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Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Hetrosexuality Hardcover – Jan 31 2012

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 9 reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Life changing work March 26 2012
By Jeremy Colton - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm putting this book on my very short list of works, including "The Selfish Gene" The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition--with a new Introduction by the Author, Davies' "Deptford" Trilogy The Deptford Trilogy, and "The Nurture Assumption" The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, Revised and Updated, that have fundamentally changed the way I view the world. It really doesn't matter whether one agrees completely with Blank or not as to the historical reason the term and concept came into our culture; those are interesting opinions. The incontrovertible fact is that "heterosexual" has a specific meaning, a meaning that changes over time, and a meaning that impacts ones understanding of all other aspects of gender and sex identity. The life-changing aspect of this book is, in other words, not so much Blanks specific explanation of what heterosexuality is and means but rather the underlying concept that its meaning is not self-obvious and is important to understand. From this point of view Blank's ideas become data in a personal analysis of an entire area of thought that had never occurred to me before.

Another reviewer likens "Heterosexual" to post-modern "everything is a social construct" fallacy. I think seeing it that way completely misses the point. Of course who I am sexually is a physical reality, founded in my genes, my gestation, and my life experience. Who I actually am is not a construct but a reality. But the name given to that reality IS a social construct. Who falls under this umbrella, and who does not? I often call myself bisexual, for want of a better term, but never felt it is particularly accurate. Reading this book has led me to coin a new term, "NH", or "Not Heterosexual", which has some of it's own baggage but is perhaps a little more accurate. How many books will ever cause someone to redefine his own sexual orientation?

Here's the reason I recommend this book to everyone: if you and your brother are monozygotic twins, and share the same sexual orientation, the reality of your own sexuality is still different from his. Your husband's sexuality is substantially different from that of your college boyfriend, even if they both self identify as "straight". Considering these facts will, I think, give anyone reading it a deeper understanding of themselves. For anyone who, like myself, is not (to use the APA term) "gender-normative" [...], or who is close to someone like me, I consider it essential reading.
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
An excellent argument from a fine, cutting edge author Feb. 12 2012
By A Careful Reader - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Since I devoured her pioneering book on virginity, Hanne Blank has always been a writer that I seek out to unpack unpopular norms and concepts about the cultural traditions that we take for granted. This investigation of the making of heterosexuality does indeed unearth the short history of straightness and while this history isn't surprising to me, it's certainly freshly, deeply, persuasively and eloquently argued by Hanne Blank. Well done!
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Verbose and off-topic July 23 2012
By K. Tucker - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
From my perspective, though much of the material is fairly interesting, I find the book to be overly verbose and repetitive. I feel it also runs far afield of its stated topic. Much is about the stereotypical relationships that have existed over the years between men and women, but little about historical sexuality that would support the concept of heterosexuality as an artificial construct.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Inventing "Normal" June 18 2013
By Jean Roberta - Published on
Format: Paperback
This new look at sexual orientation by the erudite and versatile Hanne Blank is not the first of its kind. Blank acknowledges her debt to Jonathan Katz' The Invention of Heterosexuality as a forerunner of this study. However, the evidence that "heterosexuality" was invented, not discovered--and quite recently at that--bears repeating. As Blank points out, if "the attribute we now call `heterosexuality' were a prerequisite for people to engage in sex acts or to procreate, chances are excellent that we would not have waited until the late nineteenth century to figure out that it was there."

It is Blank's contention that the parallel terms "heterosexual" and "homosexual" were coined, not in a scientific or medical context, as is generally assumed today, but in a quasi-legal context. To be "homosexual" was to have a particular sexual identity. When used by opponents of a drastic German law that criminalized sexual "deviance" in 1851, the term implied that legally persecuting "homosexuals" was irrational, since they were not sinners (as under earlier canon law) but were simply expressing unusual desires that were natural for them. Although Blank is not the first historian to discuss the development of the concept of sexual orientation, her explanation of the social context is intriguing. As she shows, medieval Christian definitions of sexual sin (non-reproductive or non-marital sex) had a great influence on later conceptions of "abnormal" erotic attraction, which could only be understood in contrast with the "normal" kind.

Richard von Kraft-Ebbing's 1890 book, Psychopathia Sexualis, aimed to be a scientific study of abnormal expressions of sexual behavior, ones that generally appeared in cities, where they were harder to control than in insular villages. He used the terms "normal-sexual" and "heterosexual" (attracted to those who are different from oneself) almost interchangeably, in contrast to the various types of sexual deviance he sought to define.
However, the concept of a "heterosexual" as a person who wants to mate exclusively with a member of the opposite sex didn't solidify until the 1920's.

In a series of chronological chapters, Blank explores the rise of psychology and its influence on changing models of "normal" personal development, and the emergence of heterosexual marriage as the sole expression of sexual maturity. While traditional marriage--in medieval times, for example -- was an economic arrangement controlled by the husband and sanctioned by religious vows, the 19th century discovered "romantic" marriage with its symbiotic gender roles and notions of personal compatibility as prerequisites for a healthy marriage--one that could properly nurture the next generation.

Blank's study is bracketed by a personal plea for a recognition of more sexual complexity than Kraft-Ebbing could have imagined: "My p
artner was diagnosed male at birth because he was born with, and indeed still has, a fully functioning penis." She goes on to explain: "Indeed, of the two sex chromosomes--XY--which would be found in the genes of a typical male, and XX, which is the hallmark of the genetically typical female--my partner's DNA has all three: XXY, a pattern that is simultaneously male, female and neither." Given her partner's ambiguous gender identity, it follows that Blank's own sexual orientation is ambiguous. While they seem to enjoy an enviably close and long-lasting relationship, the question arises whether they are a "straight" couple in some sense and, if not, how their sexuality should be defined.

Hanne Blank is an engaging writer, and her personal stake in the subject makes her analysis both interesting and immediate. This book is a useful addition to a general opening up of binary conceptions of sex and gender that seems to be happening in our society.
Haven't read this book yet... June 30 2014
By Kenneth Huey - Published on
Format: Paperback
...but I have to say it would be nice if Amazon did it the rather small favor of spelling its title correctly.