Lesbian Terminology

Lesbian Terminology

Welcome back to Queering the Narrative! This week, we’re continuing our discussion about writing lesbian characters by talking about some common lesbian terminology!

An image of the lesbian pride flag
The lesbian pride flag

Before we dive in, though, I’ve got a few important notes: 

Firstly, the terms and definitions I’m going to give here are not exclusive to the lesbian community. Throughout its history, the “lesbian” community has included bisexual, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming women. Therefore, those belonging to those communities are not “stealing” these terms — they’ve historically been used to define them as well

Secondly, this isn’t a list of “lesbian slang” for you to pepper throughout your characters’ dialogue to make it seem more authentic. It’s always painfully obvious when a non-queer person tries to use queer lingo in their dialogue, when they clearly have no idea how to do it. Some of these terms are things that most people would never say in everyday life! They’re simply terms that your lesbian characters would definitely be familiar with — and, therefore, you should be familiar with them as well.

Finally, some of these words I’m including can be considered offensive. I’ve marked them as such, so PLEASE be cautious of how you use them. And, similarly, be careful with how you grammatically use these terms. Many words in the queer community are considered harmful if used as nouns (like saying a queer instead of “a queer person”). If you aren’t sure how something’s used, do your research or don’t use it.

With all that out of the way, here’s a list of some important lesbian terminology:

    • WLW (woman-loving-woman): noun. A catch-all term for any woman who is attracted to other women. This is inclusive of bisexual, pansexual, and other such identities, but it’s often used to refer to “lesbian” content in media.

 

    • Sapphic: adj. Another catch-all term for any woman who is attracted to women, this phrase tends to be more inclusive of gender-expansive and nonbinary folx. It also has the advantage of being pronounceable, as opposed to wlw. Derived from the poet Sappho, famed for her erotic poems about other women.

 

    • Butch: noun/adj. A wlw who prefers masculine forms of self-expression. Can also be used as an adjective to describe masculine modes of expression. May or may not also identify as gender expansive.
      • Soft butch: A wlw who tends to express themselves in a more masculine fashion, but with a greater focus on comfort and casual dress.
      • Stone butch: A wlw who expresses in an extremely masculine way.

 

    • Femme: noun/adj. A wlw who prefers feminine forms of self-expression. Can also be used as an adjective to describe feminine modes of expression. These “feminine” modes of expression, however, tend to utilize styles popular in the queer community (comfortable shoes, bold/quirky patterns, denim, etc.)
      • High femme: noun/adj. A wlw who prefers extremely feminine modes of expression. Whereas femme is often used to describe any wlw who is expressing casual and comfortable femininity (sundresses, cute sweaters, etc.), high femme usually describes someone who is going more out of their way to express in a feminine way. Can overlap with Lipstick Lesbian.

 

    • Futch: noun/adj. Someone who expresses somewhere in between masculine and feminine, often with a focus on comfort. Sometimes called a chapstick lesbian, and strongly related to soft butch.

 

    • Stud: noun. A term used by Black and Latinx wlw who tend to take on a more dominant during sex. Sometimes also referred to as Aggressive or Ag. Note that it is considered appropriative for a non-Latinx white person to use this term, and so it should not be used to describe a white lesbian character.

 

    • Top: noun. Someone who tends to take a dominant role during sex. Can also be equivalent to Stud in non-Black, non-Latinx spaces, and the more appropriate term for a white lesbian character who fits that description.

 

    • Bottom: noun. Someone who tends to take a passive role during sex. Bottoms that rarely reciprocate during sex are sometimes called pillow princesses, but this term is considered insulting by some.

 

    • Switch: noun. Someone who is comfortable as either a Top or a Bottom, though they may have a preference for one or the other.

 

    • Dyke: noun. A pejorative term for a lesbian/wlw, especially a Butch or a Stud. Though it has been reclaimed by some in the lesbian community, it is still largely a slur and should not be used by anyone outside the community (unless it’s condemned in the narrative, but use care when attempting this — slurs have power, and can be jarring to read).
      • Baby dyke: Sometimes used as a term for a person who only just realized they are a lesbian. This term generally scans as less offensive, but should still be used with extreme caution by those outside the lesbian community (I don’t think a straight woman using this term would be particularly well-received).

 

    • Lipstick Lesbian: noun. A term for a wlw who expresses themself in more “traditional” or “performative” feminine way, often including extensive make-up, high heels, and other things that are less common in lesbian fashion. This term is sometimes used in a pejorative way, both inside and outside of the lesbian community, to refer to a woman whose attraction to women is seen as attention-seeking.

 

    • Gold Star: adj. A lesbian who has only ever had sex with women. Largely seen as problematic, as many feel it invalidates bisexual people as well as gender-expansive, nonbinary, and trans lesbians.

 

  • U-Hauling: verb. When two sapphic people become emotionally invested in a relationship extremely quickly. Derived from the common trope of lesbians moving in together (and therefore renting a U-haul to transport their things) after only a few weeks of dating.

 

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of lesbian terminology — the community is constantly growing and changing, and I’ll do my best to come in and add new terms as I become aware of them.

That’s it for this week! I’ll be back next week with another post but until then stay safe, stay healthy, and keep writing!

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