General Question

ibstubro's avatar

Why is there a distinction between "gay" and "lesbian"?

Asked by ibstubro (18804points) November 13th, 2014

Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transsexual.
Gay Rights.
Gay Marriage.

So lesbians are inclusively ‘gay’, but gays aren’t exclusively lesbian? How does that work. There isn’t gender equality in the gay community?


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16 Answers

cookieman's avatar

The way I understand it from the numerous gay people in my life (aunt, niece, friends, coworkers), “gay” is used as an umbrella term (describing men and women), but “lesbian” is specific to just women.

“Queer” is also used as an umbrella term.

josie's avatar

No. Because what ever you imagine, the two genders are different. And different is always different than the same. And as soon as different is recognized, then it is self evident that different and equal in some contexts cannot be the same.

Strauss's avatar

All lesbians are gay, but not all gay people are lesbians, just as all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.

SavoirFaire's avatar

Within the queer community, “gay” typically refers to men. Outside of the queer community, “gay” is sometimes used to refer to men and sometimes used to refer to both men and women. This might be a consequence of the public focus on gay men (the more familiar term became dominant), or it might be a case of the English language’s universal masculine grammatical tic rearing its head once again. In any case, lesbians have been fairly active in making sure that they are not yet again forgotten members in the struggle for equality. It’s why “L” is the first letter in “LGBT,” and it’s also why a lot of queer advocacy groups refer to the political issues as same-sex marriage (rather than gay marriage) and LGBT rights (rather than gay rights).

JLeslie's avatar

It’s more efficient to have one word or phrase that is gender neutral, but I think of gay as being masculine and lesbian feminine, and I don’t know if lesbian women are offended if you call them gay, I rarely use the term gay when referring to women only, but in mainstream gay is often used to refer to same sex relationships overall. I don’t hear homosexual much anymore, whoch also was gender neutral. English grapples with this problem all the time. Is it ok to use men to mean all people? As in all men are created equal? It seems we are moving away from that and trying to find gender neutral words. Actresses now iften identiy as actors. You would think women would prefer not to have their own designation, not want to be called lesbian, since the LGBT community usually supports not being defined by ones gender. Maybe I have that wrong about how I look at that.

kritiper's avatar

Gay refers to both men and women while lesbian refers only to women.

ibstubro's avatar

Thanks, @SavoirFaire and @JLeslie for reading the details and giving insightful replies. I hadn’t really contemplated that lesbians were rebelling against the English manguage language.

SavoirFaire's avatar

I don’t hear homosexual much anymore

The term “homosexual” has come to be viewed as outdated or even pejorative when not used in a scientific context because of its adoption by homophobes who seem to have purposely decided not to use the terms preferred by actual LGBT people. So while the word may not be considered inaccurate or offensive, it may be seen as loaded given how strongly it is associated with those who try to portray same-sex attraction as immoral.

ibstubro's avatar

Echos of Homo!, @SavoirFaire.

SecondHandStoke's avatar

Was Queer alone so bad?

It’s gotten insane:

SavoirFaire's avatar

@SecondHandStoke “Queer” is fine as an umbrella term, but human beings love their categories and distinctions. Otherwise, we wouldn’t even need “queer.” We might not even need “human.” There is also a practical reason for the increased distinctions. When we only have umbrella terms, we tend to treat everyone under them the same. But imagine if we assumed that all human beings had exactly the same needs, desires, and preferences. We’d have an entire world based on the most comically tragic flaws of Soviet Russia: one size of shoe for everyone, bread and cheese for celiacs and the lactose intolerant (or perhaps no bread and cheese for anyone), only one kind of beer. Understanding and being comfortable with one’s sexual identity are too important to a life well lived to paint in broad strokes here.

And I’ll assume you already know that a lot of the entries on that page are there as a joke.

SecondHandStoke's avatar


A joke, yes. But did you laugh?

I personally am a firm believer in the Kinsey Scale.

Applewhite's avatar

The term “gay” is most commonly used in men (sometimes women), and the term “lesbian” is used for women…I guess…...

SavoirFaire's avatar

@SecondHandStoke Not out loud. And I, too, am a fan of the Kinsey Scale. But even that doesn’t capture everything (since sexual identity goes beyond sexual orientation or sexual activity).

ibstubro's avatar

@Applewhite Questions do not stand alone. When you click on the question, there is a yellow box that opens and below the question are the required “details”. Everything in the yellow box is integral to the question.

But, welcome! Fluther is a site designed for a large number of serious users that has devolved into a small site with a lot of social interaction. Hope you enjoy it, participate, and stay.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

An d here it was I thought “queer” was one o those words that easily gets under gay’s skin…..

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