When I was younger, a boy called me a lesbian. I didn’t understand what it meant at the time. He said it with such disgust in his voice, like the word itself tasted awful. I thought it was an insult. Years later, I finally learned its meaning. Female homosexual. Despite this, I did everything I could to distance myself from this word. I used every other label, every other description, every other explanation.
I’m not the only lesbian to experience this. Making the rounds amongst all my lesbian friends, we’ve all had similar experiences. One woman mentioned that it was commonly used as an insult where she’s from. In fact, she still feels uncomfortable saying lesbian in front of straight people. Several other women reported witnessing the amount of hate and violence directed towards lesbians. Understandably, they wanted nothing to do with it. Others revealed the reason to their aversion to the word when they were younger, stating that it felt like a loaded word. It was something they shouldn’t say.
We all lived in different corners of the planet, growing up in different cultures. Yet, we all managed to have weirdly similar experiences with the same word. That’s just the lesbophobia, babes.
But I couldn’t run from who I am. The negatively haunted me. After a while, I realized it wasn’t poison. I looked myself in the mirror and said it, “I’m a lesbian.” It was bitter, like medicine I didn’t want to take. But soon enough, it turned to honey. It was never an insult. It was who I am. But I was lucky to realize before the L word attracted so much discourse.
And now more than ever, it’s crucial to say it.
“What does it matter? Labels aren’t important.” I’ve heard my peers parrot this sentiment many times, in many different ways. It does matter. Very much so. The specificity of the word is important to distinguish us as female homosexuals. There is no room for the assumption that we’re attracted to men. Many people often use the term “WLW,” woman-loving woman. Others might say “Sapphic.” While it might be convenient to use when speaking about both lesbians and bisexual women, we are different people with different experiences. Not having this distinction can be annoying at best, and dangerous at worst.
Many of my peers and younger lesbians alike prefer to use the word gay. And why not? Like the rainbow flag, it’s something we share with our gay brothers. For many, the word isn’t as loaded. And because it also means happy and carefree, it feels a lot less loaded than the word lesbian. Perhaps, in the past it would have been fine. But in recent years, many people have mistakenly used this word to mean anything but homosexual. It’s a common sight to see people posting on social media about how they’re “so gay,” only learn they are not in fact gay at all. But that’s the only word people have mistakenly deemed an acceptable umbrella term for anyone who isn’t straight…
The trend of anyone and everyone freely using a slur commonly used against homosexuals is not only insulting, it’s heartbreaking. It reminds us of when homophobes threatened us with violence. In many parts of the world, queer is still said with the intent to cause harm. It conveys the idea that our orientation is strange. Weird. Unusual. Something to be corrected. It’s not. To me, being a lesbian is the most natural feeling in the world. I and many of my lesbian sisters and gay brothers have chosen not to reclaim this slur. For many of us, this word has carried nothing but negative connotations. There is no power in reclaiming this word for me. Instead, my power comes from rejecting it. I reject this idea that heterosexuality is the only natural orientation and anything outside of it must be unnatural and wrong.
I’m not alone in thinking we should celebrate the word lesbian. On September 7th, 2019 lesbians took to the streets of Leeds, England for the Lesbian Strength March. Their goal was simple. They wanted to celebrate lesbians of past and present, while condemning rampant lesbophobia. “Our sincere desire is for all lesbians to be able to embrace themselves, to be comfortable with their sexuality and for them to know that they are loved and appreciated just as they are,” the organizers state. The lesbians marched, fearless and bold, undeterred by naysayers. The march was a glimmer of hope in a time when many of us feel hopeless. There were people who wanted to stop them, who wanted them break under their pressure.
While this march was supposed to celebrate lesbians, there were others who felt the need to a create a counter demonstration. The word has a very specific definition: female homosexual. Those part of the counter demonstration took issue with this. Claiming we needed to include trans-identified males within that definition. Rather than creating their own march on a different day, they chose instead to scream over our voices. The media was not so kind to us in reporting the event. Rather than call it a celebration of lesbians, as the creators stated, they painted it as “transphobic,” and a hateful display. Loving ourselves does not mean hating others, and to suggest it is blatantly homophobic. It only took a handful of male voices to turn a message of love into one of hate. Is it any wonder so many women want to distance themselves from the word when we are so often demonized? But the women of the Lesbian Strength March did not falter.
It’s like they say, no matter how loud the wind howls, the mountain cannot bow to it.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have our own word? A word to let everyone know exactly who you are? Many lesbians realized this. I once again made the rounds and asked my friends about their relationship with the word now. “I’ve become protective of the word,” one woman said. Another mentions still struggling with saying it aloud, “but I’m making an effort to say it more.” She told me. While another mentions overcoming her initial anxiety over calling herself a lesbian. We all overcame the lesbophobia we internalized.
But what triggered this sudden realization? We all spent more time with other lesbians. Sharing our experiences and being around others like us jump-started the healing processes. Talking to older lesbians gave us a different perspective and a look into our history. And this is why events like the Lesbian Strength March are vital.
Lesbian is so full of love, but they made us believe it was hateful. Two and half millennia ago, Sappho wrote so passionately about her love of women, that female homosexuals took up the name of her homeland. Her poems are fragmented and incomplete, but her words still resonate with many of us. The world forced us to forget, convincing us it was a bad word. Embrace it. Prove them wrong. We will not be erased.
Sappho once wrote, “Someone, I tell you, will remember us even in another time.”