A Short Guide to Lesbian Identity
What is Lesbian Identity?
Lesbian identity refers to women, and some non-binary and gender fluid people, who are romantically, physically and/or sexually attracted to women.
There exist many different expressions of the lesbian identity. The stereotypical labels of ‘butch’ and ‘femme’, which harken back to the 1940s and 50s and the dawn of the lesbian identity evolution, still persist today, but with many subcategories to describe the myriad of aesthetics and cultures within the lesbian community.
These identities include:
BUTCH lesbians who ascribe to typically ‘masculine’ traits, in how they dress, act and identify, with usually short hair and ‘mens’ clothing. Subcategories include Stone Butch, Alphas, Athletics and Boi-Babes.
CHAPSTICK lesbians who adhere to neither end of the lesbian spectrum and are comfortable presenting both masculine and feminine energy. Subcategories include Blue Jean lesbians and Soft butch lesbians.
FEMME lesbians are the opposite of butch lesbians and ascribe to typically ‘feminine’ traits in their clothing, attitudes and likes. Subcategories include Lipstick lesbian and Ultra Femmes.
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While some lesbians wear their labels, including non-conforming labels such as ‘lez’ or ‘dyke’, as a badge of honour, and a way of connecting with like-minded souls, there are also those amongst the community who do not wear any labels at all and are simply happy to live under the umbrella of ‘lesbian’.
Under the lesbian umbrella, exists the ‘Sapphic’ identity, also known as Women Loving Women (WLW), to refer to all women who are attracted to women. However, under the sapphic identity, women may not be attracted to only women, but another or other genders, too.
Lesbian Flags & Symbols
Symbols representing the lesbian identity include:
- The double venus to symbolise women loving women,
- The pink triangle – an historical symbol of solidarity against oppression,
- The black triangle – another historical symbol of women who live outside of ‘correct female behaviour’.
Originally designed in 1999, the original flag bares the black triangle and the labrys over the top, a symbol claimed to mean empowerment.
In 2010, the ‘Lipstick Lesbian’ flag was created and became synonymous with lesbians worldwide. This flag contained 7 horizontal stripes from pink/purple, through white to shades of red, and a lipstick kiss print in the top left corner. However, this flag has fallen out of favour more recently, as the kiss symbol is seen to reflect the feminine end of the lesbian spectrum but does not represent the butch end of the continuum. As such, this version of the flag is rarely seen today.
The most recent incarnation of the lesbian flag, created by Emily Gwen, is similar, but contains 7 (sometimes 5 to allow for easier reproduction, known as the community flag) horizontal stripes, ranging in shades of orange, through white, to pink/purple, and each stripe holds a specific meaning:
One thing common to these flags, is the use of the colour purple. This is thought to stem from the historical wearing of violets (flowers) by lesbians, as a way to discretely indicate themselves as part of the community. Even today, the purple stripe in the rainbow LGBTQ+ flag represents the lesbian part of the global community.
- Ellen Degeneres– Famously came out on her sitcom and on the cover of TIME magazine with the words ‘Yep, I’m gay!’
- Jayne Lynch – As an actress, Jayne concealed her sexuality through her youth, but is now a vocal advocate of lesbian representation.
- Sue Perkins – Presenter and comedian, Sue Perkins, a well-known face on UK TV, is in a long-term relationship with Anna Richardson, a fellow presenter.
- Heather Peace – Actor and singer, Heather has 3 children with wife, Ellie, and is well-known for playing strong lesbian characters on TV dramas, including Lip Service.
- Lucy Spraggan – The singer-songwriter has a large (lesbian) following, and recently released the song ‘Flowers’ which she confesses has a ‘very lesbian’ video.
- Hannah Gadsby – Is a neurodiverse comedian from Australia.
Megan Rapinoe & Wanda Sykes | Romain Biard & s_bukley / Shutterstock.com
- Wanda Sykes - An American actress, comedian and writer. She was named one of the 25 funniest people in America by Entertainment Weekly.
- Megan Rapinoe - American footballer engaged to American basketball player, Sue Bird, and even played a cameo role in an episode of The L Word: Generation Q.
- Hayley Kiyoko - American singer-songwriter, dancer and actress, titled (by her followers) ‘Lesbian Jesus’.
The most frequent misconception around lesbian relationships, is that one partner plays the part of ‘the boy’, or that all lesbian relationships consist of one masculine and one feminine person. Although this can be the case (for this writer, for example), lesbian couples come in all shapes and sizes, just like any other relationship.
Lesbian Legal History
Although, in the UK, for many, many years, male homosexual relations were illegal, lesbian liaisons have never been against the law in the UK. However, a 1953 government report deemed lesbian pairings as ‘far worse’ for society than those of two men. That said, by the 1950’s, it was common for some women to dress like men and form ‘butch-femme’ relationships, which the government deemed to serve a social purpose, but posed less threat to traditional gender roles than that of gay men. By 1960, it was decided that there were no grounds to legislate on female homosexuality due to their ‘harmless’ nature, and as such, none has ever been delivered.
Lesbian Support Resources
- @LesbianClub on Twitter is a great place to meet like-minded people
- lesbianvisibilityweek.com is a great space full of advice, real stories, signposts and articles
- divamag.co.uk is a wonderful resource for lesbian issues, stories and connections
- stonewall.org.uk is of great support with representation and legal matters
Is there something else you'd like to know about the Lesbian identity that we've not covered here? Let us know in the comments and we'll answer your questions!
This article was written by Evie (She/Her), a passionate, proud deafie, autism mamma, queerie, wife, teacher, writer and word geek. You can follow Evie over on Twitter here.