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Embracing Lesbian Labels

Ever notice how the words MANkind, HisStory, huMAN, woMAN, etc, fold women neatly into one little part of Adam's Rib Cage? This is the reason why I choose to embrace the word "Lesbian."

Lesbian has been a word describing women who love women since 600 BC, and for those of us who have been out for a while, it is a word of pride.
Medical Definition of Lesbian:
Lesbian: Female homosexual. The name "lesbian" comes from the Greek island
of Lesbos in the Aegian Sea where in antiquity the women were said to be
homosexual. The poet Sappho who lived on Lesbos (circa 600 BC) was a lesbian
in both geographic location and sexual orientation.

Dictionary Definition of Lesbian:
lesbian 2 entries found.

Main Entry:
1 les·bi·an
Function: adjective
Date: 1567
1 often capitalized
: of or relating to Lesbos2 [from the reputed homosexual band associated with Sappho of Lesbos]
: of or relating to homosexuality between females.

Main Entry:
2 les·BI·an

Function: noun
Date:circa 1890
: a woman who is a homosexual
I've heard many women say that they prefer not to use labels, and they don't like the word lesbian. What I've found is that some of the women who do not like labels are still battling with their own internalized homophobia. Most times this is totally an unconscious thing that we go through in accepting our own identity. It is tough being lesbian or bisexual in this world, and most of us are brought up with negative images throughout our entire lives which surround the words lesbian, gay, homosexual, etc.

How I see it is we are spiritual beings, wrapped in material bodies, living in a material world. Since most of us can not communicate telepathically with symbols or pictures of what we are thinking, we use words and language to get our points across. These words can also be referred to as "labels."

Now if people want to put a negative connotation on the word "labels," that is their prerogative; but to me, if we as women who love women embrace and accept the labels that society, or our own subculture, puts on us for who and what we are, it takes away the negativity of those words, and the meaning of them is no longer bad. This is known as “Owning the Words” and it is very empowering. It means that you can say to yourself while looking in the mirror: “Yeah, I’m a bull-dyke, queer, lez, muff-diver, but so what?" Owning the Words gives us back the power over things that are meant to hurt us the most.

After practicing Owning the Words for a while, I received an obscene phone call. Among other things, the crazed guy called me a slut. This cracked me up and amidst my giggling I replied, "It's obvious that you really don't know me, because that is the one word that I'm truly not!” I taunted him with the fact that he wasn't bothering me one little bit, and he got so mad that he hung up on me. Now who won that little confrontation? To this day I'm still smiling about it. Instead of hanging onto the negativity of someone who did not know my heart, I turned it around, and I bet it was a while before he made another obscene phone call.

I am very proud to call my self a big ol' lesbo, because that is part of who I am in this life. Many women hate the word lesbian, and call themselves "Gay," and some women feel that the word "Gay" is caving in and grouping us with male homosexuals. Other labels for women who love women include: lesbian, dyke, bull-dyke, homosexual, homosensual, butch, muff-diver, queer, gay, family, lez, muff-diver, homo, lipstick lez, lesbyterian, lesboneese, butch, fem, wears sensible shoes, lesbo, or “Just needs a good man.”

To me, it's whatever you are comfortable with, and if you are comfortable with not having a "label" for who you are, so be it. As long as the names people may call you for loving women, and being different than nearly 80% of the population, do not hurt you too badly.

Until I embraced the labels of who I am, I didn't like those words either. I still find the word "homosexual" disturbing, because I came out in the 1970s in Florida, where almost every day the former beauty queen, Florida citrus spokeswoman, Anita Bryant, was blasting the vileness of homosexuals all over the papers and on TV. It made it very hard for me to come out as a young teenager, because of all the negativity surrounding the word "Homosexual."

No matter how badly I detest that word, the fact is that per the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition:
\?ho¯-m?-?sek-sh(?-)w?l, -?sek-sh?l\
Function: adjective
1 : of, relating to, or characterized by a tendency to direct sexual desire
toward another of the same sex
2 : of, relating to, or involving sexual intercourse between persons of the
same sex
I am a homosexual. I don't care for the label, but it is who I am, so instead of fighting it, I just embrace the word as much as I can.

Another thing that concerns me is if we totally stop using our labels and merge on in with straight society, then we are essentially separating from each other, and giving up our power as a LGBT group. Not using labels would be great if every one of us had the same rights as straight white MEN, but the bottom line is that we don't. There are 1,138 rights that people who can legally be married have over those of us who can't. You can see more information about this inequality here:

Of course, all of this is just my opinion. I will say that accepting the names society labels us with has helped me embrace myself and be proud of who I am, and I've been out since the early 70's."

The advice in this column is the opinion of the writers and is not intended as a
substitute for medical or psychological treatment from a health care professional.

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