Hanne Blank: Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality, January 31, 2012

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From the Publisher's Website

Heterosexuality is not a fact of nature, it’s a nineteenth-century invention, only about as old as the traffic light.

In this surprising chronicle, historian Hanne Blank digs deep into the past of sexual orientation while simultaneously exploring its contemporary psyche. Illuminating the hidden patterns in centuries of events and trends, Blank shows how culture creates and manipulates the ways we think about and experience desire, love, and relationships between men and women. Ranging from Henry VIII to testicle transplants, Disneyland to sodomy laws, and Moby Dick to artificial insemination, the history of heterosexuality turns out to be anything but straight or narrow. With an eclectic scope and fascinating detail, Straight tells the eye-opening story of a complex and often contradictory man-made creation that is all too often assumed to be an irreducible fact of biology.

Read the Introduction to Straight on Scribd

Follow Hanne Blank on Twitter.


Green, David. "Hanne Blank on the surprisingly short history of heterosexuality". Interview. Haaretz.com, January 30, 2012.

Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2011

The author uses wisdom and wit to substantiate her contention that love and passion are not definable by biology.

Rogers, Thomas. "The Invention of the Heterosexual." Interview. Salon, January 22, 2012

The history of straightness is much shorter than you'd think. An expert explains its origins

Zuger, Abigail, M.D. "In Search of the Elusive Definition of Heterosexuality" New York Times. Science section. January 30, 2012

...One can almost hear a chorus of experts in the many sciences of sex and gender muttering that her amusing, readable synthesis is a featherweight effort, simplistic and derivative. But for those not in the field ... — readers never previously moved to reason from first principles exactly what it means to be a heterosexual or act like one — Ms. Blank darts from one intriguing, thought-provoking point to another.
...Is Ms. Blank herself a heterosexual? That question prompts the first of her looping mind games.
She has had romantic relationships with women in the past — so, no, right? Now, though, she is in a stable, long-term romantic partnership with a man (so, yes, right?). But her partner has a complicated genome, with some ordinary male XY cells and some that have an XXY pattern, giving him a softer, more stereotypically feminine aspect than usual, despite standard-issue male genitalia. And suddenly that word, “heterosexual,” becomes less than the helpful, scientifically precise term one might wish for.
In fact, it was coined in Germany only in the second half of the 19th century and was first used in English several decades later with the classical sense of “hetero” (“other, different”), making it initially a term of opprobrium. Only in the first decades of the 20th century did it settle into its present niche, cushioned with overtones of romance, pleasure, health and normalcy.
Just because there wasn’t a word, obviously, doesn’t mean the concept didn’t exist. And yet, Ms. Blank points out, for much of history it never really needed a definition.
...Scientifically, as Ms. Blank summarizes, tongue in cheek: “We don’t know much about heterosexuality. No one knows whether heterosexuality is the result of nature or nurture, caused by inaccessible subconscious developments, or just what happens when impressionable young people come under the influence of older heterosexuals.” Far more scientific firepower, in other words, has been directed at the brains, genes, hormones and general physiologic processes behind homosexual attraction, leaving heterosexuality like a silhouette, outlined only by what it is not.
...Ms. Blank points out that the standards of heterosexuality to which so many desperately aspire have largely been the work of our culture’s biggest dreamers, including the authors of 19th-century penny novels and 21st-century chick lit. Who, after all, has given us more clear-cut, universally appealing examples of suitably behaved male and female heterosexuals than Walt Disney?
Meanwhile, the annals of law are now filling with all the subtleties that Disney ignores, for people who fail to fit into a binary sex/gender system still have both children and property. Empires may rise and fall, but those eternals remain.
Ms. Blank offers the provocative solution that soon we will move on from our present fixation on the binary to a more fluid understanding.

Author Biography

Hanne Blank is a writer, historian, and public speaker whose work has been featured everywhere from Out to Penthouse. An independent scholar, she is the author of Virgin: The Untouched History and seven other books that explore the intersections of sexuality, gender, the body, and culture. She has been a visiting scholar at the Institute for Teaching and Research on Women, as well as an instructor, guest lecturer, and visiting speaker at colleges and universities, including Tufts, Brandeis, and Johns Hopkins.

Beacon Press Website Listing