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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Identity » "lesbian" vs. "gay"

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Author Topic: "lesbian" vs. "gay"
Klare
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Member # 46064

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This is purely a question of semantics for me, but that's possibly because I'm just ignorant. [Razz]

Is there a reason that homosexual women have a specific descriptive term ("lesbian") but homosexual men don't? I know that the term "gay" is used most often to describe men, but it's still technically correct to refer to a lesbian as "gay".

I got to wondering about that by overthinking the "GLBT" initialism. (Why the "L" if lesbians are also gay?)

Any links that would help explain any of this would be great!

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Heather
Executive Director & Founder
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You know, even being pretty well-versed in gay and lesbian history, I don't know any solid answers on this one.

I do know both terms -- gay and lesbian -- go back a long time, but both are also fairly recent historically in use, mostly in use in the 20th century. I'm not sure we can talk about "technically" correct use of "gay" because I don't know of a standardized use for the term outside of identifying oneself or others. In other words, while it's common to consider gay means homosexual, that's more convention than anything else.

I also know that cultural distinctions were made between lesbians and gay men in a few different areas, prompting the differential, and certainly many lesbian women also make the distinction, preferring lesbian to gay, even though "gay" is also sometimes used by people to mean anyone who is homosexual, including some lesbian women.

There's also a political component sometimes with lesbian vs. gay, in that plenty of homosexual women felt/feel that a different identifier differentiates per both communities as well as basically not feeling like men kind of take ownership of lesbian sexual identity when it comes to the way any women's sexuality can often be framed as part of or adjunct to male sexuality, if you get my gist. Considering that often in gay rights movements, especially in the past, women have often been left out or had their rights made secondary to men's, that's not a minor political issue.

(Which is why during many Pride celebrations, you might have noticed that a lot of cities and communities have self-organized dyke marches the night before, or at a different time or place.)

But if I find a little extra time in the next couple of days, I'll hit the books over here and get back to you if I can find more. [Smile]

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Jill2000Plus
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I've wondered about this as well, I'd be interested to know what you find out.

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Always knock before entering my room when I am in there alone, as I may be doing all sorts of wonderfully thrilling things that I'd rather you didn't see.

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zombot
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I don't know how gay men got the term "gay". I do, however, know how lesbians got stuck with the name lesbian. Thanks to Sappho (greek poet) who came from the Isle of Lesbos (this is where you can chuckle). Typically Sappho wrote long psuedo-sonnets about women while being married to a man. That concludes the history lesson for the day.
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Heather
Executive Director & Founder
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However, "lesbian" in the use it's in today didn't go back as far as Lesbos, just FYI. However, "sapphist" was in use before lesbian was. [Smile]

I also don't know that we can say lesbians got "stuck" with the term. Not sure who first began using it, or if that person was lesbian or not.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

Posts: 68290 | From: An island near Seattle | Registered: May 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

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