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Straight: The Surprisingly Short History Of Heterosexuality

3.74  ·  Rating Details  ·  505 Ratings  ·  107 Reviews
Like the typewriter and the light bulb, the heterosexual was invented in the 1860s and swiftly transformed Western culture. The idea of “the heterosexual” was unprecedented. After all, men and women had been having sex, marrying, building families, and sometimes even falling in love for millennia without having any special name for their emotions or acts. Yet, within half ...more
Hardcover, 228 pages
Published January 31st 2012 by Beacon Press (first published January 1st 2012)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,934)
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Nataliya
Sep 29, 2012 Nataliya rated it really liked it

Whaaat? This 228-page book of nonfiction thought-provoking accessibly-written goodness ends on page 166? With the remaining pages all being annotations and bibliography and index?


Ok, that gets the obligatory Darth Vader 'nooooooooo' out of the way, and we can safely continue without the danger of the world imploding.

I loved this book. I've bookmarked roughly a billion of quotes, and I enjoyed the discussions some of them led to in the comments to me posting them.

This book is written in a very
...more
Melodie
Feb 27, 2012 Melodie rated it really liked it
I almost never read non-fiction unless forced and this was not an exception. I wasn't expecting much when I picked up this book to read for a class but I actually enjoyed it. The title was interesting enough and the content serves as a huge eye-opener. There are so many things I learned from this book and it also made me rethink many things I thought I knew. This might be the most interesting book I've ever read for school.

This book puts romance novels in a bad light, basically accuse them of b
...more
Garrett
May 02, 2016 Garrett rated it really liked it
Insanely informative, compellingly written and exhaustively researched, Straight is one of those, "Well, I didn't know that - did YOU know that?" kind of books. Because of that, the tone is sometimes smug and lacking in subtlety, but perhaps that's what's called for here. The thesis of the book is that "heterosexuality" (and as a consequence, its oppositional characterization, homosexuality) has only really been a concept for a short period of time, and that its entire existence is based more on ...more
Nina
The fact that it took me four fucking months to finish this says a lot. Okay, there were only three days of actual reading, but still - four months. That's unprecedented.

It's not that there are any glaring flaws, or inaccuracies, or an unlikeable writing style. It's more of a pamphlet than a book, at 180 pages of writing plus 60 of bibliography and notes (I know), but it's informative and eye-opening, even though some of the information was incomplete. (Kinsey scale, anyone? Is nobody gonna ment
...more
Wei Ming
Jul 04, 2014 Wei Ming rated it really liked it
The history of sexual orientation has nearly always focussed on LGBT - the 'others', the ones outside of the mainstream and 'normal' - but as this book suggests, to have a fuller understanding of why and/or how attitudes have developed as they have today, the dominant sexuality - what is considered 'normal' - should be investigated too. Hanne Blank does so in a brilliant piece of writing - an anthropological study of heterosexuality that takes in etymology, history, psychology, social studies an ...more
Luke Strzegowski
May 19, 2012 Luke Strzegowski rated it did not like it
Not what I was hoping for. While I think a discussion of how something as fluid as sexuality became binary, with one of the options being labeled as "abnormal" would be useful, Hanne seems more interested in devoting pages to wondering how penis in vagina sex became the standard. Her flawed arguments and poor technique just got to be too much for me. Sure, maybe she's right that Viagra targets hetero couples because we've all been trained to think of erect cocks and their insertion into vaginas ...more
Marie-Therese
This isn't a "bad" book per se, but it's curiously pointless. While Blank sets out to limn the history of heterosexuality as a concept, what she really ends up doing at great length and to little new effect, is to write about the legal and social concepts of marriage (companionate and otherwise) and the cultural history of dating. None of this is fresh, none of this has not been done dozens of times before decades before, most more thoroughly and from a more deeply informed historical and/or phi ...more
Cissa
Aug 05, 2014 Cissa rated it it was amazing
This excellently written book looks into the history of "heterosexuality" as a Thing in and of itself. In so doing, Blank touches on may related issues, such as theories of male and female sexuality, the history of marriage, and many more. While I suppose these could be considered tangential, they also enrich and inform the overall points, and for me have put many things into a context of which I was previously unaware.

It is not exclusively about "straight"; in exploring how this concept came to
...more
Lindz
Sep 13, 2014 Lindz rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It was fascinating and very well-researched. She begins by pointing out that terms like "heterosexuality" weren't coined until the late 1800's. Obviously, people were living "straight" lives before that, but they didn't "identify" themselves as heterosexual - it was just "normal" for them. What does the changing term mean in terms of our assumptions and stereotypes? What does it mean for women's rights?

