cover image Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality

Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality

Hanne Blank. Beacon, $27.95 (264p) ISBN 978-0-8070-4443-8

Framed by a discussion of her partner’s intersex condition, Blank (Virgin) explores the invention of heterosexuality as a term and norm. The concept of heterosexuality was created (along with homosexuality) in the 19th century by German researchers protesting the criminalization of same-sex relations. While the law remained unchanged, the taxonomy passed into popular use, and complemented by the theories of Krafft-Ebing and Freud, became “doxa,” what everyone knows (or believes they know). So while homosexuality has been extensively studied and debated, heterosexuality and “straight” genes have remained “amorphous and undefined” despite carrying the “monolithic aura of inevitability and authority.” A natural or biological basis for sexual orientation is commonly claimed, because it appears to be the case, even though none of the experiments performed to find a biological or genetic cause for homosexuality have yielded any evidence. From its thorough but brisk explorations of sexual orientation’s intersections with sex, gender, and romance, this illuminating study examines our presuppositions and makes a powerful, provocative argument that heterosexuality—mazy, unscientific, and new—may be merely “a particular configuration of sex and power in a particular historical moment.” (Jan.)