What Does It Mean to Be a Lesbian?

August 23, 2023 Daniel Lyons

Lesbian is the first letter of the queer alphabet soup. We've all heard LGBTQ+ (lesbiangaybisexualtransgenderqueer, plus.), but what does lesbian actually mean? People used to define lesbians as "women loving women," but this definition is outdated and doesn't take into account the many transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming humans who still proudly call themselves lesbians. I am one of these people. 

Recently, my girlfriend was with a friend. While with them, she referred to me as a lesbian. This person was surprised—many transmasculine people balk at the term "lesbian," and I have known some to be offended by it. Sarah reassured this person that lesbian is a term I am comfortable with and a term I proudly use to describe myself. She was right.

The Meaning of Lesbian Is Not Black and White

When I first came out, I came out as both bisexual and lesbian. I identified as a woman who loved other women (I was assigned female at birth and lived as a woman for 32 years). I thought lesbianism was as simple as women loving women. Well, some years into my queer life, I am here to tell you that it's not that simple. My initial understanding of lesbianism didn't include transgender and non-binary people fully.

When I started taking testosterone, I thought I had to quit using the word lesbian altogether. I thought it was no longer mine because I am gender fluid. (I identify as male and non-binary depending on the day, the weather, and my mood.) But I was wrong. I also thought that I couldn't identify with the word lesbian because I have also dated men. Nothing could be further from the truth. First off, no one gets to decide your sexual orientation for you. Secondly, who I have been with doesn't define my sexuality—that is actually a huge misconception about sexuality. I could never have been with a woman and still be a lesbian if the desire was there. 

Does 'Lesbian' Apply to Me?

On Lesbian Day of Visibility, I came out on Instagram—again—in a post where I described my love for Sarah as lesbian. Within it, I wrote:

"Being a lesbian isn't about what you look like. To me, it's about loving women and non-binary people. It's about intense emotional connections, 30-hour-long dates, staying up late into the night drinking wine, and processing emotions. It's about Melissa Etheridge lyrics and tattoos. It's about the tenderness of a butch/femme dynamic and about professing your love when some might say you've only just met. Yeah, lesbianism isn't a gender; it's an identity." 

So, there you have it. If you think you are a lesbian, chances are you probably are. If you've spent time Googling "Am I a lesbian?" like I used to, chances are you probably are. If you clicked on this post because you aren't sure if you are a lesbian or not, I want you to know that anyone can claim this word if it fits for you, and no one can invalidate your identity simply based on what you look like. 

APA Reference
Lyons, D. (2023, August 23). What Does It Mean to Be a Lesbian? , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Author: Daniel Lyons

Daniel Lyons (they/he) is a writer and mental health therapist who is passionate about the intersections of gender, sexuality, and mental health, and he lives in Oakland, California, with his service dog Noche. Find Daniel on Instagram and Medium.

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