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The word lesbian can refer to desire, a woman's identity, or activity between women.

Lesbian is a term most widely used in the English language to describe sexual and romantic desire between females. The word may be used as a noun, to refer to women who identify themselves or who are characterized by others as having the primary attribute of female homosexuality, or as an adjective, to describe characteristics of an object or activity related to female same-sex desire.

Lesbian as a concept, used to differentiate women with a shared sexual orientation, is a 20th-century construct. Although female homosexuality has appeared in many cultures throughout time, not until recently has lesbian described a group of people. In the late 19th century, sexologists published their observations on same-sex desire and behavior, and designated lesbians in Western culture as a distinct entity. As a result, women who became aware of their new medical status formed underground subcultures in Europe and North America. Further broadening of the term occurred in the 1970s with the influence of second wave feminism. Historians since have re-examined relationships between women in history, and have questioned what qualifies a woman or a relationship as lesbian. The result of such discussion has introduced three components to identifying lesbians: sexual behavior, sexual desire, or sexual identity.
Men have historically shaped ideas about what is respectable for women in love, sex, and family, and due to the absence of males in a lesbian relationship, frequently rejected the possibility of lesbianism or disregarded it as a valid expression of sexuality. Early sexologists based their characterization of lesbians on their beliefs that women who challenged their strictly prescribed gender roles were mentally ill. Since then, many lesbians have often reacted to their designation as immoral outcasts by constructing a subculture based on gender role rebellion. Lesbianism has sometimes been in vogue throughout history, which affects how lesbians are viewed by others as well as how they view themselves. Some women who engage in homosexual behavior may reject the lesbian identity entirely, refusing to identify themselves as lesbian or bisexual.

The different ways lesbians have been portrayed in the media suggests that Western society at large has been simultaneously intrigued and threatened by women who challenge feminine gender roles, and fascinated and appalled with women who are romantically involved with other women. Women who adopt the lesbian identity, however, share experiences that form an outlook similar to ethnic identity: as homosexuals, they are unified by the discrimination and potential rejection they face from their families, friends, and others. As women, they face concerns separate from men. Lesbians may encounter distinct health concerns. Political conditions and social attitudes also continue to affect the formation of lesbian relationships and families.

origin of the word lesbian

The word lesbian comes from the Greek Island of Lesbos, where the poet Sappho lived in 600 B.C. Sappho was an intellectual and poet who wrote many love poems to other women. Although much of her poetry has been destroyed by religious fundamentalists, the few poems of Sappho that remain speak clearly to her love and infatuation with women.

It is unclear when the word "lesbian" was first used to describe women who love other women, but the first usage can be traced back to the 1800s. It came into popular use in the lesbian feminist era of the 1960s and 1970s.

Famous Lesbians and Bisexual Women

Jane Addams is a Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of Hull House.

Christina Aguilera says she loves kissing women.

Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin, is the first out lesbian Congresswoman.

Drew Barrymore recently said, "Do I like women sexually? Yeah, I do."

Jennifer Beals plays Bette Porter on The L Word.

Alison Bechdel is the author of Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip.

Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer is the highest ranking military official to come out while in the service.

Catie Curtis is a singer/songwriter who has been out her whole career.

Kate Clinton is a lesbian comedian and actress who makes me laugh.

Tee Corinne was an artist who was famous for her Cunt Coloring Book.

Ellen DeGeneres came out shortly after the character she played on TV did in 1996. She now stars in her own

Portia de Rossi stars in Fox TV's Arrested Development and is dating Ellen DeGeneres.

Marlene Dietrich: This 1920s film star, famous for cross-dressing, had an affair with writer Mercedes deAcosta.

Ani DiFranco: This bisexual rocker is one of the most successful artists on an indepedent label.

Danielle Egnew is a lesbian musician, writer, actress and psychic.

Melissa Etheridge: Grammy winner Melissa came out at the 1993 Presidential Inauguration.

Melissa Ferrick is an out lesbian rocker.

Nelly Furtado came out as bisexual and wants her own gay pride parade.

Janina Gavankar plays Papi on The L Word.

Gina Gershon: She has played a lesbian plenty of times in her film and television roles. But, is Gina Gershon a lesbian?

