A quick note about terminology

My partner is concerned about the fact that I have been using the word homosexual a lot. This word is actually not the correct word—the correct words are gay and lesbian. I have started saying homosexual because of the way that transgenderists are changing the language. “Lesbian” has been changed into a word that means “anyone who identifies as a woman who is attracted to anyone who identifies as a woman.” This means you get crazy scenarios where two men in a relationship can call themselves lesbians if both of them like wearing dresses. I’ve been saying “homosexual” because I want to be very clear that I am talking about people who are attracted to the same biological sex. Homosexual directly implies this.

The thing is though, for a long time, the word homosexual was used by the medical establishment as a name for our supposed disorder that needed to be “cured.” It’s a word rooted in the idea that being gay or lesbian is an illness. It’s been mostly denounced by gays and lesbians as being a hateful word, and it fell out of use in the second half of the 20th century.

It looks like I’m being forced to “reclaim” it because of what trans activism is doing to the words gay and lesbian. (Especially lesbian.) I’m not sure if anyone is doing this besides me.

Lesbian does, in fact, mean a female homosexual. The correct word for females attracted to females is lesbian. No one actually has the right to take this word away from us, but they sure are trying to.

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41 thoughts on “A quick note about terminology

  1. Really? I tend to use “homosexual” slightly more technically when I am referring to same-sex attraction, “lesbian” when I’m referring to lesbians, and I kind of avoid “gay” except as a modifier for “men.” “Gay” is loaded in some ways, and also “gay” is used sometimes for both male and female homosexuals, which seems to me to constitute lesbian erasure, so I don’t like to use “gay” except as a modifier for “men.” So if I want to refer to homosexuals of both sexes, I am not being correct unless I say “lesbians and gay men?” And that leaves no word for referring to same-sex attraction in both sexes, collectively.

    Interested in hearing from your lesbian readers about this.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Yes, homosexual really is good because we eliminate the gender reference. The only thing I can find is sapphist or sapphism. This is ancient and it’s her story. I know it conjures the 1950s, like female invert, and such. Daughter of Bilitis was popular once, and that is the first lesbian rights organization. I have found that good old DYKE sometimes works, because the last thing those M2T want to be known as is a DYKE. I know men use dyke in the pejorative, but they also use lesbo, or lezzie in the same way. DYKE has an uncompromising ring about, it really says don’t mess with me.

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      • “Dyke” seems to be a mixed bag. I see lesbians online refer to themselves as dykes fairly frequently, but for external parties to use the term may be seen as pejorative. I am not sure whether what I have seen is strictly USian because I don’t always keep track of what country women are in. But I don’t refer to lesbians as dykes because of that history of pejorative usage, I want to be clear as to intent no matter who is reading.

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        • Yes in Australia I have seen Dykes on Bikes, an all lesbian motor bike club, and Dykes on Mics which was a popular singing competition a while back. I personally don’t find dyke offensive, I reclaimed it long ago.

          I am not sure if in the US it’s that accepted, I thought the Brits might not be offended as I read a post Ricky Gervais wrote about his use of the word cunt, which inflames me when men use it, as they call everything from a rapists to a bad driver a cunt (anything despicable, heinous, the worst, lowest thing).

          Ricky and Co were attempting to explain that cunt was just a word, and people used it in a positive way too, but I’ve never heard it used in a positive way. Tranny and fag are so policed, but cunt slips past especially gay male commenters.

          So I still stand my dyke, at least it’s not all porny, like lesbian has become, you know “watch the lesbo ladies lick” crap.

          Maybe we can just make up our own like they made up “cis” and “terf”?

          Copyright it (LOL) and sue them if they use it HAHAAH. Make female born women who love other female born women a BRAND. Seems silly I know, but this is the modern world and things get stolen and appropriated if they are not legally owned through the patriarchal institutions. I’m serious, pass the word around, get as many lesbian women to use it in conversations, people will be asking “what does that mean” and then WE get to define what it means.

