I Mostly Date Women But Please Don’t Call Me A Lesbian

I generally don’t proclaim my sexuality immediately upon meeting new people, but I know it’ll probably come up at some point if we become friends. I usually just say that I have a girlfriend and leave it at that, but that leads some people to think I’m a lesbian, which bothers the hell out of me because I never said I was and I’d never choose that label for myself.

  1. I’ve had romantic feelings for people who aren’t women. While I currently only find women attractive and only want to date women, I’ve found men appealing in the past. Am I sexually attracted to them? Not on most days, but romantic and sexual feelings don’t always go hand-in-hand. Throughout my youth, I’ve crushed on various boys and girls, but after dating some guys and doing some soul searching, I’ve found I prefer women. That still doesn’t erase my past, and sexuality can be fluid. Maybe I’m not attracted to men now, but I might under circumstances or I might not. I just don’t want to get tied down by the specifics of a “lesbian” label.
  2. Not all women who have relationships/sex with other women are lesbians. While I don’t like being called a lesbian, I am pretty exclusively into women. But some women aren’t. Some women are bisexual—surprise!—or pansexual or just don’t care about gender at all. Using the term “lesbian” to describe any woman who’s currently with another woman is frequently inaccurate. When a term tends to be wrong more often than not, I don’t like to use it.
  3. I’m not from the Island of Lesbos. For those who don’t know, there is a real place in Greece called the Island of Lesbos and people actually live there. “Lesbian” refers to people or things from that island. The term “lesbian” as a way to refer to gay women only came about because of Sappho, who famously wrote love poetry about women. (Side note: she also wrote poetry about loving men too, and yet she’s the ultimate symbol of being a “lesbian.” Bisexual erasure much?) Anyway, people from the Island of Lesbos really don’t like people calling gay women “lesbians.” There’s a touch of homophobia to their campaigning against the term, but you still have to admit it’s pretty dumb to refer to all gay women as “from this one Greek Island.” There are also way more gay women than people who live in Lesbos, so this is particularly vexing to me.
  4. Gay and queer are fun words. I do love saying the word “queer” as well as describing myself as “gay AF.” Queer is also an instance of reclaiming a word from homophobes, which is always awesome. It literally means something that’s just a little unusual, which is perfect for me, and gay just means happy. Why wouldn’t I want to be gay? We should all be so lucky. If I have to choose a label, I’m going to say that I’m gay. Respect the happy.
  5. I don’t fit the lesbian stereotype. I consider myself a part of the LGBTQ+ community, and the great thing about the community is that everyone from every walk of life should be welcome as long as they’re accepting. But when I think of being a “lesbian,” I feel like there’s this mythical community of them that I don’t quite fit into. A lot of this is pretty old school, but even today there are a lot of supposed “must haves” for lesbians, like you have to be aggressive, wear flannel, and listen to Tegan and Sara. I do none of these things. Since “lesbian” as a term seems pretty stereotyping in scope, I feel like if I use it, I have to conform to stereotypes… and I don’t.
  6. I’m not femme or butch. Along with not conforming to lesbian stereotypes, I also don’t feel like I fall into a category. A lot of people who identify as lesbians refer to themselves as “butch” or “femme.” Personally, I feel this defeats the purpose. I’m not gay so I can emulate a heterosexual couple but to each their own. In any case, I’m not really overly masculine or overly feminine. I like to wear dresses, but I hardly ever wear makeup or jewelry. My hair is very long but sometimes I like to wear men’s clothes. I defy these categories, which feels like defying being a lesbian in general.
  7. My sexuality doesn’t define me. My main beef with the term “lesbian” is that if you identify as one, you have to say “I’m a lesbian.” If you say you’re gay, you can just say “I’m gay.” Linguistics are important to me because language reflects social values. When people use the term “gay,” it’s a descriptor. When people use the term “lesbian,” it’s an identifier. Being gay is part of my identity, but it’s hardly all I am. It’s just one facet, so don’t boil me down to just “a lesbian.”
  8. I don’t want to exclude non-binary or asexual people. Being a lesbian seems to have a rigid definition: a woman who’s sexually attracted to other women. But what if you’re a woman with someone who’s non-binary? They’re not a woman, even if they aren’t a man, so the term “lesbian” feels inaccurate. And if you’re asexual, you still might have romantic feelings, and maybe you have romantic feelings for another woman. Can a “lesbian” not be sexually attracted to women? It doesn’t matter to me if someone’s ace, non-binary, trans, or whatever they identify as, but using the term “lesbian” to describe myself feels like I then have to exclude people who don’t have a “traditional” sexuality or gender.
  9. I’m not porn. Lesbian is such a common search term in porn. You don’t hear people talking about “gay porn” that refers to women having sex. This is because “gay porn” is aimed at gay men and features men having sex with each other. But “lesbian porn,” which features women having sex with each other, is aimed at straight men. Because I know this, I feel fetishized whenever I’m called a lesbian, even when that isn’t the intention. I just can’t divorce the fetishization of queer women from the term. It also reminds me of all kinds of crappy things in society and how often gay people are fetishized, so please don’t call me a lesbian.
Emma is a twenty-something writer living in North Carolina. She loves cute things, gay things, and being right about things. She's also a bit of a nerd.