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By Bellesa Team

Comphet is shorthand for “compulsory heterosexuality,” the enforced belief that heterosexuality — the sexual attraction and relational coupling between a woman and a man — is the preferred and accepted norm for human attraction and desire. 

As a term, compulsory heterosexuality was first coined and made popular by poet and essayist Adrienne Rich in “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” (1980) where she used it to compare the experiences of lesbians – women who feel same-sex attraction – to society at large. She argued that heterosexuality is not a universally innate inclination, but a sociopolitical institution imposed upon women as a means of further restricting their agency in a patriarchal and heteronormative society. 

Compulsory Heterosexuality in a Heteronormative World 

As concepts, compulsory heterosexuality and heteronormativity go hand in hand. The heteronormative ideology presupposes a binary wherein there are only two exclusively defined sexes that exist as each other's biological and gender opposites. In fact, there is no distinction make between sex and gender under this system. Male and female genitals and gender identities are considered synonymous, and romantic sexual relationships, ultimately leading to monogamous marriages, are intended to be formed between opposite sex pairings.

Through this lens, compulsory heterosexuality claims that people are innately and only sexually attracted to the opposite sex due to a naturally predisposed biological imperative, thus negating or fully denying the existence of any queer inclinations and identities with regards to sexual desire. Any homosexual urges are thereby considered a conscious choice to go against one’s nature. In that same line, choosing to indulge in these impulses are merely a revolt stemming from resentment towards the heterosexual men who hold the power in a patriarchal society.

Comphet Implications on the LGBTQ+ Community 

While Rich’s theory homed in on the lesbian experience rather than the entire queer umbrella, and it did not make room for consideration of trans people, the term has since been adopted to illustrate and include the experiences of the entire LGBTQ+ community, including gay, bisexual, asexual folks, as well as trans and non-binary people (i.e. anyone who doesn’t adhere to the cis-heteronormative binary structure).

Compulsory heterosexuality nullifies the existence of queer sexual and romantic attraction, chalking these phenomena up to matters of conscious preference or deliberate revolt against the heteronormative status quo. The ramifications of this large scale erasure of LGBTQ+ identities are numerous, including: street and online harassment, disownment from their families, enforced “gay conversion therapy”, employment and housing discrimination, higher rates of mental health issues, suicide, and homelessness, and generalized fear or confusion about their identity. In some countries, their very existence is criminalized.

The Comphet Concept of Choice

This belief system reinforces the idea that one’s sexual orientation is a choice, while only offering the one option to choose from: to conform to the accepted social standard of monogamous sexual, romantic relationships between men and women. 

Anything else is therefore considered deviant and depraved, and anyone who chooses one such lifestyle found to be out of alignment with the dominant heteronormative ideal is deemed abhorrent or immoral. Until 1973, the American Psychology Association considered homosexuality a mental illness.

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