          Liked by 2 people

        • It doesn’t strike me as a slur in reference to myself. I may not be a radfem, but hell yes I’m trans exclusive. I don’t even believe there is such a thing as trangender or transsexual.

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  3. All the lesbians I knew in California used the word dyke all the time. Dykes on Bikes were the group that opened the gay pride parade in San Francisco. Is Toronto the same? I don’t remember. Oh yeah it’s the “Dyke march”. Anyway what SisterWomanFemaleXX said about C U Next Tuesday I completely agree. I’m tired of Brits using that word constantly. It does mean “the lowest of the low”. And is part and parcel of the era when it was universally accepted that even the IDEA of women’s genitals was enough to make anyone and everyone hurl. Some words can’t be reclaimed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am disinclined to use words referring to genitalia pejoratively. I see it as shit-stirring. I don’t try to correct people about it, I just try to set a good example. I still use “fuck” sometimes, with some level of variation, when I am angry though. (And I try not to get angry but everyone has her limits). Even though I will not refer to women as bitches, or use the word other than when referring to female dogs.

      Language is so intrinsic. Like gender. It takes forever to weed about the bad shit. And what’s so bad about shit? Sigh.

      Liked by 3 people

      • When I’m angry or stressed, I sprinkle fucks like some people use a salt shaker. Also, call me or anyone with me a ‘cunt’ and I will put you on the ground- it’s always men who use that word, and the way it’s said leaves no doubt of their amount of hatred.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Agree with you. I am sorry I wrote it out in full, but I refuse to let them steal the C word from me, it’s mine, it’s all of ours, how dare they make it the lowest possible thing on the face of the earth. And it’s always these men who consider themselves so progressive that claim they can blurt it out like it’s the equivalent of dick, when they know damn well it’s not. Calling people a dick is not 1/4 the impact of C.

      I am quite angry that lesbians have to search for another term to properly identify ourselves, such is the sad state of things, especially when “identity” is so paramount to transactivists that if you get it wrong they threaten suicide or whatever they do.

      Back to terminology, I mean every lesbian, whether they use it or not understands wombyn, or wimmin, or womyn et al. I can hear the cringing now, I know it’s all a bit Amazon Acres. Also it does not qualify that these wombs are attracted to love each other. So it could be a fun task to come with something and see how far it gets, see how many women are willing to use this word. It’s like having a comfy old pair of slippers stolen, they’d been battered around, but they had your footprint in them and you had grown fond of them…awww gush.

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      • There is a difference here between using terms for female genitalia as pejoratives, or descriptives. This C-word here is an old term that meant vulva, some centuries back, and it was no big deal. It has an honest history.

        Vagina means “sheath,” meaning something you stick something into. How is that not obscene?

        But now this ol’ C-word has women triggered because men use it to terrorize us.

        We can call them pricks, and they can laugh, because we cannot use genitalia to threaten them. So pricks are free and cunts are silenced. It’s worth unpacking.

        Liked by 2 people

        • The C-word has always made me very uncomfortable, from the time I discovered it and looked it up at age 15. It just seems so strong, vulgar, hateful, cruel, misogynistic. I don’t understand how it seems to have become more socially acceptable lately, such as in the popular meme with the text “Who left the gate at the c*** farm open?”

          One of the things which led to me unsubscribing from the Odds and Sods mailing list (run by thewho.net) was how the gang running that list defended the C-word, and using it to attack some of the relatively few female members of the list. (It’s no secret most Who fans have always been male, so much so my fellow female fans and I have been nicknamed Who Rottweilers because of how tough we have to be to put up with all these guys. Thankfully, there were a number of lists for just young female fans at this time, and the atmosphere there was so much happier and safer.) The head bully, who’s infamous for stalking people and even harassing members of the band and their associates, said it’s okay to use the C-word because all four members of The Who and John Lennon use(d) it, and that those of us who took issue with the word had serious issues and needed medication to deal with our “rage.” I can’t even at that line of “logic.”

