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Butch, Dyke, Femme or Lipstick Lesbian?

What Do They Mean and Where Do they Come From?

I’ve been caught out myself quite a few times. I’ve been hanging out with a group of lesbian friends in a bar, catching up on gossip and the latest on off relationships (much like the L Word), when someone surprises me with a term where I just haven’t got a clue what they are on about! I used to nod my head in failing agreement trying to hide the fact that I haven’t got the slightest inkling whether Jane who lives down the street is a Dieseldyke, or not!

It got to the point where I was too afraid to say much in case I made a fool of myself – so, instead of vegging out in front of the TV, I hit the web by storm and researched all the lesbian terms I possibly could so I would never fall into the same trap again. Now I consider myself to be pretty much on par with everyone else, but I thought I would make it easier for you womyn out there who aren’t quite up to scratch by publishing it all right here!

So here it is – my lesbian terms dictionary. I’ve even thrown in some of the origins of words so you can look extra clued up next time your buddies go out for coffee. I haven’t organized it alphabetically, but in groups of terms that have similar meanings.

Women Who Love Women

Boston Marriage
Definition: Old fashioned term describing two unmarried women who shared a house together.
Origins: This originates from the nineteenth century when it was acceptable for two unmarried women to share a house together. It is hard to say how many of these women were lesbians!

Definition: A gay woman. This is often shortened to les or lesbo.
Origins: This term was originally used for natives of the Greek island of Lesbos. An ancient poet called Sappho lived here and wrote many love sonnets to women or describing same sex relationships. It was first used as a term to describe a gay woman in the 1890’s.

Definition: Another term for lesbianism
Origins: Direct origination from the poet Sappho who wrote love sonnets to and about women.

Masculine Vs Feminine

Definition: Used to describe a lesbian who is masculine in appearance and outlook. Often relates to the way she dresses, the hairstyle, the shoes she wears etc.
Origins: There are conflicting stories as to where this term originated from. Some say it comes from 1930’s America from Butch, a strong and popular man’s name of that time. Others believe it stems from the 1950’s when both in the UK and USA working class lesbian couples dressed as one masculine and one feminine, whilst the middle class preferred to hide behind their feminine demeanor. Another important influence on Butch lesbians comes from the same period in lesbian bars where you were forced to dress Butch or Femme. Such distinction in dress is not as apparent nowadays but when you know someone that prefers power tools to cookery and dresses in comfy men’s clothes then she’s probably a Butch at heart.

Definition: Another term for butch.
Origins: This may have originated from the Celtic language, or possibly from the slang word dike used in the nineteenth century which means male clothing. This term is widely accepted in lesbian circles but if a straight person were to call you a dyke this is thought to be offensive!

Definition: Incredibly masculine lesbian.
Origins: This supports the theory that dyke originates from the Celtic language as Queen Boudicca was around at the time and she was known for being an incredibly powerful woman.

Definition: Once again this term means incredibly masculine lesbian, particularly those that drive heavy equipment and trucks.
Origins: Good old 1990’s slang!

Soft Butch
Definition: A lesbian that appears hard and masculine on the outside but has a soft heart! This is a relatively new term.

Baby Dyke
Definition: A young lesbian that’s coming out.

Definition: A lesbian who dresses in a feminine nature and has a feminine manner. Femmes are said to prefer skirts, flouncy clothes, makeup, and spending inconceivable amounts on their hair. They are the opposites of Butch.
Origins: This originates from the same time as Butch became popular in the 1950’s where lesbians were forced to choose which way they would dress in bars, or the working class lesbian couples chose to dress that way.

Lipstick Lesbian
Definition: Another term for Femme. However it can also mean feminine women who are attracted to other feminine women. It’s also used to describe women who pretend to be lesbians, just for personal gains. For example, where would the porn industry be without all those women who have sex with other women just for the money!
Origins: This is a slang term introduced in the late 1990’s.

Everything In-between!

Definition: A lesbian who is neither masculine nor feminine in appearance or behavior. Universally known as Unisex.

Chapstick Lesbian
Definition: Another term for Androgynous
Origins: Introduced in the late 1990’s to take on all those lipstick lesbians out there!

So there it is; my guide to lesbian terms. Short and simple, I know, but this should certainly keep you up with the rest of the pack. I often think, though, that many of the terms – such as Butch and Femme – relate to what the person is, or appears to be on the outside. All I can say is that I know some women that appear Butch on the outside but are as feminine, and soft, and flouncy, on the inside as any Femmes out there. Maybe some day these terms will evolve to describe personality, and emotions, but for now let’s just be satisfied that we finally understand what everyone’s harping on about!

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