I've been thinking about this a lot, recently, and I've worked out quite a lot of reasons why.
Let me introduce you to some fictional people.
This is Taylor.
Taylor is straight.
Taylor is white.
Taylor is English.
Taylor is dark-haired.
Taylor is a Christian.
Taylor is a teacher.
This is Bob.
Bob is gay.
Bob is white.
Bob is English.
Bob is dark-haired.
Bob is a Christian.
Bob is a teacher.
This is Alex.
Alex is bisexual.
Alex is white.
Alex is English.
Alex is dark-haired.
Alex is a Christian.
Alex is a teacher.
This is Lucy.
Lucy is a lesbian.
Lucy is white.
Lucy is English.
Lucy is dark-haired.
Lucy is a Christian.
Lucy is a teacher.
Did you see it?
If not, try this: He's straight, she's straight, he's bisexual, she's bisexual, he's gay, she's A lesbian.
For some reason, generally speaking (I have heard people say, "he's a gay" or "s/he's a bisexual", but not frequently - though "bisexuals" is the more common plural, to be fair) everybody else gets their orientation referred to as if it's just another part of the description, something that just-so-happens-to-be, like skin colour, nationality etc etc etc.
But when it comes to gay women, suddenly She is A lesbian. Like she is A Christian, or A teacher. There's so much wrong I can read into that. Are you saying it's a choice? It's a temporary, controllable thing? I get days off? Or that it defines my current state of being more than my nationality? Does it change who I am?
I've heard people say, "Oh, before she became a lesbian..."
Now, maybe it's just me, but if someone tries to say, "Oh, before he became gay..." it just sounds ludicrous. And people tend to laugh at it, because most people these days (at least where I'm at) are used to the concept of your orientation not being a choice, but with you from birth. But the lesbian version? People nod sagely and carry on. Apparently you realise you're gay, but you become a lesbian.
It's description versus label. And I don't like the label.
Let's try some little reasons, too:
Say "lesbian". Put as much hatred, bile and vitriol into it as you can. Hiss that s, spit the b, drag it out and curl your lip in disgust.
Now say, "gay". Try and do the same. The most you can do is drawl the a, right?
For that alone, I dislike the word lesbian. I've been called it, with the hiss and the spit and the curled lip.
And how about this:
Gay. Try and shorten this. Belittle the imaginary person you're talking to. Take it out on Bob, who's just told you, "I'm gay." What can you say? And going for, "Oh, you're a gay?" doesn't count, by the way, because you extended it by adding another word, and just made my point about "a lesbian" as opposed to all the others.
Lesbian. Try this one instead. Belittle poor Lucy, who's also just told you, "I'm gay." What do you say, "Urgh, you're a lesbo?" Or, "Ugh, you lezza." Or, "Oh, gross, you're a lezzie."
For. Example. (Yes, I've had all of these. Among others. From strangers, acquaintances, and family.)
And then there's just the plain and simple little one I skirted by earlier.
How come gay women have a different word, when nobody else does?
Straight men and women, bisexual men and women, gay men, and lesbians.
Edit to add: I got an email today about the whole Apple removing the Gay Cure app thing. These are two consecutive sentences, bold is mine:
"After more than 150,000 petition signatures from Change.org members and saturation media coverage, news outlets worldwide are reporting that Apple has pulled an iPhone application launched by Exodus International that claimed to help "cure" gay and lesbian people.
This is a huge, public victory against the dangerous myth that gay young people can and should be "turned straight"."
I find this somewhat bizarre. It's like, "Oh, we can't just say gay, because that excludes women. Never mind the rest of the queer spectrum, but we'll add lesbians" closely followed by, "You know what? We've clarified we mean both guys and girls at one particular end of the sexuality spectrum, gay'll do just fine on its own now."
I mean, make up your minds... Personally, as per the rest of this post, I kind of think the first one should be "gay and bisexual people" perhaps... Since it specifies people, rather than one gender or another.
I don't know. Right now, I can't work out how to say quite what I mean. I'm just hyper-aware of LGBT phraseology as it crosses my path at the moment, and I needed to stick this one somewhere to check back on when my brain is functioning better.
Also: Just filled in a form that required gender early on, then Sexual Orientation later. Your options are:
So the question of "Attracted to Same Sex/Attracted to Opposite Sex/Attracted to Both Sexes" needs four answers?
Gender was clarified earlier, remember. So why do we need to separate homosexual orientation by men/women?
This makes me angry. Please explain why this is necessary?
Let the original post resume!
I've been trying to think of how things would work if the word lesbian just disappeared into the ether. Currently, all I can see is a lot of porn titles with a blank space, and "Lesbian Vampire Killers" having to be retitled. And let's face it, when "lesbian" is used in that context, who's it for? Who's it meant to titillate and draw in?
It's not me, is it.
Now I know, this is a... small issue, particularly in comparison to everything else going on in the LGBT community (there it is again, lurking...) at the moment, let alone the rest of the world.
And I know some lovely gay women who are perfectly at ease with the word lesbian.
But it's been winding me up for ages, and every time I hear it, it's getting so that all I can hear is every hiss-and-spit and every shortened slur.
Which is a shame, because even my friends have called me it at points (and I know you love me and would never, ever use the vitriolic versions, and didn't even know it makes me flinch. I'm not angry, I'm just clarifying my stance on it).
"Lesbian wife" is the only funny one I've had, hishsticks, and I can understand that you wouldn't want to say "gay wife" in case people think it's a vaguely homophobic take on effeminate gay men. Which is a shame. And partly my point.
Anyway, the short version is:
I'm not a lesbian. And though I'm still not 100% sure of my placement on that lovely sliding scale of sexuality, I'm around 85% sure, so I can say this instead:
I'm a gay woman.
Please call me that.