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        • They use it quite casually in the UK, often to refer to males. I can easily see the same argument, though; that it’s like using “bitch” pejoratively, because it implies that being a woman is the worst thing ever.

          They also used it at Mich Fest. In public signage.

          As PS notes, it’s a complicated and sometimes contentious debate. I prefer to avoid such loaded language unless I am actually discussing language.

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        • Something “cuntree store,” as I recall. Maybe Amazon Cuntree. I’ve seen pictures. Back when I was admining RFRP I was looking at a lot of 2015 MichFest blogging and ran into this there. It was some perennial enterprise selling food.

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  4. Always interesting and sometimes frustrating, words and the weight they carry.

    I find there is a difference between talking about “homosexuals” and using “homosexual” as a descriptor. Like I do think that the most absolute, technical and scientific term we have for same-sex attraction is “homosexuality”. I’d imagine most scientific or academic papers would speak of homosexual men and women, or homosexual behaviors in animals.

    The negativity around saying “homosexuals” as a group reminds me a bit of the warnings I’ve read not to call transgender people “transgenders.” I think that kind of usage can carry the feeling that the person is being reduced to and defined by one aspect of themselves. Like some old white dude shaking his fist at the tv and saying “those homosexuals are at it again!” because he doesn’t really see them as *people*. So using homosexual as a descriptor and adding “people” (same with transgender) avoids that reduction to those sensitive to it.

    I still find gay a kind of catch-all term and still use it a ton myself because I’m one of those lesbians who still has a hard time with the word lesbian. It’s so much easier to say “I’m gay! I am so gay!” and feel both authentic and connected to the larger LGBT community. Maybe it is a bit of a cop-out in that regard. 😉 I have a good friend, a dude no less, who calls me a dyke sometimes because he’s the kind of person who shows affection through insults (I know, not the healthiest thing in the world, but I know him well enough to know its a coping strategy of his.) As much as I see lesbians claiming dyke all the time and as much admiration as I have for them, I have trouble with it myself – maybe because I don’t think I’m that tough. Another mythological difference, I’m sure, brought about by loaded and intimidating imagery.

    For homosexual women I still don’t think there’s anything better than lesbian this day and age, even if it is being encroached on by trans women. I do not want to let them have it. Or the guys who call themselves “male lesbians” because they fetishize lesbians (I have a blog to write about that). Men as a whole need to step back from that word, and I really feel it’s something we have to defend and keep claiming for ourselves.

    “Sapphic” sounds lovely but I’ve been on tumblr too long and it’s got that poetic uwu vibe going on that makes it lean too much towards just straight girls doing each other’s nails on a rainy day with teacups in the background or something.

    Maybe we need to dig back in time and pick up “tribad” again. For me at least there’s always been something very bodily female-on-female about it and it’s innately sexual too. It also denies any notion of PIV sex so the dudes with their “ladydicks” would just have to deal with being left out.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I forgot tribadism, I thought that meant just the rubbing the mons pubis together. I guess it does keep piv out of the picture, but doesn’t include the cunning linguists 😉

      Liked by 2 people

    • Late to this thread, but I wanted to add another vote for “homosexual.” I have been on what has sometimes felt like a one-woman campaign to reclaim it for a long time. I started making a point of using it to describe myself when I noticed that both “gay” and “lesbian” were simply not heard by straight men (and also some women). What they understood was either “bi” or “kinky.” “Homosexual,” on the other hand, has remained crystal clear, even to those who don’t want to hear it. It’s very hard for even the most determined straight dude to pretend it means anything other than what’s in the dictionary entry.

      I don’t consider “homosexual” a negative term, just descriptive. The religious right deliberately tried to make it into a negative one, particularly in the 90s and early 2000s when they were pushing conversion therapy and there were about a half-dozen high-profile ex-gay groups in the US alone. Those groups had an editorial policy of never using “gay” (too positive) just “same-sex attracted” and “homosexual.” They sometimes used “lesbian” because they thought that term was sufficiently disparaging that it wouldn’t sound like some sort of affirmation.