Overall it's a great history of marriage, feminism, and queer activism, but
...more
Lisa Feld
Dec 22, 2015 Lisa Feld rated it it was amazing
Shelves: boston
With all the stunning variety of human brains and bodies, is it really possible to tell a gay one from a straight one? Why do we tell a cancer survivor that her double mastectomy or hysterectomy doesn't make her any less of a woman, but tell a trans man that these surgeries absolutely do change his legal and social status? Why is there no term opposite of "slut" that means a woman with a socially acceptable and praiseworthy level of sexual activity? (Hint: it's not "prude.")

Blank begins with the
...more
Theresa
Jan 03, 2013 Theresa rated it did not like it
Here is what this book was missing for me:
1. Author as an expert I can trust. I love non-fiction because I believe that individuals are the experts in their own experiences. However, this book is more of a historical reference, which is fine! I knew that going in! But why should I consider this author as the expert on the topic, if she does not give me a reason to? I Googled her so that I could get some background on the woman, but I do not think I should have to reference a book to justify read
...more
Elena
Jul 10, 2012 Elena rated it really liked it
A light, quick read. Like Blank's previous cultural history, Virgin, this book is full of fascinating anecdotes, some of which you're likely to know about if you've spent much time involved in gender or sexuality studies. The book combines broad strokes of history with these anecdotes and details smoothly and readable, and like Virgin, ought to be accessible to the general reader.

Like Blank, I have been in relationships that might - or might not - be definable as heterosexual, and so I have a p
...more
Varina
Feb 15, 2012 Varina rated it really liked it
This is a very interesting, engaging, non-scholarly deconstruction of norms surrounding sexuality/sexual orientation, gender identity, love, marriage, and sex. I think focusing on the history and construction of heterosexuality, most similar histories focus on homosexuality, was an especially effective stance to get the reader to look beyond and underneath our usual cultural assumptions by focusing on the construction of that which we generally normalize. To a certain extent the author exchanged ...more
Christina Mortellaro
Sep 27, 2015 Christina Mortellaro rated it really liked it
It was really interesting to read about the history of the term "heterosexual" and its influence on how we view laws, romance, marriage, sex, etc. Using her own experience with her intersex spouse was a good framing device. However I did find myself skimming during some of the drier bits in the middle. But it was an enjoyable and short read!
Ana Maria Rînceanu
This is a goldmine of a book! It's so short and yet it has vital information that helps combat the idea that people's sexuality fit nicely in either box A or B. Biology and psychology have been telling us for years that human sexuality is more of a spectrum , but it's important to know just how and why our ancestors felt the need to start policing it.

I really like Hanne Blank's writing because it is accessible and doesn't talk down to the reader so there's no need to be shy, just give it a go.
Kemba
Apr 29, 2016 Kemba rated it it was amazing
Straight by Hanne Blank explores the boundaries of gender and sexuality, and how recently humans have been categorizing each other as sexually "normal" or "deviant". It touches not only through social boundaries and how we perceive one another, but also biological ones (such as genetically intersex people) and how these "lines" that we establish manipulate how humans see one another and determine what really is "straight". Homosexuality, pansexuality, and bisexuality are all orientations that ha ...more
Martine
Sep 21, 2014 Martine rated it liked it
Shelves: have-e-book
This book’s introduction is a thought-provoking insight into the author’s personal life and how it intersects with the topic of this book. Unfortunately, the dilemma’s broached in the introduction are not resolved in the ensuing chapters. Rather, the main body of the book describes a process of which the introduction shows its future flaws. In that way, the introduction makes the book itself seem tragically outdated. After that introduction, I wanted to look forward, philosophise about better de ...more
Jessica
Aug 19, 2015 Jessica rated it liked it
ok, but could have used much more editing to keep it more on topic. a lot of these topics have been covered better elsewhere (e.g. Stephanie Coontz on marriage) so I felt most of this book was redundant or rambling.
Kamau Rashid
Dec 21, 2012 Kamau Rashid rated it really liked it
This book offers an interesting history of the concept of heterosexuality in the West. Its very instructive of the socially-constructed nature of marriage, love, eroticism, legitimacy, science, religion, and policy.
Chelsea
Sep 17, 2015 Chelsea rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015, nonfiction
Interesting read, but nothing too groundbreaking. If you are one of those people that are annoyed by all the new words coming out of the LGBT* community (pansexual, heteroflexible, etc.) then you might want to try giving this book a read. It does make you reconsider the validity of the black and white gender/sex system that has been in place for so long. There's a whole spectrum of possibilities and variations between "male" and "female." I feel lucky that we're living in a time where these ques ...more
Jhinoakland
Jun 17, 2014 Jhinoakland rated it it was amazing
Shelves:
I'm not someone who has to be convinced of Hanne's central thesis - I teach workshops on similar topics myself. So there are no surprises there. But, even as a longtime fan, I continue to be surprised and delighted by the crisp intelligence of her writing. Straight is erudite but not stuffy, knowledgeable but refreshingly free of academic-speak, objective but with enough personal insight to keep us aware of the author's (and, by extension, many other people's) stake in the material. I will add t ...more
Charlotte
Jan 01, 2016 Charlotte rated it really liked it
Shelves: theorie
Hanne Blank starts off with a deceptively simple question: am I in a straight relationship? Not as easy to determine as people would think, as her partner has an XXY chromosome.

