Updated: SEPTEMBER 7, 2021
Comphet is a colloquial abbreviation of the term compulsory heterosexuality. Comphet is similar to heteronormativity (how other gender attraction is usually assumed/the default sexual attraction.)
Comphet is societal but also internalized, so that queer people may have difficulty acknowledging their sexual attraction because they assume themselves to be straight. Further, comphet describes the habit of viewing all close relationships between men and women as romantic or sexual. In other words, heterosexuality is seen as compulsory in many modern societies.
Feminist writer Adrienne Rich coined the concept of compulsory heterosexuality in 1980. In her paper “Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Experience,” she argued that it wasn't as natural for women to pair up with men as society claims. Instead, she said an oppressive, male-dominated society leads women to heterosexual relationships. She suggested women formed straight relationships to fit in with society and gain economic advantages.
The shortened term comphet gained mainstream acceptance in the 2020s when a Google Doc, “The Lesbian Masterdoc,” focused on compulsory heterosexuality, went viral. Its writer Angeli Luz discussed the way compulsory heterosexuality made it more difficult to understand and accept her own sexuality. These ideas resonated with young people who began reflecting on how they related to their own lives. These millennials used the shorthand term comphet when sharing their views on social video platform TikTok. The term is most commonly used by lesbian and queer people.
Comphet encourages people to see all attraction towards people of the opposite gender as romantic or sexual attraction, without digging deeper to find other motivations. For example, comphet can lead lesbians who enjoy the company of men to date them or even marry them. These women may mistake respecting a man’s accomplishments or liking their taste in music for a romantic attraction. They may also reject romantic or sexual feelings towards people of the same sex because they do not fit with the cultural norm.
However, understanding comphet and how it works can be enlightening. People who understand comphet may think more deeply about what they really like about people and why they're attracted to them. They may use the term comphet crush to describe an attraction towards a good-looking actor or talented musician of the opposite gender. They know a comphet crush is not really based on a true romantic attraction, but one society expects they’ll have.
More About Comphet
Comphet impacts all people, regardless of their sexuality. It happens even when children are infants, with jokes about a girl baby and a boy baby marrying each other and assumptions about a future that includes partners of the "opposite" sex.
Comphet can make it more difficult for people who aren’t heterosexual to accept their own sexuality, as what they want doesn’t match what they feel they should want. Straight people never have to "come out" about their sexuality, it is assumed unless otherwise stated. This underlying assumption can make it difficult for people to recognize they are "different."
They may also feel confused about their sexuality because they feel attracted to people of the opposite gender, and society suggests any attraction must be romantic. Comphet can also impact heterosexual people. People with very close and important friends of the same gender may feel their relationships aren't valued by society as much as the relationships others have with romantic partners.
However, understanding that comphet is a social construct can be helpful. Understanding comphet can inspire people to examine their own relationships and desires. This can help them figure out what they really want from people in their lives. Knowing that comphet influences the way other people see our relationships can also help us understand and argue against their points of view.
While some people appreciate the term comphet and the way it can further our understanding of mainstream culture, some people, including some bisexual people and people who are not cisgender, reject it. Trans women were never included in part of the original conversation around compulsory heterosexuality. Some trans women say they still feel left out of this narrative and that the term comphet erases their experiences. Similarly, bisexual and pansexual people say comphet focuses too much on being monosexual, or attracted to only one gender. They argue that this focus invalidates their own attraction to more than one gender.
Although comphet has its roots in 1980s feminist literature, it’s important to understand the way that language and the experiences of people have evolved over the years. People on social media do not necessarily use the term comphet in the same way that people used compulsory heterosexuality in the past. Therefore, while the original term may have excluded transgender people, for example, that doesn’t mean the modern term necessarily does. Regardless, some people have suggested more inclusive terms such as compcishet (short for compulsory cisgender heterosexuality) or interhet (internalized heteronormativity) may be more inclusive.