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May 5, 2008

Island of Lesbians?

This might be the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard.

The Greek Isle of Lesbos is suing gay people for using the term "Lesbian". Yes, that's right.

In case you're not too familiar with the Isle of Lesbos - it is located in the northeastern Aegean Sea and is the third largest Greek island. (Their official website: lesvos.gr - be beware, it's... obviously... in Greek). The ancient poet Sappho - who was born on the island of Lesbos - was famous for her poems about infatuation and love between females. Therefore the terms "lesbian" and "sapphist" were both derived from Sappho's poetry.

Well it seems that the people of Lesbos are sick of it. According to an article from Advocate.com, the residents of Lesbos have taken the Homosexual and Lesbian Community of Greece (a gay rights group) to court in order to prevent them from using the term "lesbian":

One of the plaintiffs said Wednesday that the name of the association, Homosexual and Lesbian Community of Greece, ''insults the identity'' of the people of Lesbos, who are also known as Lesbians.

''My sister can't say she is a Lesbian,'' said Dimitris Lambrou. ''Our geographical designation has been usurped by certain ladies who have no connection whatsoever with Lesbos,'' he said.

Now this is both ridiculous and offensive on so many levels.

This organization is not the group that originated the term "lesbian" to refer to a homosexual woman, nor are they the only group to use said term. The first usage of the word can be traced back to the 1800s, although the actual origin is unknown. Even the dictionary defines "lesbian" as a homosexual woman - the first appearance in Oxford's 1870 edition ("Lesbian" with an uppercase "L" is still defined as an inhabitant of Lesbos). Apparently they are the only officially registered gay group in Greece to use the term in their title, but that hardly makes the case.

It would be one thing if the bigots from Lesbos had been able to bring up this issue when the term "lesbian" was first gaining popularity, however at this point even if they sued every gay rights group in the world, they will never fully be able to erase the association. There is no practicality to the lawsuit whatsoever, it is simply to make a point - a point that borders on discrimination and homophobia. To say that being associated with homosexuality "insults" or embarrasses the people of Lesbos is offensive to gay women (and men) everywhere. It's even offensive to a girl like me (I'm all about the cock) because you don't have to be homosexual to realize that homophobia and heterosexism are wrong wrong wrong!

Is it really that necessary to use the term "Lesbians" anyway? Can't they call themselves anything else? Some of the uppercase-L Lesbians call their island "Mytilene" or "Mytilini" (after the capital city), while others simply refer to themselves "People of Lesbos". How about Lesboese or Lesbosian? Or here's a shocking idea - how bout they call themselves "Greek" seeing as Lesbos is official a part of Greece anyway.
I guess we can't be mad at them for trying to reclaim their word, kind of like we've reclaimed "slut", but it's not exactly the same thing. We're 'taking it back' to try to end biases; they're perpetuating them. So where will this leave the lowercase-l lesbians? If the rights to the term "lesbian" are lost, what can gay women call themselves from now on? How bout "gay women"? (No, that would be too easy).

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Anonymous said...

Maybe the Greeks are so uptight about homosexuality because of that old stereotype about Greek men?

May said...

Yeah, it seems totally ridiculous to get upset about that, especially at this point in history! I mean, if you were going to freak out about it, I think they had their chance.

Anonymous said...

After the Greeks had a big uproar over the fact that Alexander the Great would be doing homosexual scenes in the grand movie a few years back, I wondered when Lesbos would rise up against lesbians.

To be fair, their island has been associated with lesbians for a long time. Saying you're "Lesbian" would get the same wheels turning in one's mind as it did in the time of Sappho. That said, when were they ever able to say "I'm Lesbian" without someone first assuming they meant sexual orientation?