On TikTok, it’s Le$bean. In “The L Word,” it’s lez. And for most everyone else, it’s lesbian.
Whether you letter-swap, abbreviate, or not, this guide is for anyone who’s ever asked themselves, “Am I a lesbian?”.
Lez go! (Had to.)
Like other sexual identity categories, the definition varies slightly based on who’s doing the defining.
“The most accurate definition to lesbian history is that a lesbian is a non-man who loves, dates, or f*cks other non-men,” says Jordan Underwood, a nonbinary lesbian, fat activist, model, and content creator.
The above definition is more explicitly gender-inclusive than the definition often given for lesbian.
The definition Vanderbilt University’s LGBTQ+ resource center gives, for example, reads: “Usually refers to a woman who has a romantic and/or sexual orientation toward women. Some nonbinary people also identify with this term.”
And GLAAD defines it as a woman whose enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction is to other women.
“There’s often a misunderstanding that comes from TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) rhetoric that all lesbians are AFAB (assigned female at birth) and that lesbianism is centered around vaginas,” Underwood says. But these two things are FALSE.
First, anyone who isn’t a man (regardless of their assigned gender at birth) can be a lesbian.
Second, centering lesbianism around vaginas is trans exclusionary.
“It excludes and invalidates trans femme and trans women lesbians, and it also implies that trans men are lesbians if they’re attracted to women and other non-men,” Underwood explains.
Your dreamscape alone isn’t reason enough to doubt your sexuality or to begin identifying as a lesbian.
“Having sex with someone in a dream isn’t the same as being a lesbian,” says Katrina Knizek, a lesbian and sex therapist who specializes in helping people explore their sexuality.
There are many other reasons you might have a “lesbian sex dream” that have nothing to do your sexual orientation, she says.
To name a few:
- You watched “The L Word,” “Below Her Mouth,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” or any other movie or TV episode that featured a lesbian relationship or non-man on non-man kiss or sex scene.
- You watched “lesbian porn” at some point recently.
- You talked to your lesbian or queer BFF about a recent sexcapade recently.
- You recently read about, spent time with, or thought about a non-man who you admire.
- You fantasized about having lesbian sex (even if you don’t actually want to have lesbian sex IRL).
“If you feel particularly caught off guard by your sex dream, it might function as fuel that encourages you to explore your sexuality in other ways,” she says.
But if the only reason you’re Googling “am i lesbian?” is because you had a sex dream… no, you’re not a lesbian.
If only a Buzzfeed quiz held all the answers! *Sighs dramatically*
But no, there isn’t a quiz or test you can take that will tell you your sexuality. And it isn’t because there hasn’t been someone to make the quiz — it’s because a quiz wouldn’t work.
As Knizek explains, “You don’t have to check off a certain box associated with a particular identity in order to be whatever that identity is.”
“Finding out that you might be a lesbian can feel different for everyone,” Underwood says.
Some people just know! Others need to do a little self-reflection first.
If you’re reading this article, odds are you’re in the latter camp. Marla Renee Stewart, MA, a lesbian, queer sex educator, and sexpert for adult wellness brand and retailer Lovers, recommends spending some time asking yourself:
- Does the term ‘lesbian’ feel empowering, promising, home-y, exciting, or secure?
- Does identifying as lesbian give me access to the community or support I’m craving?
- Can I identify a pattern of being romantically, emotionally, or sexually attracted to non-men?
“No matter what the thing is that makes you think that you might be a lesbian, know that you’re loved, and cherished, and there’s a community of people out here who want to see you grow and thrive into whatever identity affirms you and makes you feel seen,” Underwood says.
“There is no one way a lesbian looks,” Knizek says. “There are as many ways to dress and look as a lesbian as there are with any other sexuality.”
Gender presentation — how you dress, how you walk, how you talk, and so on — isn’t what makes someone a lesbian, Underwood notes. Self-identification is.
If you’re on lesbian TikTok or have been reading up on lesbian history, you may have heard of lesbians identifying as butch, femme, or futch — or by terms that are exclusive to Black lesbians, like stud and stemme.
These terms are known as ‘lesbian genders’ and work to name a few gender expressions within lesbianism. And often, these terms come with a rich history.
However, you don’t need to identify as butch, femme, or by any other lesbian gender. You can, if you choose, identify simply as lesbian.
Lesbian, after all, is an identity label regarding the people we love, date, or f*ck, not necessarily about gender presentation, Underwood says.
“What’s most important is that you’re expressing yourself, your gender, and your sexuality in the ways that make you feel affirmed,” Underwood says.
“You don’t have to commit to butchdom for your entire life or chop your hair off or use different pronouns,” they say. Nor do you have to go all-out on high heels and lipstick to embrace a high-femme identity, if that doesn’t feel authentic.
Your move: Try on a variety of labels, presentations, and pronouns until you find something that feels right.
In a human sexuality or psychology class, this is an interesting question to philosophize. However, outside those specific contexts, this question is, at best, insulting and, at worst, homophobic.
It insinuates that everyone is supposed to be straight, and that, if someone identifies otherwise, something went wrong and caused it. *Eye roll*
A better question than “What causes someone to be lesbian?” is “What can I do to best support the LGBTQ+ community?”
Here’s the deal: Your sexual orientation isn’t what dictates your risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or unwanted pregnancy during sexual activities. It’s your testing, barrier use, and birth control practices that do.
Unfortunately, the sex education people receive in school — if they receive it at all — is so cis-heterosexual that sexual minorities often don’t know the risks involved in sexual acts other than penis-in-vagina (P-in-V) intercourse.
So, if you have questions, check out our LGBTQIA safer sex guide.
Not unless you want to and feel safe enough doing so.
“You come out to yourself first,” Stewart says. “When and who you come out to is a personal decision.”
Sharing that you’re a lesbian may help you find and connect with other lesbian folks.
This is a major plus, considering that community is essential for building resiliency and supporting your mental health, according to Rae McDaniel, a Chicago-based licensed clinical counselor and gender and sex therapist.
When met with support, sharing that you’re lesbian can also help you feel more fully yourself — and loved as your full self.
Unfortunately, not everyone is supportive of the LGBTQ+ community. Coming out to an unsafe person could put you at risk for homelessness, joblessness, harassment, or violence. Avoiding these violences is a solid reason to wait to come out.
But not coming out also comes with its risks. McDaniel explains that both the fear of being ‘outed’ and the feeling like you can’t be yourself are detrimental to a person’s sense of self and mental well-being long term.
“How you come out to someone will depend on your relationship to them, as well as your reliance on them,” Knizek says.
But, regardless, it can be as straight-forward as saying something like the following:
- “Before we hang up, I just wanted to let you know that I now identify as lesbian.”
- “I was nervous to bring this up when we were last in person, so I’m texting. But I’m very excited to now be identifying as lesbian.”
- “I’m lesbian.”
- “Actually, no boyfriend for me! I’m lesbian.”
Sometimes people don’t respond the way they (supportively) should.
If they laugh, use your dating or sexual past to tell you otherwise, or ignore you, give the situation space. And remember: You’re loved, you’re valid, and you deserve to be treated with respect.
If they get verbally or physically violent and you no longer feel safe, reach out to a friend or family who’s queer or already knows you’re lesbian.
Or contact your local LGBT center to find a shelter you can stay at for a while.
Spending some time exploring your sexuality can give you more insights into who you are and what you desire in life.
You may conclude that lesbian is, in fact, a label that fits you. In which case: Mazel tov!
Or you may not. In which case: Congratulations on learning more about yourself!
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.