Stigmatization of the word lesbian


Mia Kirkwood

Discourse develops online as members of the LGBTQ+ community discuss the problem with celebrities and online influencers ridiculing the word “lesbian.” As arguments continue on social media sites, lesbians discuss stigmatizing the L word, a term designated for specifically non-male attraction. Numerous lesbians express how they feel upset and confused by the spark of hate toward their label. “I honestly never saw it [the word lesbian] in a negative light; I just see it as a way to describe myself. People bring power to words,” sophomore Tess Farrell said.

Mia Kirkwood, Reporter

On July 21, social media influencer and former Dance Moms star JoJo Siwa shared in a Yahoo Life interview that she feels uncomfortable using the word lesbian. Specifically, she stated that the word sounded moist and gross. Multiple homosexual celebrities revealed a similar outlook on the word lesbian. Stars such as the Norwegian singer Girl in Red expressed their feelings about the word; she described it as her least favorite word in the entire world. Numerous times throughout queer history, the term lesbian became an avoided word by queer women themselves. The abolition of the word lesbian creates issues for queer people within the LGBTQ+ community.

Obscene amounts of hate toward the word lesbian did not start recently. The word derives from the lesbian poet Sappho. In the 17th century, Sappho wrote poems and novels about romantic love between women in her hometown, the island of Lesbos, Greece. The definition of the word lesbian previously meant people of Lesbos. Due to the previous connotation of the term, Greek islanders in April of 2008 sought to reclaim the word lesbian after its change of definition by homosexual women and non-men. While they did not win the case, dislike of the word lesbian in a homosexual context continued for various reasons.

“I do feel like people hold a negative connotation to the word [lesbian]; it makes me sad because it’s not a bad word. It’s the same equivalent to [the word] gay, but because it’s a word people do not use as frequently, people hold a negative connotation around it,” sophomore Asher Knighton said.

Recently queer journalists of multiple online blogs and media outlets communicate their displeasure with the word. Hatred toward the lesbian label sprouts from dislike of how the word sounds and looks, and several journalists that seem to convey significantly negative feelings toward the term do not even use the word lesbian to describe themselves. People feel almost entirely comfortable disregarding and trashing the word lesbian while treating other LGBTQ+ phrases with the utmost respect. 

“[About the word lesbian] In fact, it sounds like a rare disease. One that you would probably find yourself in group therapy for, and I bet it’s extremely contagious,” Buzzfeed news reporter Sarah Karlan said. 

Sarcastic opinions such as Karlan’s do not open up room for an honest discussion. Several queer influencers feel the right to degrade sexualities besides their own because it sounds weird to them. These influencers’ and celebrities’ opinions do not allow lesbians to express their own opinion. The media also nearly always perceives the word in an overly sexualized way. For example, the social media site Tumblr includes the word lesbian as a banned term due to the mass amounts of Not Safe For Work (NSFW) content under the lesbian tag. Social media sites decided to mandate the issue of sexualization by prohibiting the word from use instead of creating a solution that can build safe spaces for lesbians online. Banning words does not help the problem, it only sets the lesbian community back. 

“Honestly, seeing the sheer amount of famous lesbians come out and say they hate the word lesbian is ridiculous. I understood at first why labeling yourself as a lesbian can be intimidating, as I struggled with that due to internalized homophobia. Still, in general, lesbian is not a dirty word. It’s disappointing to hear things like that from anyone since it’s quite literally homophobic,” sophomore Emma Harmes said.