When the topic of sexual identity comes up, it’s usually controversial. A lot of straight people ask why we need to define ourselves by our sexuality, some people refuse to ‘label’ themselves and others embrace their difference, their identity, their label. I fall into the last category.
Lesbian. It’s a weighted word. I know many women who are attracted to women who don’t like the word. Some prefer the word Queer, some women identify as straight even though they are in a relationship with a woman, others identify as bisexual because it’s more socially acceptable if you are still attracted to men in some way.
To me, lesbian is not just a word. It’s who I am.
If we look at the origins of the word, we are taken back to a female poet named Sappho who lived on the Isle of Lesbos in Greece. Sappho loved women. It was said that she lived on an island of women, thus to be lesbian meant you were from the island where Sappho lived. Personally, living on an island full of women sounds fabulous! Our lesbian history is more than this though.
We have so many great moments in history and powerful women who stood up and demanded recognition, often times at great personal risk. I am proud of the women on whose shoulders I stand, able to live my life openly gay – and I am proud of the women in the next generations who are also taking a stand, the young lesbians or other LGBTIQ community members I see taking on huge social change really fills my heart. But somewhere between the greats of our past and the awesome people of our future, the lesbian identity struggled.
If you talk to older lesbians, yes you hear about how they couldn’t be out when they first discovered they were gay, but then you also hear about the societal change where lesbian and gay venues proliferated. I feel like my generation missed this great time in our history. By the time we were old enough, the gay bars were closing, or full of straight people. The internet became a thing and for many people who felt they had to hide their sexual identity, the anonymity of the internet was a blessing. People were staying at home because they felt they could connect better with strangers online. Less of our community were attending events, the lesbians who were coupled up turned to nesting and homemaking, the heterosexual population seemed to consume us again. We had gone from out and proud to home alone on the internet.
I think the internet is a fantastic thing, it enables people of any background to communicate with others around the world. It provides us with access to so much information, and lets us build our own communities. But it has come at a cost. People can’t communicate face to face anymore. Go to any event and you will see people looking at their phones, or attending with a group of friends so they don’t have to engage with anyone outside their circle. Fear, anxiety and social exclusion have become the modern dangers to the LGBTIQ community.
As someone who has a lot of experience creating and hosting events for our community, the difference now to 15-20 years ago is huge. Promoting events now is much harder, simply because people are afraid to socialise in person. We’ve hidden behind screens and the art of getting to know people, or even just having a conversation has been lost. This affects our lesbian community more than our gay mates because we are inherently less social. Some of the businesses and community programs for gay men are still active, which is great, but it does give lesbians less opportunities to get out and about. By the same token, host an event for gay men and one for lesbians, you’re probably going to get more gay men turn up.
It’s a conundrum for me, especially on International Lesbian Day. I have faith that history is cyclical and that we will come out of this phase but what to do in the meantime with the thousands of lesbians begging to meet others, develop relationships and grow friendships – as long as it’s from behind a screen.
Maybe we could all celebrate today and honour our forebearers by attending an event or trying to meet and have a real conversation with at least one new person. We need to rebuild our community, strengthen the ties we have with each other and show the world once again that lesbians are a force to be reckoned with!
Go forth & celebrate!
Written by Em O'Loughlin (LGBTIQ Advocate)
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