What follows is a search through history for the meaning of heterosexuality. Mostly, heterosexual is what homosexual isn't. But what either of those really are, changes throughout history and (Western) culture.

Most interesting is the way that (the perceived notion of) heterosexuality has influenced, well, everything, fro
...more
Christie
Jul 18, 2015 Christie rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Trying to do some quick and dirty reviews since I am in the process of moving.

Quick synopsis: How did heterosexuality become the norm by which all other sexualities are measured? How did the heterosexuality that we know and love today develop? How do we define people who don't fall into the heterosexuality or homosexuality boxes? Hanne Blank offers answers to these and other questions in her book.

The good: Lots of interesting questions to ponder, especially from the author's own personal life, h
...more
Evalangui
The title of this book might mislead you into thinking its subject is narrow, nothing further from the truth! Black analyses the history of human perception from the perspective of heterosexual love, both the old fashioned version centered in reproduction and the lattest romantic fashions, passing through the effects of the sexual liberation movement and lifechanging scientific advances like contraception. But in the meantime she analyses the changing perspectives regarding life in general in th ...more
Audrephilia
Mar 14, 2014 Audrephilia rated it liked it
This book is more for someone who hasn't already read tons of nonfiction regarding human sexuality, sexual identity, gender identity, etc. I'm always submerged in this and I know it, believe it, and teach it: It's extremely subjective and nothing "means" anything. The book plays with concepts of sexuality that are entirely forged by social constructs, namely heterosexuality. I think my disappointment with this is that I'm already informed about its thesis and basic supportive arguments but also ...more
Johnnie Gray
May 05, 2012 Johnnie Gray rated it really liked it
Straight is a scholarly examination of how the term “heterosexuality” came to be, how it is used and how it has come to be the norm. Easily read and engaging, the book takes you along several avenues including dating, the sexual revolution, genetics and of course, love and marriage. Historical beginnings of marriage and of dating, lend themselves to how the book establishes doxa, or a common belief held. This doxa created the idea that a man and woman are acceptable in marriage because their uni ...more
Jean Roberta
Feb 11, 2013 Jean Roberta rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Sarah
Mar 02, 2013 Sarah rated it really liked it
Men and women! Boys and girls! Getting it on! What's so hard about that?

As it turns out, kind of a lot.

If you consider yourself unquestionably heterosexual, you would benefit from reading this book simply because if you think about it, you've probably never questioned what the concept of heterosexuality entails.

For example, what is the purpose of marriage? What is its ideal form? How do you find a mate? What is the purpose of sex? How should sex be done? You might have an answer to all these que
...more
Miki Habryn
Jan 23, 2014 Miki Habryn rated it liked it
The book opens with an interesting conceit, being that heterosexuality is taxonomically unusual in the sense that the norm is not often named. Unfortunately, after sketching out that argument, the remainder of the book through most of the final chapter is a recounting of the history of relationships, marriage, feminism and sexuality, with few critical inferences drawn to the titular theme. The subjects and the treatment of them are fine, but the writing is academic and dry enough that, despite g ...more
Jenny
Sep 13, 2013 Jenny rated it really liked it
Very good book, ought to be widely read, it's a topic central to everyone's lives and it isn't interrogated often enough. A real pleasure to read by an excellent writer. I very much liked adding the word "doxa" to my vocabulary. For example, in reference to some feminist critiques of heterosexuality: "(...)such uncompromising critiques did pierce the extremely durable armor of the doxa of romantic love."

Final paragraph:
"Heterosexuality seems to be bigger than we are, independent, more powerful.
...more
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Hanne Blank is a writer and historian.
Periodicals which have featured her work include Penthouse, In These Times, Southwest Art, Lilith, Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, the Baltimore CityPaper, the Boston Phoenix, Santa Fean Magazine, and others. Her short fiction and essays are frequently anthologized.

Ms. Blank's work has been reviewed in The New York Times, The Chicago Sun-Times, The W
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More about Hanne Blank...

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“We don't just want what we want because we want it; we want what we want because that's what we've learned to want.” 7 likes
“The models we have, and the standards we are expected to maintain, come to us via heterosexuality as a normative state. Heterosexuality--whatever the current version of that concept happens to be--is unremarkable because it is the standard by which everything else is measured. That is heterosexual privilege.” 6 likes
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