I am a lesbian. Strange sounding word, isn’t it?
The word lesbian has something to do with Lesbos, that Greek island where there was a certain way of bending things that was called the Lesbian Rule by builders in the 17th century.
In ancient times, (aka toga times) that same Island of Lesbos is where women were sent to be trained in all the wifely arts.
Sappho, a rock star poet carving out love poems to women, was thought to be a teacher or headmistress at some point at this Lesbos wifely training school. We don’t know for sure. We know she spent time swooning over women and writing about it.
Sappho and Lesbos’ story remains unclear, debated by academics. Who cares? We’ve got our own origin myth and our own term — lesbian — out of it. In the history of words, using the word lesbian to denote women loving women is a fairly recent development (1870s). Its usage didn’t really grow beyond whispers until the 1970s, which had much to do with the women’s movement and the splintering of that movement for a variety of reasons, including the worries about the lesbian factor.
Lesbian is a tough word: why say three syllables (les-b-an) when you can use one, as in gay? I don’t mind using gay, but if I do, should I also use double-plus-good for when something is extraordinarily breathtaking and amazing? Or when tweeting, should I use Q for any queer of any sex to save space in the world of only 140 characters?
More and more women who love women are opting to identify as gay, eschewing the word lesbian.
Is this a way to make something invisible or indescribable? Take the word away; throw it on that growing heap of unused, unwanted and unpopular words that have fallen out of use and favour? Replace it with something simple, even opposite, just for fun.
Are we leaving the word lesbian to the piles and piles of words with meanings that are vanishing from our lives and experience, to be used only by academia and political, turtle lesbian moms to sing around the co-op campfire?
Is it a rite of cultural maturity and mainstreaming that the words we once used to organize and carve out a space are no longer needed?
Lez-bee-an. Say it … slowly. Feel where your tongue lands when you say the word.
Whisper it. Shout it. Substitute the lyrics to your favourite song with “a lesbian” and dance around the room. Think lesbian thoughts, or whatever your understanding of lesbian thoughts happen to be.
And when you walk out of your door to face the day, respond to every question anyone throws at you by inserting somewhere in your answer.. a lesbian. For example:
- “I’ll take a lesbian vowel, thanks Pat…”
- “Alec, I’ll take A Lesbian for $2000.”
- “Yes I DID see So You Think A Lesbian Can Dance Canada last night!
- “I’d like a lesbian to sip, a lesbian for my appetizer, a lesbian for my main AND a lesbian for dessert thank you, and you can serve it to me, a lesbian, all at the same time.”
- “For my birthday I got a cake, a book and a lesbian.”
It might be fun. Or shocking. Most of all, it might accelerate acceptance of the word lesbian; put a whole new array of faces and individuals and personalities to match to the word lesbian and sound a death knell to lesbian invisibility … if every lesbian around the world on the same day included “a lesbian” in the response to every question she’s asked.