Lesbian is a difficult word. It has too many syllables. It’s a word full of aggressive buzzes and ugly bumps.
Most same-sex-attracted women my age prefer the word “queer.” It has one syllable, it’s vague enough to include all of the little doubts and details that don’t fit into “gay,” and most importantly, it’s sex-positive. And who doesn’t want to be positive about sex?
“Queer” is a word that means, “yes.” Yes! I could meet the right one someday. Yes! I am open to things I haven’t tried yet. Yes! I would consider doing that, in the right place with the right person. That’s sex positivity.
“Lesbian” is a word that means “yes, but only if,” and to the 50% who don’t clear the “only if,” it means “no.” No. Not even once. No. The right one is NOT out there. No. Stop asking. No, the complete sentence, the explosive little syllable that’s so hard for women to say.
I think that’s the real reason “lesbian” has fallen out of use.
Women fear the word “no” more than any other word in the English language. Women are supposed to be kind and nurturing and take responsibility for other people’s feelings and never, ever say no. Women who say no are “bitches.”
Worse, women who say no are sex-negative. Right?
No. If you support sex positivity, you know it’s about power, and “no” is the most powerful thing a woman can say. I love to say yes, but if I don’t have the power to say no, my yes is just empty, disconnected noise.
Sometimes my no will disappoint someone. That’s okay. Power is never having to giggle and say “I dunno” while desperately searching for an exit. Power is the ability to recognize someone else’s shame and disappointment and understand that it doesn’t belong to you.
I fought hard for my power. I’m proud of it. I embrace every ugly difficult buzzing bumpy syllable of what I am, and I am honored to be counted with the generations of women who came before me and discovered the power of their own “no,” back when women could be arrested or beaten or thrown out of their homes for saying “no.”
Trust me when I say that I know my own mind. I’m not queer, I’m a lesbian– and no, you can’t watch.
Having visited the comment section of a popular website for “queer women” quite recently, I think it’s safe to say that certain people feel excluded or upset whenever lesbians decide to create anything for ourselves or whenever we talk about our specific experiences as women who are solely attracted to other women and who have no interest in being with men.
Lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, trans people, and even certain heterosexuals are deemed “queer.” It is the favored term because it removes most of the distinctions between members of each group and as such, people in the “queer community” who hold privilege over others are spared from having to acknowledge it.
Talking about the struggles that you face as a lesbian is strongly frowned upon in queer spaces. “You’re just being mean and divisive.” Pointing out the fact that gay men can have misogynistic attitudes towards women in the community is bad and can earn you the label of “man-hating dyke.” Pointing out the fact that a bisexual person who is dating someone of the opposite sex has access to certain benefits that lesbians and gay men don’t have is even worse. And insisting that lesbians have a right to bodily autonomy, that our level of “progressiveness” cannot be measured by whether or not we would potentially have sex with members of certain groups might as well be blasphemy.
The combined levels of misogyny, erasure, and lesbophobia that are present in queer/ LGBT spaces tend to make some lesbians feel uncomfortable using the right word to describe themselves. They switch to the more acceptable term. The one that won’t get them a lecture on how to be more “enlightened.”
But there is nothing wrong with the word lesbian. Unlike “queer,” it is not a slur that has been reclaimed by some and forced on the rest of us. There is no uncertainty in its name. It is clear. It is concise. It is here to stay.