The LGBTQ+ community is made up of many diverse individuals worldwide; however, the term LGBTQ+ has often become a blanket term or catch-all representation for all causes within the community. Though many of the challenges and obstacles individuals face from within the community are similar, there are also unique issues that are only experienced within certain groups that are often lesser-known, not widely publicised and sometimes go ignored even by the community itself. Even the term gay has been appropriated. Historically, it was used to describe both men and women attracted to people from the same-sex or gender. In 2021, people often only use it exclusively to describe gay men, using only lesbian to describe gay women.
Gay women throughout time have faced multiple obstacles, from sexual inequality to the restriction and suppression of their rights as women. The suffragette movement achieved so much over the past one hundred years. Still, when you consider that towards the end of the 1950s, only 72% or 168 countries had amended their legislation to allow women to vote and just six years ago in 2015, that Saudi Arabia had given women the right to vote, we are a long way from true equality for women in all matters from voting to pay.
For hundreds of years, gay men would typically be the subject of campaigns and targeted through antiquated sodomy laws, a term defined as a man penetrating another man. Still, it often gets forgotten that gay women had it equally as hard. From their sexuality being seen by many straight men as their fantasy, treating the way a woman feels for another woman as if it were only for their entertainment or amusement. The problem was compounded when you factored that many women in countries worldwide were deprived of education, access to higher education, the right to vote, work, and even today to receive a fair wage. The challenges between gay men and women were different; however, identifying as a woman and as a Lesbian was hard.
After a period of growing acceptance during the 1920s, it abruptly came to a stop at the end of the 1930s and the beginning of World War II. During the war, gay men and women were rounded up and forcibly taken to ghettos and camps. Where gay men were forced to wear a pink triangle badge on their uniforms, lesbian and other LGBTQ+ groups were made to wear a black triangle, which represented deviant behaviours. Throughout the war, it is estimated that over 100,000 gay men and women had lost their lives due to their sexual orientation and gender identity.
After the war, during a period of traditional and conservative values in the 1950s, many Lesbians would become adept at hiding in plain sight using symbols and terms to communicate with one another. One such method used was blue stars which would be worn or tattooed on their wrists. Gay women would visit the ball and dance halls, and the blue star would be shown to like-minded women to hook up.
The lesbian community have a long history that is unique and which has a growing population worldwide; let us explore the Lesbian subculture in more detail.
Scientific studies and research into male and female behaviours often conclude that each gender or sex experiences attraction differently. Women will typically form emotional connection and bonds, with the physical attraction growing as they get to know one another. At the same time, men are traditionally focused more on a person's physical appearance, with emotional connections created once they get to know them over some time. The studies are general and do not represent all women or behaviours, especially gay women, as physical appearance is an attributing factor in attraction.
Comparing the two gay subcultures, gay men typically have many more terms relating to sexual desires than gay women; however, gay women have a higher proportion of terms relating to a person's appearance. Terms such as dyke that were once used in a derogatory way or as an insult have now been reclaimed by the community and are being used in a positive and descriptive way. Let us look at some of the terms used within the Lesbian subculture's preferences relating to physical appearance:
- Baby Dyke / Dyke / Stud - terms relating to general descriptions. A baby dyke is typically used to describe a woman who has recently come out of the closet as a lesbian. The word dyke has become reclaimed and used as a general term to describe a lesbian. Finally, studs are known for their short hair and fit physique
- Soft Butch / Tomboy / Glamour Butch / Stone Butch / Bull Dyke - terms relating to lesbians more on the conventional/traditional masculine gender scale. Soft butch refers to a woman that is on the border between feminine and masculine. Tomboys refer to a young woman who dresses with a more masculine style, and glamour butch refers to lesbians dressed in stylish clothing. Stone dykes are women who display female butchness and dress in traditionally masculine clothing, and bull dykes are one of the most masculine identities a Lesbian can have
- Femme Lesbians / Lipstick Lesbian / High Femme - terms relating to Lesbians more on the conventional/traditional feminine gender scale. Femme Lesbians is a general term referring to any woman who identifies more on the feminine gender scale. Lipstick Lesbians is a term for a femme lesbian who likes to dress in a highly feminised and conventional girly style. High femme is the complete opposite to a bull dyke, meaning that a high femme lesbian is a woman who identifies completely or the opposite end within the feminine gender scale
- Power Lesbian / Stem Lesbian - terms relating to a specific identity or behaviour. Power lesbian refers to a woman who has her life in order and has achieved much already in her professional life. The term stem lesbians have two meanings, the first is used to describe Black and Latinx lesbians, and the second refers to lesbians who shift between or are central on the gender scale, so neither masculine nor feminine
- Sporty Dyke / Futch Lesbian / Diesel Dyke / Celesbian - terms relating to a specific interest or how a lesbian prefers to dress. A sporty dyke is a woman who is into a particular sport, such as football or tennis. A futch lesbian is a woman or non-binary person who is both femme and butch. The term diesel dyke refers to a woman who likes fast cars or motorcycles, and lastly, a celesbian relates to a celebrity who is also a lesbian
Though there are fewer terms relating to sexual desire, gay women terminology is often focused on a role or type. Individuals who are more on the dominant side take an active role during sex. Those individuals who are more submissive are typically passive in bed; however, there are no hard or fast rules. Not everyone fits into a specific stereotype; however, a lesbian's physical appearance commonly is linked to a preference or type. The more butch a woman is, the more likely she is active, whereas the more femme she is, the more likely she is passive. Let us now look at some of the terms used within the Lesbian community to communicate sexual desires and preferences:
Women's rights, the feminist movement and LGBTQ+ equality movements are all the exact same cause for Lesbians worldwide. Even if LGBTQ+ rights significantly improve within any given country, if the laws and rights of women are not equal to men, then gay women would still suffer. The media and even Hollywood are now actively featuring more positive lesbian and gay role models, often breaking away from long-held stereotypes; however, progress has been slow, and they are still few and far between.
With superheroes and celebrities identifying as lesbian, acceptance of the community within western countries has come a long way. Even with all the positive developments, misperceptions relating to gay women still exist. One such misperception relates to lesbians being seen as militant; it is vital to note the difference between frustration and militant-like behaviour. Many lesbians are frustrated around how their reality, how they think and feel, can sometimes be used by straight women as a fun activity to spice up their heterosexual relationships or how gay men's rights are prioritised and more vocal within the LGBTQ+ community. Lesbians have every reason to be frustrated. They are fighting a battle on many fronts and often get ignored. Usually, their effort goes unnoticed.
The Lesbian community has a long, rich history, made up of many brave women that have stood up for what they believed in and enacted change that many from within the LGBTQ+ community enjoy today. Though they do not always get the recognition they deserve, the LGBTQ+ people are lucky to include them as part of the community.
Lesbians around the women have repeatedly shown bravery. Without them, LGBTQ+ people and the community would not be where it is today. Thank you for everything you have done and do for us all; much love to all Lesbians worldwide