The content sharing website Reddit is known for many things: originating a bevy of popular internet memes, hosting massive Secret Santa exchanges, banding together to bankrupt hedge funds, and having a subreddit for just about every topic imaginable. Today, we’ll be exploring one of our favorite subreddits, r/AreTheStraightsOK, which is a community where LGBTQ+ people and allies poke fun at the toxic heteronormativity that permeates straight culture like cigarette smoke in a bowling alley carpet. Let’s take a closer look!
What Is This Subreddit All About?
Even though it’s only been around for about a year, r/AreTheStraightsOK has already amassed over 260,000 members and is constantly buzzing with posts and comments every single day. The sidebar states that the goal of the community is to “discuss and laugh at toxic heteronormativity and Boomer memes,” and describes the forum as “A subreddit for investigating whether the straights are OK. Is someone holding these poor souls hostage and forcing them to be together?” Just to give you an idea, here are a few of the most upvoted posts of all time: a comic by Kasia Babis where a wedding guest is creeped out by those hackneyed handcuff/ball-and-chain decorations that imply the bride and groom don’t even want to be together; a “Future Hooters Girl” child-size shirt that the restaurant actually sells; a Snapchat story that implies liking sunsets is gay; and a Tumblr post that calls out how “masculine” tasks like grilling, taking out the trash, and mowing the lawn are done far less often than “feminine” tasks like cooking, cleaning, and gardening.
It’s a fun space for LGBTQ+ folks to shake their heads at heterosexuals who think that hating their spouse is the pinnacle of comedy and that any slight deviation from traditional gender roles will make them catch The Gay™, but they’re not the only ones contributing to the discussion. Some straight Reddit users (at least the ones who don’t get offended and make far less popular contesting subreddits in response) have joined the community to laugh along and have even had epiphanies about their own personal biases. In this comment, Grayrains79 says, “This sub helped me realize how I was definitely NOT okay in the past. That and some of my recent stuff wasn’t as good as I’d like it to be. As a SWM [straight white man], this sub does provide a refreshingly unique look at things. Most of the time it’s just hilarious but sometimes it really makes me think.” Sometimes all it takes to impart meaningful change is a few well-placed memes, apparently!
Where Does Toxic Heteronormativity Come From?
But where did these toxic ideas even come from in the first place? Well, as it turns out, there’s an endlessly deep rabbit hole of research that attempts to explain the origin and pervasiveness of gender roles. Perhaps the most intriguing find comes from a 2012 study called “On the Origins of Gender Roles: Women and the Plough” that shows how ploughs, which required significant upper body strength to use, forced the division of labor in agrarian societies to shift toward men working outside and women working inside. It states, “… individuals, ethnicities and countries whose ancestors engaged in plough agriculture are characterized by greater gender inequality today, as well as by lower female participation in a range of activities outside the domestic sphere.” That’s… a lot to take in, but it also makes a surprising amount of sense. If this same labor structure was used for thousands of years (until the industrial revolution, at least), it would’ve seemed strange and wrong to deviate from it. Even after machines took over most manual labor, the idea stuck.
In addition to that, there’s evidence that we have America’s federally funded abstinence-only education program to thank for teaching children that traditional heterosexual marriage is the only acceptable path in life. After all, if kids are split into gender-segregated groups and told that they can only experience sex if they find one of those strange creatures in the other room and stay with them for the rest of their lives, then of course they’re going to have a skewed view of gender relations! And then when they grow up and go down that path because everyone told them to, they could be resentful and misunderstanding of their spouse and kids. This might also explain the “Future Hooters Girl”-style sexualization of children because parents expect the next generation to follow the same script that they did.
Why LGBTQ+ People (& Some Millennials) are Different
Members of the LGBTQ+ community buck traditional gender and marital norms pretty much by definition, even if we’re brought up in the same environment as our heterosexual peers. But does that mean we have healthier relationships? As a matter of fact, yes! A 12-year study by The Gottman Institute came to the conclusion that “Compared to straight couples, gay and lesbian couples use more affection and humor when they bring up a disagreement, and partners are more positive in how they receive it.” The study also found that same-sex couples value fairness and power-sharing, and are less likely to use hostile strategies, such as “belligerence, domineering, and fear” in arguments. This doesn’t mean that we’re completely immune to bigotry or stereotyping, of course. Still, it’s nice to know that LGBTQ+ relationships are scientifically proven to be generally healthier than straight ones!
Luckily, things do appear to be looking up for everyone else as well. Pew research has shown that many “Millennials” (sorry – we’re still a bit allergic to that word) have decided to get married later in life or not at all. The common belief among this age group is that a family needs to have a secure financial situation, so they’d rather work towards that goal and hope to marry one day instead of marrying early and crossing their fingers that everything works out. This also allows them more time to date and discover themselves before settling down. It might not be the magic bullet that destroys gender roles forever, but progress is progress!
We definitely encourage you to check out r/AreTheStraightsOK, not only because it’s objectively hilarious to facepalm at the antics of narrow-minded straight people, but also because you could potentially use it to help any wayward souls you know in your own life who could use a bit of perspective. If you see an older relative sharing a Boomer comic on Facebook about how marriage is a trap, perhaps you could privately ask them why they think that’s funny and explain how it’s problematic. You could send a link to the subreddit to that friend who thinks using moisturizer is gay, or to that young mom who organized a “wedding” photoshoot with her toddler and an equally young friend. Or, if you’d rather just avoid uncomfortable chats and laugh alone at the funny memes, we won’t stop you. Live your truth!