Orientation: Any
Main Umbrella: Orientation
GxG Format: ?x#

Genders: Women
Attracted To: Women and Non-Binary

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Lesbian is a term with multiple definitions including:

  1. An individual that has queer attraction to women and woman-aligned individuals.citation needed
  2. A homosexual woman.[1]
  3. A homoromantic woman.[2]
  4. A binary woman attracted to other binary women.[3]
  5. A woman or woman-aligned individual attracted to other women and woman-aligned individuals.[4][3]
  6. A non-man attracted to a non-man.[5]

All definitions are debated as to whether they include romantic attraction or is exclusively sexual attraction.[2] Another debate queries whether the term lesbian is meant to be defined as exclusive attraction or non-exclusive.[6] These definitions have circled various internet spaces and throughout history, though none are officially agreed upon as an ultimate truth.

The term lesbian is also used as an adjective associated with female homosexuality or same-sex attraction.[7]


The term lesbian originated from a Greek woman named Sappho of Lesbos, who wrote poetry focused on the attraction and declared love for women, as well as men.[8] It is debated whether Sappho was a lesbian or bisexual herself, or whether she simply wrote about the mere fantasy of same-sex attraction.[9] There is minor controversy over the usage of the word lesbian as the definition of lesbian was historically used to describe any resident of Lesbos, but has since been largely reclaimed to its current definitions today.[10]


In the 19th century, lesbianism (as well as homosexuality) was classified as a mental illness in the DSM, up until the year 1973. It was replaced at that stage with a more general 'sexual orientation disturbance'. However relations between women were typically not as criminalized as relations between men, and often had softer sentences than their men counterparts. Lesbianism was often treated using aversion therapy, including electroconvulsive therapy.[11]

Lesbianism was heavily associated with the various feminism movements throughout the world, as they both empowered freedom and the support of women's rights and suffrage. [12]

Types of Lesbians

Butch Lesbians

Butch Lesbians are lesbians that present in a masculine manner. This includes masculine presentation, interests, and/or behavior. In the 19th century this was considered the norm amongst lesbians, as it related to the heteronormative expectation of relations between men and women. Stone Butches were described in 1992 novel Stone Butch Blues, as masculine lesbians that do not permit oneself to be touched intimately. They would also often choose masculine names and pronouns, whilst still not identifying strictly as men.[13]

Femme / Lipstick Lesbians

Femme or Lipstick Lesbians are lesbians that present in a feminine manner. This includes feminine presentation, interests, and/or behavior.[13]

Bi-Lesbians and M-Spec Lesbians

With one particular definition of lesbianism being non-exclusive, various individuals have identified themselves as bi-lesbians (bisexual lesbians) or m-spec lesbians (multisexual lesbians). The exact meaning of this differs for each individual but some examples include:[14]

  • Being sexually attracted to women and romantically attracted to men (or vice versa).
  • Being attracted to both binary genders but mostly attracted to women.
  • Being attracted to multiple woman-aligned genders.
  • Being unsure of whether one is bisexual or a lesbian.
  • Having attraction that is fluid between genders, including women.
  • Attraction to multigender individuals that may include women or women-aligned gender(s).

This definition has been used especially throughout the 19th century with the introduction of bisexuality.[15]

Content Warning: Lesbian Separatism
However this label has been met with various controversies, especially within feminist communities. During the late 19th century as feminism was advocated by some, second-wave exclusionary feminists often considered it traitorous if a lesbian woman were to willingly sleep with a man. The radical movement discouraged the idea of bi-lesbianism (lesbian separatism) and masculine lesbians.[16][17][5] Some believe using the term bi-lesbian is an act of lesbian erasure, defeating the point of what the term lesbian means. Others believe it's harmful because it encourages men to pursue relations with lesbians.[18] Lastly, others regard bi-lesbianism as an old and historical definition, and believe that lesbianism should now refer to exclusive attraction, though this is met with allegations of history erasure.[19]

Related Terms

Label Relationship Description Difference
Bisexual Similar Attraction to two or more genders Lesbian only specifies one form of attraction
Gay Similar Attraction to the same or similar gender(s) Gay can encompass attraction between men
Gayhet Similar Same-gender attraction to one gender, straight attraction to another Gayhet requires straight attraction
Omnique Similar Fluid attraction that is always gay Lesbian attraction can be static
Sapphic Similar Non-exclusive same-gender attraction to women Sapphic is inherently non-exclusive
Straight Opposite Attraction to the opposite or dissimilar gender(s) Straight refers to different gender attraction

Flags and Symbols

All Lesbians

The first lesbian flag was coined as the Labrys Lesbian flag, created by graphic designer Sean Campbell in 1999. The design includes a labrys symbol over a black triangle against a purple background. In the 1970s the labrys was chosen as a symbol of empowerment and lesbian feminism. The black triangle stems from its usage in Nazi Germany when lesbians were forced to wear inverted black triangle badges for identification purposes. This flag is commonly discouraged of use in the 20th century due to its negative historical ties, as well as it being created by a cisgender man.[20][21]

