The social differences and inequality effects of living in a heteronormative society for gender and sexually diverse people in Aotearoa New Zealand can lead to serious consequences for those who are not heteronormative. These consequences range from mental health issues, exclusion, discrimination, lack of health benefits and sometimes suicide.
Heteronormativity is a term used to describe the way gender and sex are used to systematically arrange people within our society.
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Heteronormativity is the belief that being heterosexual and having a sexual attraction to the opposite sex is the only accepted standard or norm. Anyone that is not viewed as heteronormative by society may be viewed negatively and they may be oppressed, excluded, ignored and discriminated against.
Heteronormative belief places people who are straight into a more socially accepted group, a more conventional group. Members of this group, according to their anatomy at birth, are either male or female. Depending if they are male or female, a heteronormative belief suggests that they should display characteristics that match those of which the gender they were born.
Males need to be masculine, macho and hard, displaying certain characterises, behaviours and roles that are associated with boys and men. A female needs to be feminine, girly and sensitive, displaying certain characteristics, behaviours and roles that are associated with girls and women.
Examples of these types of behaviours are boys play with trucks and wear blue, and girls play with dolls and wear pink. Men work 9-5 jobs and bring in the weekly pay check, and women stay home to keep the house in order, having dinner on the table by the time her husband gets home.
According to Stevens (2013) a heteronormative belief suggests that Men and Women should only marry each other, anything outside of this pattern, for example, a man marrying another man, is viewed as abnormal.
We live in heteronormative patriarchy strong society, where men dominate over women. According to Holmes (2013) patriarchy is a useful concept in understanding gender inequalities and differences. Heteronormative patriarchy is a term used when discussing how our male dominated society discriminates or oppresses anyone who is not living a heteronormative lifestyle. Because society is so firm in their beliefs in what they view as right and wrong, there is always going to be conflicts, discrimination and disagreements.
Suicide and Mental health issues play an important role when it comes to living within a culture that’s not quite willing to accept people for who they say they are. According to a study done in 2012, New Zealand’s transgender youth community experiences issues with high rates of mental health and suicide.
A study done on 8,500 transgender secondary school students showed that approximately 40% had depressive symptoms and nearly half had self-harmed in the previous 12 months. What was even more disturbing is that one in five had attempted suicide in the last year. 40% had not been able to access general healthcare when they needed it and nearly one in five students had experienced frequent bullying at school.
In 2017, University psychology lecturer Dr. Jaimie Veale who studies transgender discrimination was awarded $238,000 to reveal the extent of how much New Zealand’s transgender people experience discrimination and barriers to healthcare. She has been able to explore the extent to which healthcare and social support, including family, transgender community, and the wider community support transgender from feeling and being discriminated against.
Dr. Jaime Veale believes New Zealand can better its access to mental health services and proper health care for the transgender community. She believes that to help the transgender community feel safe, She states that we must better our support, change our policies in our schools and also better the services available to family and friends of transgender youth. She states this is a vital way forward in helping our youth to feel safe and loved.
Even though there were positive changes with the 1986 Homosexual Law Reform and the Humans Rights Act 1993 making it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation, its hasn’t stopped the multitude of discrimination that goes on against anyone who is not living a heteronormative lifestyle within New Zealand.
A recent example of what it’s like to be discriminated against, living as a transgender woman in contemporary New Zealand came in the form of something so simple, joining the gym. An article written by Felix Desmarais, explained how transgender women Penelopy Mansell tried to join a women’s only gym in Wellington, New Zealand.
Mansell stated that the staff were very rude, asking her if she was transgender and if she had had the reassignment operation. According to Mansell, the women’s only gym said its policy was to only to allow transgender women who have had gender reassignment surgery to join.
Following this discussion, Mansell showed them her birth certificate, which confirmed her gender as female. Mansell stated that the fact she must carry her birth certificate around all the time goes to show just how our government fails to protect the rights of the transgender community.
According to Mansell, ten years ago, the Human Rights Commission released a report called “To be who I am”, about the lives of transgender people. The report contained five recommendations. Two of those recommendations called for protection and inclusion for transgender and intersex New Zealanders. It called on the government to make room for transgender people. To stop discrimination against them within every social environment and to protect them the same way the heteronormative society was protected.
Mansell felt strongly that the transgender community shouldn’t need to struggle to receive adequate healthcare or go to a gym that aligns with their gender. Mansell felt that the recommendations of the “To be who I am” needed to be implemented in today’s New Zealand society or discrimination will keep happening. In a sense, she felt that the government was enabling such behaviours because of the failure for them to act now. (Desmarais, 2018)
Stevens (2013) points out that different societies have shown different levels of tolerance and intolerance to different forms of sexual expression over time. We can see how this effects the transgender community by just looking at what has been done over the last thirty years.
New Zealand passed the bill on the Homosexual Law Reform Act in 1986, allowing men to have consensual sexual relations without being prosecuted. The Human Rights Act 1993 stated that every human being within New Zealand is too be treated equally. It stated that New Zealanders would be protected against any form of discrimination. Another huge milestone came in 2013 when a bill was passed to allow same-sex marriage.
These examples show some serious thoughts and actions from the New Zealand government. It is obvious on paper that change has happened and even though the New Zealand Government has implemented change on paper work, change will only happen within our community if the government upholds their promises. Our non-heteronormative community face daily discrimination, barriers to accessing mental health and general health help on a daily basis. The effects of living in a Heteronormative New Zealand can and will continuously be detrimental to our LBQA community if they don’t get the support they need.