by Julie Bindel
Tuesday, 21
April 2020
Debate
15:25

Don’t let the word ‘lesbian’ go out of fashion

We fought for years to make it a word we could wear with pride
by Julie Bindel
Me (top left) after we had broken into the showhome at the Ideal Home Exhibition to protest the comments from Margaret Thatcher about how lesbians with children were just “pretend families”. Credit: Julie Bindel

It is Lesbian Visibility Week and, as I never tire of saying, I love being a lesbian. I came out when I was 15 in 1977 and was beaten up and harassed on numerous occasions, mainly by men who took offence at me rejecting them sexually. These were hard years, but I found feminism and through that the lesbian liberation movement which demanded that women should be able to determine our own sexuality and not be forced into heterosexuality. I soon developed enormous pride in being brave enough to wear T-shirts and badges with slogans such as How Dare You Assume I Am Heterosexual? (Spoiler, nobody really did because I hardly adhered to feminine dress codes).

As we moved into the 1980s, as well as Gay Pride parades there were Lesbian Strength marches for women only, named as such because it was recognised that to be an out lesbian in those days required certain amounts of courage and tenacity.

There were always women around that would not use the word ‘lesbian’ because they thought it sounded yucky. Partly because the porn industry had made an entire genre out of girl on girl action that was about as lesbian as Jeremy Clarkson, and also because of the popular stereotypes of lesbians as being so butch we could kickstart our own vibrators, many women rejected the word, thinking it too crude.

But bit by bit, those of us that campaigned for lesbian liberation overturned those stereotypes to a degree, and shook off the sad, spinster image of the woman too ugly to get a man. I would often get hassled by men in bars if I was with one or more women because they couldn’t understand why we were without men. “What are you lovely ladies doing in here on your own?” some drunken bloke would ask. I would reply that it was difficult to be on my own seeing as I was with other women, but he always meant a male chaperone. When he inevitably started shouting that I was a “filthy dyke” or some such thing I would respond by saying that if he was the alternative, lesbianism was a choice every woman would make.

Today the word has yet again become stigmatised. It would appear that young lesbians are under pressure to call themselves Queer, non-binary, or even become trans men. Some more conservative women refer to themselves as gay, which has always struck me as rather bland. We fought for years to make ‘lesbian’ a word we could wear with pride. I would hate for it to become extinct. As the old insult used to go, ‘Lezz be ‘aving you!’

Join the discussion


  • You’re absolutely right Julie. In a world beset by a pandemic, with a world-wide economic depression waiting in the wings, with an opioid crisis killing thousands (mostly men), with the climate becoming unstable, the issue that really deserves our attention is whether homosexual women should be called lesbians or gay.

    Thank you for drawing this abomination to our attention.

  • Notwithstanding the absolutely laudable battle for sexual equality, being “proud” of one’s sexuality itself is like being proud of how many legs you have, or being proud of enjoying jaffa cakes. Surely one should only be “proud” of something which requires an active choice and sacrifice or effort, rather than a preference or hard-wired characteristic which one is born with?

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