The most well known lesbian flag was created by Tumblr user Emily Gwen in 2018. It was inspired by the lipstick lesbian flag. The dark orange was chosen to represent gender non-conformity, orange to represent independence, light orange to represent community, white to represent unique relations to womanhood, pink to represent serenity and peace, dusty pink to represent love and sex, and dark rose to represent femininity. A second simpler design was also introduced by the same creator, featuring five stripes instead of seven.[21][22] This flag has been accused of plagiarizing the design created by Tumblr user shapeshifter-of-constellation in 2017.[23] Emily Gwen has also been accused of exclusionist views.[24]

Another lesbian flag was created by apersnicketylemon on Tumblr, in 2019 as an alternative to the problematic variations originally created. They also state it being easier to manufacture or craft due it to it not relying on multiple shades of two colors. The purple was chosen to represent non-binary and trans lesbians, as wel as violets being given between women to represent their love. Pink was chosen to represent lipstick and femme lesbians, grey represents aspec lesbians, and blue represents butch and he/him lesbians.[25]

The All-Inclusive Lesbian or Aurora Lesbian flag was created by ferretwlw on Tumblr, in 2020. Its colors are based off of the northern lights. Dark blue was chosen to represent community and solidarity, purple representing diversity, pink representing self acceptance and pride, yellow representing lesbian history and culture, and mint representing inclusivity and tolerance.[26]

Butch Lesbians

The Sky Butch flag was created by Tumblr user Shaun, the orange representing inclusion of all butches, red-pink representing autonomy and independence, white-red representing inclusivity and tolerance, pink representing support, purple representing butch history and culture, and blue representing LGBTQ+ history.[27]

A butch flag was created by an anonymous user and published by Pride-Flags on DeviantArt on the 25th of August, 2016.[28] An alternate butch flag was created by Tumblr user butchspace in 2018.[29]

Femme / Lipstick Lesbians

The second most notable flag created by thislesbianlife was titled the Lipstick Lesbian pride flag, to represent lesbians who are specifically feminine.[30][31] However the flag was accused of plagiarism[32], and its creator accused of various racist, lesbophobic, biphobic, and butchphobic statements.citation needed

Other femme flags have been created since then, including the flag designed by Tumblr user noodle in 2018.[33] The Sea Femme flag was created by Tumblr user Shaun, the purple representing inclusion of LGBTQ+ history, blue representing femme history and culture, mint representing support, yellow representing inclusivity and tolerance, orange representing autonomy and independence, and brown representing inclusion of all femmes.[27]