      To be honest, I have a hard time with “lesbian” too, because that’s the word I’ve had shouted at me the most often by male strangers in a threatening tone of voice. “LEZZ-BEEE-YUUUUNNNNN!!!!” Not “gay.” No one has ever called me “gay” when they wanted to insult me, just “lesbian.” “Gay” is the word the respectful, non-hostile straight people in my life typically used when making reference to my sexual orientation. “Lesbian” is also the word I heard used most often to discredit women when I was growing up, and also when I was in my 20s. “She’s only doing that/saying that because she’s a lesbian. Most women don’t believe that/want that/think that/do that/want to look like that.” The tone I’ve most often heard the word “lesbian” said in is the same tone homophobes use when they say “faggot.”

      Then there are the people who may not be overtly homophobic, but think “lesbian” is some sort of political or cultural descriptor, and forget that it actually is a synonym for “homosexual woman.” Sooner or later, they will express bafflement if you don’t listen to a certain type of music, vote a certain way, engage in certain kinds of outdoor recreational activities, or eat (or not eat) certain types of food. And sooner or later, they will also try to set you up with some guy who’s a vegan, has blonde dreadlocks, and thinks the “natural look” on women is hot.

      In spite of all this, I’ve been doing my best to get past the discomfort I feel with the word “lesbian.” I’ve been making a point of using it more often as a descriptor for myself. It should not have any negative connotations, and in these LGBTQWERTYWTF days having one specific word for “homosexual woman” is more important than ever. Especially since the other letters often to want the L to be silent.

      However, I will not be giving up “homosexual” any time soon. It’s way too useful for deflecting certain kinds of unwanted attention. Also for explaining how I know I’m not pregnant to medical professionals who forget to ask that one, crucial question.

      Liked by 3 people

        • I am not sure I have ever heard or seen anyone in my family use the word “lesbian” and that pretty much goes for people I used to consider my friends. The erasure involved with this is really disturbing.

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        • Alix Dobkin, for me, was our own Joan Baez. We must not forget our story, this is a folk song, as powerful as “We Shall Overcome” for me. This is a camp fire song, this is a song to sing with sisters, this is what lesbian community used to look like. I know it may not be to the taste of younger women, but still, don’t shun your own her story, males hold dear their “his” story. Women/Lesbians have somehow been convinced to shudder with embarrassment at their own folk lore. You know I heard “We Shall Overcome” played at a Bernie Sanders rally, everyone thought it was groovy, that’s his message, this machine kills fascists Woody Guthrie folk was still so relevant. We must embrace our own folk and make it relevant, because it is, without it, we don’t have a STORY.

          Liked by 2 people

  5. Erm, apologies for going all pedantic here but, no, “homosexual” is not “a word rooted in the idea that being gay or lesbian is an illness.” The roots of “homosexual” are just same sex, as you pointed out yourself.

    What’s caused some people to try to stop using it is that other people were using it as a slur. That’s got nothing to do with roots. That has to do with connotations.

    I’m with purplesage here: let’s make our own damn connotations. If we keep ceding every word the minute some bigot touches it, we’ll pretty soon be reduced to polite humming.

    Yes, I know language is about usage and once the usage has taken a word to a place where you don’t want to follow, the word is unusable. (I feel that way about “fuck.” It’s usage now is pretty much “rape.” I think the main reason even feminists use it is because we don’t have any other punch-you-in-the-face words left. “Damn” and “hell” sound almost … ladylike … at this point.) But I think homosexual is far from reaching that stage. Yes we should use it as what it really means and drown out the slime-units.

    Liked by 1 person

        • They think socialism means they take away your hard-earned stuff and give it to other people. They don’t understand it’s about the benefits of collective ownership or just don’t want to collectively own things with people different than themselves. Probably the latter.

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        • It’s a mistake to think them overly ignorant. They just have deeply rooted toxic belief systems that they use as filters for everything.

          These people I am referring to here are basically Caucasian heterosexual church-goers. They think they are better than everyone who is not, and they like their little niche in the hierarchy just fine.

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