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Gay and Lesbian

Updated: May 1


What Does it Mean to be Gay?


The word gay is a broad, inclusive term that encompasses people who experience same-gender attraction.


Gay is most commonly used by men who are exclusively attracted to other men.


As the LGBTQ+ community grew and diversified, gay has become an umbrella term used by people who experience same-gender attraction but are not exclusively homosexual.


For example, a bisexual woman may conversationally refer to herself as "gay" because of her attraction to women. Likewise, a non-binary person might call themselves "gay" even though they are not only attracted to other non-binary folx.


What Does it Mean to be a Lesbian?


The term lesbian is commonly used by women who are exclusively attracted to other women. However, in recent years, the definition of lesbian identity has undergone a transformation, reflecting a broader understanding of gender and inclusivity within the LGBTQIA+ community.


Traditionally defined as a woman exclusively attracted to other women, the scope of lesbian identity is expanding to be more inclusive of non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals.


Some now describe a lesbian as a "non-male who is attracted solely to women." This adjustment aims to recognize and validate the experiences of non-binary and GNC individuals who identify with the lesbian community.


What Does it Mean to be Queer?


Similar to gay, queer is an inclusive umbrella term that is widely used by many different members of the LGBTQ+ community.


Generally speaking, it's a term for anyone who isn't cisgender, heterosexual, or allosexual. However, queer has more specific uses too, such as describing sexuality and/or gender for people who find that other labels don't authentically represent them.


Reclamation


The origins of the word queer stretch back to the 15oos, meaning “peculiar, odd, eccentric.” In the more intolerant past, homosexuality was seen as “unnatural,” so “queer” would become a derogatory term for anyone who wasn’t cisgender or straight.


Today, the word is being reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community and is proudly used by many people.


Gay and Lesbian History


Gayness, or homosexuality, is not something new.


Fragment of an Attic cup showing same-sex intercourse, 550-525 BCE (Image Source: Collection the Louvre Museum)
Fragment of an Attic cup showing same-sex intercourse, 550-525 BCE (Image Source: Collection the Louvre Museum)

Records of homosexuality date back to even before ancient Roman times. Mesolithic rock art in Sicily from 9,700 B.C. depicts phallic male and female figures in pairs. Around the same period, drawings from the Neolithic and Bronze Age featuring sexual depictions were found in the Mediterranean area. These portrayals are shown to represent a human figure having breasts and male genitals or without sex-distinguishing characteristics.

According to the novel Female Homosexuality in Ancient Greece and Rome, same-sex relationships and intercourse were also well-documented in both ancient Rome and ancient Greece. Men were often expected to be attracted to other men and women. However, the evidence about female homosexuality is limited, with its mention in Greek and Roman literature being scarce.


Looking for more gay history? Try our other posts:



Gay and Lesbian Issues


Even though homosexuality has been around for a very, very long time, there are sadly still problems gays and lesbians have to face.

Homophobia/Lesbophobia


Homophobia refers to prejudice, discrimination, or hatred towards people who experience same-gender attraction. It encompasses various forms of bigotry, ranging from verbal harassment and social exclusion to physical violence and legal discrimination.


Lesbophobia is a kind of homophobia that specifically targets lesbians. Unlike homophobia, lesbophobia frequently comes from both outside and inside the LGBTQ+ community. Oftentimes, lesbophobia within the community stems from misogyny (prejudice against women).


Heteronormativity


This is the belief that heterosexuality, or the attraction to the opposite sex on the gender binary, is the normal or default sexual orientation. It assumes that sexual and marital relations are most fitting between people of the opposite sex.

Heterosexism


This is a system of attitudes, bias, and discrimination in favor of opposite-sex sexuality and relationships. It includes the presumption that other people are heterosexual or that opposite-sex attractions and relationships are the only norm and, therefore, superior.

While all members of the LGBTQ+ community face homophobia, gays and lesbians deal with heteronormativity and heterosexism to a different extent. Other members of the LGBTQ+ community can face these problems, but they are most prevalent with gays and lesbians.



Gay and Lesbian Symbols


Triangle Badges


The first symbols of homosexuality were forced upon gay and lesbian individuals in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Homosexual men were required to wear an inverted pink triangle, while those who were homosexual and Jewish had to wear an inverted pink triangle overlapping a yellow triangle. While lesbian women were not recognized by the Nazi regime, many were denoted with an inverted black triangle given to those considered “asocial”:



Rainbow Flag


In 1978, Gilbert Baker designed the original rainbow pride flag for San Francisco Gay Freedom Day as a more optimistic alternative to the pink triangle that many gay men had reclaimed in the decades since the Holocaust. It was meant to capture the diversity of the global gay and lesbian community. In this original version, pink represented sexuality, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for the sun, green for nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony, and violet for spirit.



Other variations include a 7-stripe version with the pink removed to save fabric. Another version of the rainbow flag removed the turquoise and changed the indigo to royal blue, which has remained the popular symbol for the gay community (and the LGBTQ+ community overall) since 1979.


Lesbian Flag


The labrys lesbian flag was created in 1999 by Sean Campbell. It included a labrys, which was a common symbol of empowerment adopted by the lesbian feminist community in the 1970s, on top of the inverted black triangle used during the Holocaust over a violet background. The Lipstick Lesbian flag was introduced on the blog “This Lesbian Life” in 2010. This was later adapted to a variation without the lipstick mark in the top left-hand corner.


However, many lesbians oppose the Lipstick Lesbian flag and its derivative due to butch-phobic, biphobic, transphobic, and racist comments on the blog of the original designer, Natalie McGray.


This led to a new lesbian pride flag, designed by Emily Gwen in 2018, which uses different colors to represent a wider range of individuals within the lesbian community. PRISM uses a simplified version of this updated pride flag on its PRISM Pride collection with five colors rather than seven.


 

References


Oxford University. (n.d.). Homosexuality Meaning. Lexico Dictionaries. https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/homosexuality.


Jones, J. M. (2021, February 24). LGBT Identification Rises to 5.6% in Latest U.S. Estimate. Gallup.com. https://news.gallup.com/poll/329708/lgbt-identification-rises-latest-estimate.aspx.


The Rainbow Chronicles. Thoughtworks. (n.d.). https://www.thoughtworks.com/rainbow-chronicles.


Boehringer, S. (2021, September 7). Female Homosexuality in Ancient Greece and Rome (1st ed.). Routledge.


Oxford University. (n.d.). Heteronormative Meaning. Lexico Dictionaries. https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/heteronormative.


Oxford University. (n.d.). Heterosexism Meaning. Lexico Dictionaries. https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/heterosexism.


United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (n.d.). CLASSIFICATION SYSTEM IN NAZI CONCENTRATION CAMPS. Holocaust Encyclopedia. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/classification-system-in-nazi-concentration-camps.


Gonzalez, N. (n.d.). How Did the Rainbow Flag Become a Symbol of LGBTQ Pride? Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/story/how-did-the-rainbow-flag-become-a-symbol-of-lgbt-pride.


Siclait, A. (2021, June 15). What The Lesbian Pride Flag Means And Where It Comes From. Women's Health. https://www.womenshealthmag.com/life/a36523338/lesbian-pride-flag-meaning/.

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