There are many people who don’t like term “cisgender”, but don’t have a problem with the term “heterosexual”. So I want to tell you about the term “heterosexual”.
Source: page 66 in the Swedish book “Hetero” (Tiden, 2006) by Sandra Dahlén.
In 1968 a person called Karl Maria Kertbeny coined the term “heterosexual”. He coined the term “homosexual” at the same time. But the term that is most interesting in this discussion is “normalsexual”. Similar to how many people argue that we should just call cis people “normal”, no?
So what’s the difference between “heterosexual” and “normalsexual”, then? Kertbeny used both words for people who had sex with people of “the other sex” (I won’t get into a critique of that term here). Normalsexuals only had sex that could get someone pregnant, but heterosexuals also had other kinds of sex.
This is an interesting case of the values of the time colouring the way even those who don’t share those values speak. Kertbeny was in fact a champion for the right to have any kind of consensual sex with whoever you want to have it with. But those he called “normalsexuals” were still those who had the kind of sex that people considered “good” at the time. (A value neutral term could have been “reproduction-sexual” or something.)
Scientists were quick to use the new term “heterosexualism”. For them it was a “sick perversion”. A lot of people wrote a lot about “heterosexuality” (plain old fascination with the “abnormal”, I guess). With time all heterosexual behaviour became normalised. My guess is that the word was so common by then that people just kept using it instead of widening the definition of “normalsexual”.
Let’s make a thought experiment. Imagine that the “everyday” sexuality terms had been coined later instead. With no good/bad distinction of the sex “a man and a woman” can have, you bet it’d be called something like “normalsexual”.
It’s an accident of history that homosexuality isn’t the “marked other” to an “unmarked normal”.