Stud, femme stem, dyke & butch: what means what?

LGBTIQ. So many letters, so little time. Aren’t they all more or less the same? Nope, not at all! Let’s get started exploring some of the terms.

Alphabet soup

When people think of ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ people, often they think it simply means sleeping with someone of the same sex. What people don’t know is that there is so much more to it.

But first the basics: LGBTIQA stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual/transgender, intersex, queer (or questioning), and asexual. Each one has its one sexual preferences, culture, names. And even their own ways of hanging out with friends when they are not naked.

However, the complexities of this don’t always translate to the ground.

When you use the term LGBTIQA+ (or one of its many variations), you feel the need to begin explaining to your grandmother/cousin/nosy neighbour about ‘queer theory’ and the diffusion of human rights and international instruments that hold states accountable to macro obligations.

Few people really understand the terms

And the other problem is these terms and phrases mean nothing to quite a few people on the ground.

Here is an introduction to some of the terms you may not have heard of.

  • Androgynous – a queer woman who is neither masculine nor feminine in appearance or behaviour.
  • Baby dyke – a young, inexperienced lesbian woman. Predominantly under the age of 25.
  • Cisgender or cis – someone whose gender identity is the same as the sex they were assigned at birth. Non-trans is also used by some people.
  • Intersex – a term used to describe a person who may have the biological attributes of both sexes or whose biological attributes do not fit with societal assumptions about what constitutes male or female.
  • Butch – a masculine queer woman. Often opting for a more masculine approach to style.
  • Trans – an umbrella term to describe people whose gender is not the same as the sex they were assigned at birth.
  • Chapstick lesbian – a lesbian woman that is somewhat of a tomboy. They tend not to fit into the extremes of the stud or femme descriptions, but rather a blend of the two.
  • Femme – a feminine lesbian woman.
  • Gold-star lesbian – a lesbian woman that has never had or intends to have sex with a man.
  • Bear – often a larger, hairier man who projects an image of rugged masculinity.
  • Asexual (or ace) – someone who does not experience sexual attraction.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The problem is that we don’t know how to ask the questions, and which questions to ask when it comes to alternative sexualities because we haven’t been taught how to.

We can’t just assume that all Africans are straight

We assume that we are not bent or even slightly crooked. But diversity has been present on the continent for ages. Alternative sexualities (aka doing ‘same-sex things’) is something that has been documented as early as the 16th century in Africa: there’s plenty of proof that homoerotic acts have been present on the continent.

These acts and same-sex practices were present for a whole host of reasons: spiritual, economic, and even just plain sexual. These practices were placed within the realms of rituals, sacred practices or even secret spaces and designated social roles.

However, when anthropologists in the colonial period found alternative sexualities on the continent, they silenced and ignored them by arguing that homosexuality was for modern and civilised nations that understood pleasure. And this is how history got erased.

Lacking the language

So now, we needed a new language. And although the above terms may seem confusing, their Western origins must not make people think that being LGBTIQ is a Western thing.

The main thing the continent lacks is ways of labelling ourselves, not ways of justifying/challenging queer peoples existence.

Being queer is here, what we need to change is how we speak about it. There is a spectrum of sexuality and we need to expand our minds to enclose and encompass it.

This post originally appeared on Love Matters Africa. For more on labels check out this piece on terms your should know.  There is also this piece about coming out as stemme and also this one asking about femmes and how you dress.

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