Heteronormativity Cards

Another old one that I quite like, about heteronormativity.

Civil Partnership Cards

While browsing in my local Tesco for a deliberately inappropriate card to give a friend for his 21st, I came across these “Civil Ceremony” cards:
It’s not something I’d ever given any thought to, and I must admit my initial response was something like “Oh, how progressive.” But looking more closely I noticed four things:
  1. The cards are deliberately labelled “Civil Ceremony”, and not “Marriage” or “Wedding” (or even “Civil Partnership”), drawing a clear distinction between gay relationships and heterosexual marriages.
  2. They are the special gay cards, in a sea of heteronormative cards depicting traditional heterosexual marriages, with the implication surely being that gay relationships are other, different, distinct.
  3. The message inside is a rather perfunctory and impersonal “Congratulations”, while many of the cards for straight people had messages about love and other similarly romantic/marriagey ideas.
  4. The couples depicted on the cards are plastic dolls. Without wanting to go down the Slavoj Žižek reading-too-much-into-things road, are plastic dolls not symbols of falsity and fakeness?

In other words, these kind of cards, which are presumably the socially acceptable thing to give a same-sex couple at a civil partnership ceremony, are actually rather othering and exclusionary. The message is that same sex relationships are different/abnormal, and should be treated differently, as a separate category.

While I’m no fan of the institution of marriage, or of queer mainstreaming (broadly speaking, I support the idea of Gay Shame), I was interested to see what the response of the greeting card industry to the emergence of same-sex partnerships has been. A cursory Googling would indicate that the response has been either to pretend gay relationships don’t exist, and to carry on depicting only heterosexual couples – as exemplified by Hallmark – or to produce the kind of cards described above, the worst example of this I came across being:

which not only others gay people, but also plays up to rather crude stereotypes (what is a “big gay wedding” other than some stereotypical camp extravaganza?).

While clearly this is not some huge issue, it is worth contemplating what role these kinds of cultural traditions play, both in reflecting and simultaneously shaping societal attitudes.


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