20 Vocab Words that Describe Queer Women — For Good or Bad
By Angela Jude
The spectrum of gender expression and sexuality has become more visible with each generation. Millennials proudly proclaim labels from "queer" to "bisexual" to "pansexual," while some eschew labels altogether. While language is useful, for decades labeling has been both helpful and hurtful to queer women. While some wear a “butch” or “femme” label as badge of honor, others prefer a more fluid approach to discussing their outward expression. Words like “dyke” or “bull dagger” have been hurled at lesbians by those wishing to inflict harm, only for many of those women on the receiving end to reclaim the word as a symbol of power. And a few terms that were used even within the queer female community have been called out for excluding, erasing, or offending bisexual women.
Butch/femme identities and the accompanying culture began to surface at the turn of the 20th century, reaching a heyday from the 1940s through the '60s, according to GLBTArchive.com. From there, micro-identities emerged, like “soft butch” and “lipstick lesbian.” Here are 20 identities that have been applied to queer women for better or worse beginning with the emergence of butch and femme.
To be completely accurate, Ellen DeGeneres is probably more of a soft butch. While she's a Cover Girl for base makeup, she has adopted the attire and some of the traits associated with a left-of-center masculine identity that leans toward butch.
An early descriptor of lesbians, the term "femme," along with its counterpart "butch," was popularized at the turn of the 20th century when butch/femme relationships were viewed as preferable to femme/femme or butch/butch, and essentially describes a woman who presents as typically feminine, preferring skirts, dresses, heels, and makeup. But "femme" can also be used as a descriptor of an interior state — a feeling that then manifests outward. Emmy-winning actress Sarah Paulson often presents as "femme."
Gold Star Lesbian
A term that is now widely deemed to be offensive, a "gold star" is simply a lesbian who has never had sex with a man. In recent years, the phrase has been rightfully assailed for its biphobia and the implication that some sexual experiences are preferable to others.
A masculine lesbian who adopts many of the stereotypical traits of black heterosexual alpha males — a term based in black and brown communities.
Short for "aggressive" and often interchangeable with "stud," the term AG derives from communities of color and describes hypermaculine-presenting or masculine-of-center lesbians. Rapper Young M.A. is an example of someone who is AG.
Now deemed offensive to bisexual women, "Gay Till Graduation" and "Lesbian Until Graduation" were once fairly popular terms to describe women who engaged in sexual and/or emotional relationships with other women during college.
Lesbians who only like to be on the receiving end during sex are called "pillow princesses." The term can be derogatory, but some women choose to identify with it.
A term that's often used as a slur against butch women, proud butch and Orange Is the New Black star Lea DeLaria reclaimed the term with her 1994 comedy album Bulldyke in a China Shop.
The highest form of the femme lesbian, traditional in beauty and demeanor. Actress Portia de Rossi, with her pristine makeup and stunning dresses and heels, fits the bill of a "lipstick lesbian."
A "Chapstick lesbian" is someone whose gender expression leans slightly to the femme side of neutral. She rocks the practical girly aesthetic. The Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg could be considered "Chapstick."
A "power lesbian" is a well-dressed lesbian with high status and usually a high-paying job. A real-life example of a power lesbian is Rachel Maddow, while fans of The L Word may recall Jennifer Beals's Bette Porter as the ultimate power lesbian.
Often used as a pejorative term, "diesel dyke" refers to large or muscular lesbians, with a bit of a rough aesthetic. Big belt buckles and buzzed hair or mullets are some signifiers of what may be deemed "diesel."
A STEM is a lesbian with femme features who dresses in a masculine manner, like wearing long hair with a snapback, for instance. Model and Empire star AzMarie Livingston is a good example.
Another offensive term, "hasbian" has been around for some time, but it got wider play when a few of the characters on The L Word used it to describe women who'd been exclusively with women until then entering into sexual and/or emotional relationships with men. The term is offensive for its failure to acknowledge bisexuality.
A freshly out-of-the-closet lesbian who's got a whole new world to discover.
A young and inexperienced lesbian.
A famous lesbian or one popular within the community or for their large YouTube or Instagram following.
A lesbian whose gender expression is between neutral and masculine, sometimes presenting as a young boy. She expresses masculinity without identifying as male. Swedish model and Below Her Mouth star Erika Linder can often present as a "boi."
A lesbian who dresses in a tomboyish manner but is femme of center and softer in expression. Model and actress Cara Delevingne presents as a "tomboy femme."
Also known as as a touch-me-not stud, a "stone butch" is a lesbian who does all of the giving and does not care to receive during sex.