What Does Comphet Mean? Compulsory Heterosexuality Defined & How To Figure Out If You Actually Like Men

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What Does Comphet Mean? Compulsory Heterosexuality Defined & How To Figure Out If You Actually Like Men
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Adrienne Rich, feminist poet and essayist, famously argued that heterosexuality is not so much “natural,” but a political institution many cultures and society impose onto women as a form of disempowerment. Rich, through this logic, coins the term “compulsory heterosexuality,” or comphet.

What does comphet mean? 

The term succinctly explains the role sexuality plays in a woman’s life: because heterosexual marriage has been socially required of women, and is tied so deeply to what womanhood even means, many gay women often trick themselves into believing they are attracted to men as a form of survival, and this form of repression can take years to dismantle. 

This not to discount attraction to cis men, or tell women attracted to men that they are deluded, or even that all gay women cannot be attracted to men.

Rich coins the term simply as a way for heterosexual women to rethink how they imagine feminism, and to bring lesbianism into the discussion surrounding equal rights. 

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But, the term still illuminates a number of women who use compulsory heterosexuality to justify their attraction to men or use it to cling to normalcy defined by patriarchal standards. 

This has been said before, but all genders have, at one point, had to understand their sexuality in conjunction with cis men.

However, there is something insidious at how accepted this fact is: it is so obvious that in many ways we overlook how pervasive it is in every aspect of our society. 

Compulsory heterosexuality and heteronormativity (i.e. believing straight is the norm) are very similar to each other, except that compulsory heterosexuality looks more closely at how internalized misogyny affects our own relationships with our sexuality. 

Compulsory heterosexuality is another reason why lesbianism might seem scary to many women because currently, our society frames it as the absence of men. By seeing attraction to men as an institution, it asks us to rethink a fundamental part of how our society functions. 

So if you are questioning your attraction to men, here are four ways in which compulsory heterosexuality might manifest in your dating life: 

1. Having a checklist of attractive qualities.

Deciding which guys to be attracted to — not to date, but be attracted to — based on how well they match a checklist of what you have been told are attractive qualities is a key comphet feature.

While this may be mistaken with “having standards” or “having a type,” there is a big difference between finding and grouping common traits in all the guys you find attractive, and then having a nearly clinical list of criteria every guy must meet for you to be attracted to him. 

Even though this does not necessarily need to be true to be comphet, oftentimes the checklist you create is heavily influenced by what your friends have told you are attractive traits. The checklist also might intentionally be hard to meet, so you can push off the possibility of meeting an eligible guy. 

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2. Finding validation in male attention.

You like it when men notice how attractive you are, not because you want him to want you but because you like the moment of attention and validation that comes with your attractiveness 

People like attention, this is a simple fact. But when it comes from a man who is well-liked at your school or well-respected at work, the validation becomes a status symbol, confirmation of you as societally desirable. The problem is again that attractiveness, attraction, and validation are not only defined by men, but they also carry more weight when they are given by men. 

Another thing about comphet is that the second this validation shifts from attention to an actual interaction (flirting, asking out, etc.) you immediately retreat and become uncomfortable, and the validation no longer feels good. 

3. Confusing your anxiety and discomfort around men as an attraction to them.

I am a shy person, so no matter who you are, when you first talk to me I will get easily flustered. But especially in high school, guys didn’t talk to me that often. So I often mistook my unfamiliarity and nervousness around them as attraction. 

The feeling I got was a lot more innocuous. But oftentimes discomfort, like when you are in an unfamiliar situation with a stranger and you are scared, or when a man is in a position of dubious authority, can be mistaken as attraction. 

4. Rushing into relationships.

Jumping ahead and rushing a settled relationship just so you can make the relationship a done deal means you don't have to invest any time into emotional closeness.

I am reserving the last point for relationships with men, because many women get into loving relationships with men and use that to invalidate their attraction to other genders, or point to a good relationship as proof of their attraction to men. 

Because often, it is not clear cut as “I was attracted to a man, but once I started talking to him I immediately could tell I wasn’t attracted to him.” Attraction is not that simple, it exists within a number of different societal expectations, and can only be logically parsed in hindsight. 

YouTuber Natalie Wynn, or Contrapoints, uploaded a fantastic video on shame and coming out. She said: “do you just like men, or do you like just feeling warm?”

In her video “Shame,” Wynn details how her relationship with a genuinely loving ex-boyfriend was not about genuine romantic sexual attraction, but about security. 

Her boyfriend, as a conventionally attractive and successful cis man, validated what she and society thought about her being a trans woman — dating him was meant to make her feel not only secure in a traditionally “feminine” sexuality but secure in her gender. Especially when she was struggling with her own feelings of dysphoria, dating a heterosexual man helped her fulfill what she had been told is the “end goal for womanhood.” 

These are only four of many possible indicators. Recognizing these factors in yourself and analyzing them through a self-compassionate lens can help you feel more comfortable in who you are and who you're attracted to.

RELATED: Why Linking BMI To Sexual Orientation Ignores A Bigger Health Threat — Homophobia

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Jessica Xing is a writer that covers LGBT issues, media, and culture.