A journey to self-acceptance
BY JACQUI RHULE–DAGHER, IMAGE BY PEXELS
I am a lesbian! Why do I feel the need to announce this information? Well, up until 2020, I would engage in various forms of intellectual alchemy in order to avoid saying the word “lesbian”. I convinced myself that I simply didn’t like the word, and I couldn’t understand why the word “gay” is an adjective yet the word “lesbian” is a noun. Neither could I relate to the portrayal of lesbians in the media, who seemed to have the life expectancy of a lettuce, and/or some bizarre obsession with vampires. Along with this, hearing the term “lesbian” used pejoratively when I was growing up did little to help my psyche.
The origins of the word “lesbian”
In 2020, amidst the banana bread recipes and Zoom parties/fatigue, I took the opportunity to properly research the word “lesbian”. The first mention of lesbianism in history can be found in the Code of Hammurabi – a Babylonian code of laws, from around 1700 BC, under which women were allowed to marry one another. The actual word “lesbian” derives from the name of the Greek island Lesbos, where Sappho, known for her homoerotic or “sapphic” poetry, was born.
I should stress that my reluctance to use the term “lesbian” had nothing to do with being ashamed of this aspect of my identity. Rather, it was a lack of positive representation, particularly Black representation, which made me question whether this label was right for me.
The modern-day dilemma surrounding the label “lesbian”
Unfortunately, there are some queer women and non-binary people who are still reluctant to use the label “lesbian”, as shown in a 2022 survey of lesbians aged 18 to 25 from the LGBT charity, Just Like Us. The study revealed that more than two thirds (68%) of young lesbians delayed coming out due to a fear of stereotyping. When broken down, almost a quarter of those surveyed remained in the closet due to lesbianism being seen as “taboo” (23%), “embarrassing” (23%), or “masculine or butch” (22%), while others feared being “over-sexualised” (19%), or deemed “unattractive” (16%), “man-hating” (12%), “old fashioned” (9%), or “anti-trans” (4%). For the record, lesbians who seek to weaponise the term “lesbian”, and demonise other members of the LGBTQIA community, do not speak for me. I recognise that you can be proud of your identity without denigrating other members of the community.
Why Lesbian Visibility Week is important
Lesbian Visibility Week provides an opportunity to recognise the contributions of lesbian role models, and to celebrate the various intersecting identities of the lesbian community. Our identities are made up of different aspects such as age, class, gender, race and religion, which come together and overlap like a Venn diagram. Fluidity is an important aspect of intersectionality because not all of the circles are the same size, and they will contract and expand depending on the environment we find ourselves in. Clearly, being a lesbian will not be a person’s only identity.
What being a lesbian means to me
During Lesbian Visibility Week (and beyond), I want to celebrate the steps that I, and many others, have taken to be more visible.
It hasn’t always been a straightforward journey for me. At the beginning of my career, I would often spend my Monday morning commute rehearsing answers to the much-dreaded question: “What did you do at the weekend?” terrified I might out myself if I revealed too much. Fast forward to today, and I am proudly calling myself a lesbian in the world’s leading magazine for LGBTQIA women and non-binary people. I am also extremely honoured to feature on the DIVA Power List 2023. The key to this progress has been rejecting negative stereotypes, and developing an understanding of what a lesbian looks like for me personally. Lesbianism to me means allyship, community, friendship, love and some questionable TV (what happened to Gigi, btw?). This list is by no means exhaustive, but what I know with complete certainty is that when I use the term “lesbian” freely other lesbians are also encouraged to use it unabashedly. Now that I am living authentically, labelling myself accordingly, and no longer viewing the term “lesbian” perilously, I have found individuals who have experienced similar triumphs and tribulations to me – I have found my community.
Jacqui Rhule – Dagher is a lawyer at an international law firm, and is a member of The Law Society’s LGBTQ+ Solicitors Network Steering Committee. Jacqui also featured on the DIVA Power List 2023.
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