritative, and basically unquestionable.
Psychiatry is responsible for creating the heterosexual in largely the same way that it is responsible for creating the various categories of sexual deviance that we are familiar with and recognize and define ourselves in opposition to. The period lasting from the late Victorian era to the first 20 or 30 years of the 20th century was a time of tremendous socioeconomic change, and people desperately wanted to give themselves a valid identity in this new world order.
One of the ways people did that was establish themselves as sexually normative. And it wasn’t the people who were running around thinking, ‘Oh, I’m a man and I like to sleep with other men, that makes me different,’ who were creating this groundswell of change; it was the other people, the men who were running around going, ‘I’m not a degenerate, I don’t want to sleep with other men, I am this thing over here that is normative and acceptable and good and not pathological and right, that’s what I am. That’s what I need people to understand about me, because I need people to understand that I am a valid person and I need to be taken seriously.’
Rogers, Thomas. “The invention of the heterosexual.” Salon. 22 Jan. 2012.