The word lesbian can refer to desire, a
woman's identity, or activity between women.
Lesbian is a term most widely used in the English language to describe sexual
and romantic desire between females. The word may be used as a noun, to refer
to women who identify themselves or who are characterized by others as having
the primary attribute of female homosexuality, or as an adjective, to describe
characteristics of an object or activity related to female same-sex desire.
Lesbian as a concept, used to differentiate women with a shared sexual
orientation, is a 20th-century construct. Although female homosexuality has
appeared in many cultures throughout time, not until recently has lesbian
described a group of people. In the late 19th century, sexologists published
their observations on same-sex desire and behavior, and designated lesbians in
Western culture as a distinct entity. As a result, women who became aware of
their new medical status formed underground subcultures in Europe and North
America. Further broadening of the term occurred in the 1970s with the
influence of second wave feminism. Historians since have re-examined
relationships between women in history, and have questioned what qualifies a
woman or a relationship as lesbian. The result of such discussion has
introduced three components to identifying lesbians: sexual behavior, sexual
desire, or sexual identity.
Men have historically shaped ideas about what is respectable for women in
love, sex, and family, and due to the absence of males in a lesbian
relationship, frequently rejected the possibility of lesbianism or disregarded
it as a valid expression of sexuality. Early sexologists based their
characterization of lesbians on their beliefs that women who challenged their
strictly prescribed gender roles were mentally ill. Since then, many lesbians
have often reacted to their designation as immoral outcasts by constructing a
subculture based on gender role rebellion. Lesbianism has sometimes been in
vogue throughout history, which affects how lesbians are viewed by others as
well as how they view themselves. Some women who engage in homosexual behavior
may reject the lesbian identity entirely, refusing to identify themselves as
lesbian or bisexual.
The different ways lesbians have been portrayed in the media suggests that
Western society at large has been simultaneously intrigued and threatened by
women who challenge feminine gender roles, and fascinated and appalled with
women who are romantically involved with other women. Women who adopt the
lesbian identity, however, share experiences that form an outlook similar to
ethnic identity: as homosexuals, they are unified by the discrimination and
potential rejection they face from their families, friends, and others. As
women, they face concerns separate from men. Lesbians may encounter distinct
health concerns. Political conditions and social attitudes also continue to
affect the formation of lesbian relationships and families.
the word lesbian
The word lesbian comes from the
Greek Island of Lesbos, where the poet Sappho lived in 600 B.C. Sappho was an
intellectual and poet who wrote many love poems to other women. Although much
of her poetry has been destroyed by religious fundamentalists, the few poems
of Sappho that remain speak clearly to her love and infatuation with women.
It is unclear when the word "lesbian" was first used to describe women who
love other women, but the first usage can be traced back to the 1800s. It came
into popular use in the lesbian feminist era of the 1960s and 1970s.
Famous Lesbians and
Jane Addams is a Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of Hull
Christina Aguilera says she loves kissing women.
from Wisconsin, is the first
out lesbian Congresswoman.
recently said, "Do I like women sexually? Yeah, I do."
Beals plays Bette Porter on The L Word.
Alison Bechdel is the author of Dykes to Watch Out For comic
Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer is the highest ranking military
official to come out while in the service.
is a singer/songwriter who has been out her whole career.
is a lesbian comedian and actress who makes me laugh.
was an artist who was famous for her Cunt Coloring Book.
came out shortly after the
character she played on TV did in 1996. She now stars in her own
Portia de Rossi
stars in Fox TV's Arrested
Development and is dating Ellen DeGeneres.
Marlene Dietrich: This 1920s film star, famous for cross-dressing,
had an affair with writer Mercedes deAcosta.
This bisexual rocker is one of the most successful artists on an indepedent
Danielle Egnew is a lesbian musician, writer, actress and psychic.
Grammy winner Melissa came out
at the 1993 Presidential Inauguration.
is an out lesbian rocker.
came out as bisexual and wants
her own gay pride parade.
Janina Gavankar plays Papi on The L Word.
Gina Gershon: She has played a lesbian
plenty of times in her film and television roles. But, is Gina Gershon a
Sara Gilbert played Darlene on Rosanne from 1988 to
Missy, the Missle, World Champion and World Cup winner is one of the fastest
female downhill mountain bike racers in the world.
is an out and proud lesbian hip-hop artist and part of the group God-dess &
Leisha Hailey: Leisha was a member of the rock duo, The Murmurs,
dated kd lang and now stars in
The L Word
Sophie B. Hawkins
came out as omnisexual and was
nominated for a Grammy in 1992 for Damn, Wish I was your Lover.
was once lovers with Ellen
DeGeneres, but she is best known for her guest role as Dylan on The L Word.
Winner of two Grammy awards, Janis released her first album at age 15.
Amy Ray and Emily Saliers make up this out, politically active folk/rock duo.
is an out and proud bisexual
Jones: Winner of 13 LPGA golf titles, Jones came out in March of
2004 to accept a sponsorship from a lesbian travel company.
Although Janis Joplin did not self-identify as bisexual, she did have
relationships with both men and women.
achieved many firsts for
African Americans and women.
One of the most famous painters of our time, both she and her husband Diego
Rivera were said to have affairs with both men and women.
Billie Jean King
is one of the world's best
tennis players and women's rights advocate.
kd lang: Grammy winner kd began her career in country music and
caused more of a stir coming out as a vegetarian than as a lesbian.
The Charlie's Angels star admits to kissing women.
Loken starred in Terminator 3 and Bloodrayne
Plays Marina on The L Word.
The self-described Black lesbian mother, warrior, poet wrote poetry and Zami:
A New Spelling of My Name.
Lyon: Author of Lesbian/Woman was the first same-sex
person legally married in the United States.
A lesbian activist since the 1950s, Del Martin married her partner of more than
50 years on February 12, 2004.
Matarazzo: starred in the Princess Diaries movies and
numerous TV shows.
Amelie Mauresmo is one of the top tennis players in the world.
Tammy Lynn Michaels: Michaels played the bitchy Nicole
Julian on WB's drama Popular and has a role in the lesbian series
The L Word. Perhaps she is best known for her marriage to Rocker
Katherine "Kate" Moennig plays heart-throb Shane on The L Word.
Tyria Moore was lover's with serial killer Aileen Wuornos and was
portrayed by Christina Ricci in the movie Monster.
This Czechoslovakian born American tennis player won more singles titles than
any other player in history, male or female.
This out bisexual bass player extraordinaire has four albums to her credit and a
hit record with John Mellencamp.
played Miranda on Sex in the
O'Donnell: The talk show host came out, in part to help fight for
the rights of gay and lesbian parents.
was known as the Mother of the
Blues and did not hide her preference for women in her songs in the 1920s.
Amy Ray is
a lesbian rocker and part of the musical duo, The Indigo Girls.
is an actress and the star of Girlfight
Former First Lady and wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt had a long-term relationship
with another woman.
poet and novelist.
A Greek poet from the Isle of Lesbos, Sappho penned love sonnets to women. She
lived from 610-580 B.C.
Sea plays Max on The L Word.
plays Carmen on The L Word.
Gertrude Stein was a writer and out lesbian who lived her life with
Alice B. Toklas 1874-1946.
is a three-time MVP of the WNBA
and Olympic Gold medalist in basketball.
Jackie Warner is
the star of Bravo TV's Work Out.
was the first out lesbian to
appear on David Letterman, have her own HBO special and to appear on Comedy
The former WNBA player for the New York Liberty retired in 2003.
Cris Williamson is a pioneer for lesbians in music.
Aileen Wuornos: Executed in 2002, Wuornos was known as the "Lesbian