  1. Medical-Dictionary. "lesbian". The Free Dictionary by Farlex, https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Homosexual+woman. Accessed on 19 Feb, 2023.
  2. 2.0 2.1 WebMD Editorial Contributors. "What Is Lesbianism?". WebMD, 27 Jun, 2021, https://www.webmd.com/sex/what-is-lesbianism#:~:text=A%20lesbian%20is%20a%20woman,women%20to%20marry%20each%20other..
  3. 3.0 3.1 Carney, Sasha. "IN DEFENSE OF NON-BINARY LESBIANISM". Broad Recognition, 4 Nov, 2019, https://www.broadsatyale.com/in-defense-of-non-binary-lesbianism/.
  4. "Definitions". Vanderbilt University, https://www.vanderbilt.edu/lgbtqi/resources/definitions. Accessed on 19 Feb, 2023.
  5. 5.0 5.1 crescairis. Tumblr, 16 Mar, 2022, https://crescairis.tumblr.com/post/678926663495663616/hi-i-genuinely-dont-understand-how-a-lesbian.
  6. Amy @ Planned Parenthood. "Is it normal for me to be lesbian, but have some straight tendencies?". Planned Parenthood, 18 Jan, 2011, https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/ask-experts/is-it-normal-for-me-to-be-lesbian-but-have-some-straight-tendancies.
  7. Committee on Lesbian Health Research Priorities; Neuroscience and Behavioral Health Program; Health Sciences Policy Program, Health, Sciences Section, Institute of Medicine (1999). Lesbian Health: Current Assessment and Directions for the Future. National Academies Press. p. 22. ISBN 0309174066. Accessed October 16, 2013.
  8. "lesbian". Oxford Reference, https://www.oxfordreference.com/display/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100100998;jsessionid=CDC28F8EA459C0F27D8ACE5C6BEA0684. Accessed on 19 Feb, 2023.
  9. "Sappho of Lesbos (c. 630 – c. 570 BCE)". Ancient Her Stories, https://ancientherstories.com/sappho-lesbos-greek-women-poet/#:~:text=What%20we%20can%20say%20more,with%20both%20men%20and%20women.. Accessed on 19 Feb, 2023.
  10. "Lesbos locals lose lesbian appeal". BBC News, 22 Jul, 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7520343.stm.
  11. Carr, Sarah. Spandler, Helen. "Hidden from history? A brief modern history of the psychiatric “treatment” of lesbian and bisexual women in England". The Lancet Psychiatry, 11 Feb, 2019, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-03661930059-8/fulltext.
  12. Valk, Anne M.. "lesbian feminism". Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/lesbian-feminism. Accessed on 19 Feb, 2023.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Theophano, Teresa. GLBTQ. "Butch-Femme". ' http://www.glbtqarchive.com/ssh/butch_femme_ssh_S.pdf. Accessed on 19 Feb, 2023.
  14. "So, what the heck is a "bi-lesbian", anyway?". bi-lesbian.carrd.co, https://bi-lesbian.carrd.co/#basics. Accessed on 19 Feb, 2023.
  15. woman-loving. "woman-loving: bisexual/lesbian studies". Tumblr, 11 Jul, 2020, https://woman-loving.tumblr.com/post/623390916506533888/i-dont-identity-as-a-bi-lesbian-but-i-feel.
  16. Stone, Sharon Dale. “Bisexual Women and the ‘Threat’ to Lesbian Space: Or What If All the Lesbians Leave?” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, vol. 16, no. 1, 1996, pp. 101–16. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/3346927. Accessed 19 Feb. 2023.
  17. Westerband, Yamissette. "Lesbian Feminism, 1960s and 1970s". outhistory, https://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/lesbians-20th-century/lesbian-feminism. Accessed on 23 Feb, 2024.
  18. Anonymous. "Why is the term "bi lesbian" regarded as controversial/problematic? /gen". AskLGBT on Reddit, 2021, https://www.reddit.com/r/AskLGBT/comments/o7kyc4/why_is_the_term_bi_lesbian_regarded_as/.
  19. "A FAQ". Bi-Lesbian.carrd.co, https://bi-lesbian.carrd.co/#faq. Accessed on 19 Feb, 2023.
  20. "What Exactly Is The Labrys Lesbian Pride Flag, And What Does It Mean?". Queer in the World, https://queerintheworld.com/labrys-lesbian-pride-flag/. Accessed on 19 Feb, 2023.
  21. 21.0 21.1 "LGBTQIA+ Flags and Symbols". Old Dominion University, https://ww1.odu.edu/life/support/wgec/lgbt/queer101. Accessed on 19 Feb, 2023.
  22. Gwen, Emily. ' 6 Jun, 2018, https://sadlesbeandisaster.tumblr.com/post/174618152601/can-people-please-acknowledge-this-version-of-the.
  23. shapeshifter-of-constellation. Tumblr, 3 Jul, 2017, https://shapeshifter-of-constellation.tumblr.com/post/162570229392/butchspace-i-loooooove-your-orange-butch-flag.
  24. Gwen, Emily. "okay everyone, this will be the last post on this topic, so if anyone is searching my blog for ace discourse, this is what to look at". Tumblr, 5 Jun, 2019, https://sadlesbeandisaster.tumblr.com/post/185383640071/okay-everyone-this-will-be-the-last-post-on-this.
  25. apersnicketylemon. Tumblr, 2019, https://apersnicketylemon.tumblr.com/post/173994129517/so-i-did-a-lesbian-flag-redesign-because-really.
  26. Aurora. Tumblr, 16 Oct, 2020, https://ferretwlw.tumblr.com/post/632190623371460608/i-wanted-to-try-my-hand-at-making-an-all-inclusive.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Shaun. "Sky Butch & Sea Femme". Tumblr, https://web.archive.org/web/20221007235658/https://kenochoric.tumblr.com/post/638266393332219904/sky-butch-sea-femme-all-inclusive-butch-and. Archived on 7 Oct, 2022.
  28. Pride-Flags. "Butch Lesbian". DeviantArt, 25 Aug, 2016, https://web.archive.org/web/20220127040500/https://www.deviantart.com/pride-flags/art/Butch-Lesbian-630382202?ga_submit_new=10%3A1497848808&ga_type=edit&ga_changes=1. Archived on 27 Jan, 2022.
  29. butchspace. "A new butch flag". Tumblr, 2018, https://web.archive.org/web/20230128224611/https://butchspace.tumblr.com/post/162316889795/a-new-butch-flag. Archived on 28 Jan, 2023.
  30. "lipstick lesbian". Wiktionary, 16 Aug, 2022, https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/lipstick_lesbian.
  31. "Lipstick Lesbian Pride!!!". This Lesbian Life, 28 Jul, 2010, https://web.archive.org/web/20151119165126/https://thislesbianlife.wordpress.com/2010/07/28/lipstick-lesbian-pride/.
  32. Fernós, Fausto. Medium, 13 Jun, 2019, https://medium.com/@faustofernos/the-lipstick-lesbian-flag-idea-was-stolen-from-my-design-of-a-cougar-pride-flag-which-was-designed-ad2d18ae00c1.
  33. noodle. "An idea for a femme flag. ♥". Tumblr, 9 Feb, 2018, https://web.archive.org/web/20220622041318/https://wuvsbian.tumblr.com/post/170699656877/noodle-noodle-an-idea-for-a-femme-flag-i.