Sara Gilbert played Darlene on Rosanne from 1988 to 1997.

Missy Giove: Missy, the Missle, World Champion and World Cup winner is one of the fastest female downhill mountain bike racers in the world.

God-dess is an out and proud lesbian hip-hop artist and part of the group God-dess & She.

Leisha Hailey: Leisha was a member of the rock duo, The Murmurs, dated kd lang and now stars in The L Word on Showtime.

Sophie B. Hawkins came out as omnisexual and was nominated for a Grammy in 1992 for Damn, Wish I was your Lover.

Alexandra Hedison was once lovers with Ellen DeGeneres, but she is best known for her guest role as Dylan on The L Word.

Janis Ian: Winner of two Grammy awards, Janis released her first album at age 15.

Indigo Girls: Amy Ray and Emily Saliers make up this out, politically active folk/rock duo.

Angelina Jolie is an out and proud bisexual actress.

Rosie Jones: Winner of 13 LPGA golf titles, Jones came out in March of 2004 to accept a sponsorship from a lesbian travel company.

Janis Joplin: Although Janis Joplin did not self-identify as bisexual, she did have relationships with both men and women.

Barbara Jordan: achieved many firsts for African Americans and women.

Frida Kahlo: One of the most famous painters of our time, both she and her husband Diego Rivera were said to have affairs with both men and women.

Billie Jean King is one of the world's best tennis players and women's rights advocate.

kd lang: Grammy winner kd began her career in country music and caused more of a stir coming out as a vegetarian than as a lesbian.

Lucy Liu: The Charlie's Angels star admits to kissing women.

Kristanna Loken starred in Terminator 3 and Bloodrayne

Karina Lombard: Plays Marina on The L Word.

Audre Lorde: The self-described Black lesbian mother, warrior, poet wrote poetry and Zami: A New Spelling of My Name.

Phyllis Lyon: Author of Lesbian/Woman was the first same-sex person legally married in the United States.

Del Martin: A lesbian activist since the 1950s, Del Martin married her partner of more than 50 years on February 12, 2004.

Heather Matarazzo: starred in the Princess Diaries movies and numerous TV shows.

Amelie Mauresmo is one of the top tennis players in the world.

Tammy Lynn Michaels: Michaels played the bitchy Nicole Julian on WB's drama Popular and has a role in the lesbian series The L Word. Perhaps she is best known for her marriage to Rocker Melissa Etheridge.

Katherine "Kate" Moennig plays heart-throb Shane on The L Word.

Tyria Moore was lover's with serial killer Aileen Wuornos and was portrayed by Christina Ricci in the movie Monster.

Martina Navratilova: This Czechoslovakian born American tennis player won more singles titles than any other player in history, male or female.

Me'Shell NdegeOcello: This out bisexual bass player extraordinaire has four albums to her credit and a hit record with John Mellencamp.

Cynthia Nixon played Miranda on Sex in the City.

Rosie O'Donnell: The talk show host came out, in part to help fight for the rights of gay and lesbian parents.

Ma Rainey was known as the Mother of the Blues and did not hide her preference for women in her songs in the 1920s.

Amy Ray is a lesbian rocker and part of the musical duo, The Indigo Girls.

Michelle Rodriguez is an actress and the star of Girlfight

Eleanor Roosevelt: Former First Lady and wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt had a long-term relationship with another woman.

Vita Sackville-West:English poet and novelist.

Sappho: A Greek poet from the Isle of Lesbos, Sappho penned love sonnets to women. She lived from 610-580 B.C.

Daniela Sea plays Max on The L Word.

Sarah Shahi plays Carmen on The L Word.

Gertrude Stein was a writer and out lesbian who lived her life with Alice B. Toklas 1874-1946.

Sheryl Swoopes is a three-time MVP of the WNBA and Olympic Gold medalist in basketball.

Jackie Warner is the star of Bravo TV's Work Out.

Suzanne Westenhoefer was the first out lesbian to appear on David Letterman, have her own HBO special and to appear on Comedy Central.

Sue Wicks: The former WNBA player for the New York Liberty retired in 2003.

Cris Williamson is a pioneer for lesbians in music.

Aileen Wuornos: Executed in 2002, Wuornos was known as the "Lesbian Serial Killer."