- The Sex that God Can’t See: Heteronormativity, Whiteness, and the Erasure of Queer Desire in Popular Media
Both heterosexuality and whiteness are everywhere and strategically invisible, universalized, naturalized, and taken for granted, seemingly formless, shapeless, and without content, and normalized to evade theoretical scrutiny and critical analysis.—Gust Yep1
I am troubled by popular culture representations of white, cisgendered women’s “choices,” and find them to be profound markers of the violence of heteronormativity. In particular, my concern here is with an institutional process of normalizing a relationship between whiteness and heternormativity in popular media. Similar to the ways in which heteronormativity both exploits and erases queer desire, representations of white women’s choices regarding their sexual practices both rely on and erase the very histories of feminist activism upon which they depend.
As Gust Yep suggests in the epigraph, sexuality and race are intrinsically linked through a process of normalization, which he refers to as, “constructing, establishing, producing, and reproducing a taken-for-granted and all-encompassing standard used to measure goodness, desirability, morality, rationality, superiority, and a host of other dominant cultural values.”2 Taking up Yep’s call to further theorize intersectionality in communication studies, I offer two examples from popular culture that champion white heteronormativity as familial ideology. In [End Page 143] these examples, I consider two operations of the ironies of Christian religious perversity: first, the institutionalization of whiteness through heteronormative family values; second, the erasure of queer desire through the discourse of women’s choices about their sexual activities.
The first example, 19 and Counting,3 was a reality TV show about a family loosely affiliated with the Quiverfull movement.4 The second example, comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates’s video, “The Loophole,”5 parodies women who choose to maintain a heteronormative idea of virginity by only engaging in anal sex with their boyfriends. Although these examples operate at opposite ends of a left/right political binary, they also share common ground—illustrating the ways that white heteronormativity intersects ideologies of familial whiteness and the erasure of queer desire.
Example I. Traditional (white, cisgendered, heteronormative, Christian) Family Values
19 and Counting was a reality television show that ran from 2008 to 2015 until The Learning Channel cancelled it because of one of the sons’ involvement in a child molestation lawsuit, including molesting some of his sisters. The show featured the Duggars, a white family with nineteen children—idealizing white heterosexual families and women as mothers and caretakers, and adding to the popular spectacle of mediated conservative Christianity.6 Although the family has vacillated on their affiliation with the Quiverfull movement, their mission to provide God with as many children as they can is a central tenet. Quiverfull is based on Psalm 127 in the Christian bible that members interpret to mean you should have a “quiver full” (like a quiver of arrows) of kids to serve as weapons for God’s holy war on evil. The Duggars add to televised representations of white, Christian heteronormative family values for the political and financial purposes of advancing a right-wing Christian agenda in the United States and internationally.7
Harrison and Rowley write, “Television representations of the Duggars—the public face of Quiverfull—are not marked by scorn or ridicule, but admiration and respect for their values, frugality, inventiveness, and determination.”8 It is of no small consequence that the Duggars are white. Ronald Reagan’s infamous demonizing of so-called “welfare queens” during the 1980s focused on women of color, and usually African American women who were single mothers, who Reagan accused of having large numbers of children so that they could receive welfare payments. Cathy J. Cohen articulated a desire for a queer politics that embraces the marginalized and resists assimilation. “For example, how would queer activists understand politically the lives of women—in particular women [End Page 144] of color—on welfare, who may fit into the category of heterosexual, but whose sexual choices are not perceived as normal, moral, or worthy of state support?”9 An absolute contradiction to the celebration of large white families, the single mother of color was the villain for conservative Christians who...