by JESSICA MAHMOUD
Originally published on Queersmatter.
Just like I did “A note on…” I’d like to start a new segment of going through the acronym. I won’t do LGBTQIA, because I’ve already discussed the intersex and ally community. I also won’t LGBTQQIP2SAA because I’ve discussed most of that: Questioning, Intersex, Pansexual, and Allies in previous post. I’ll definitely do a post specific posts on the queer, asexual, two-spirit identities soon! For now, though, I’m just going to stick with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.
So to start, lesbians. A lesbian is a women who is emotionally, romantically, sexually, affectionately, or relationally attracted to other women, or someone who identifies as a member of the lesbian community. Bisexual women may or may not feel included in this term.
To me, a lesbian is also someone who may find males (or other individuals who don’t identify as a binary women) aesthetically attractive, but not sexually attractive.
Now that we have the definition out of the way, let’s talk about lesbians a little bit more in depth.
“The word lesbian derives from Latin Lesbius, in turn from Greek Lesbios, from Lesbos, for the Greek island in the Aegean Sea” (Herbst). Sappho, a poet who lived on this island, wrote a lot about lesbianism, but there is no evidence that she identified this way. While she was married to a man with at least one child, this “did not keep her from attracting an entourage of female admirers who spent their days with her in the writing and recitation of poetry. Among the themes of her poetry were the loves and jealousies among these women” (Herbst).
“…Sapphism, which like lesbianism, refers to homosexual relations between women. Sapphist was used in the 1920s for a woman believed to be a follower of Sappho” (Herbst)
Stereotypes of Gender Expression
Here, I am not talking about biological sex of male or female. I’m talking gender expression. Gender expression is an individual’s physical characteristics, behaviors and presentation that are linked traditionally, to either masculinity or femininity, such as: appearance, dress, mannerisms, speech patterns and social interactions.
In the lesbian community the most common gender expressions are probably butch and femme. Butch is a person who identifies as masculine, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally. Femme is generally used to describe a person who expresses and/or presents culturally/stereotypically feminine characteristics. This term is also used to describe a specific lesbian identity (ie. butch/femme).
These are both stereotypes though, and more of these will be discussed below. As written in the book butch/femme: Inside Lesbian Gender,
“…the butch is represented as the desiring subject, whilst the femme is represented as the object of desire…’you can’t have one without the other’…it could be argued that another meaning behind the phrase is something like ‘a femme is not queer without her butch.’ While the butch can stand alone as ‘marked taboo against lesbianism,’ the femme is invisible as a lesbian unless she is playing the butch’ (butch/femme).
This goes into a whole other topic of femme invisibility.
Even with all of this talk though remember, this is the stereotypical lesbian community. While it may be commonplace, it’s not a rule to being a lesbian or dating as one. There is absolutely no rule that says one needs to identify as butch or femme.
- We all have short hair and short nails
- We all wear flannels
- We hate men and are feminists
- We don’t wear makeup
- Couples are always butch and femme (As mentioned above)
- We just haven’t found the right guy yet/it’s just a phase
- We all want to move in with each other
- Lesbians are trying to “recruit” people who aren’t lesbians
- We are attracted to every girl we see
- All lesbians like: cats, The L Word, and Tegan and Sara
With help from this article
Overall a lesbian identity is an individual one, just like so many other labels, in and out of the LGBTQ Community. I hope this information taught you something about this community, and be sure to keep an eye out for more soon!
butch/femme: Inside Lesbian Gender. Ed. Sally R. Munt. London: Cassell, 1998. Print.
Herbt, Philip H. Wimmin, Wimps, & Wallflowers: An Encyclopedia Dictionary of Gender and Sexual Orientation Bias in the United States. Yarmouth: Intercultural Press, Inc, 2001. Print.
Jessica Mahmoud is a Journalism major with a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Studies minor. Her pronouns are she, her, hers, herself. As an aspiring activist, she hopes to use writing as an outlet to educate others.