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Married couple
Symbolic representation (Vienna): Lesbian traffic light couple
Three Lesbians (18th Century), The Memoirs of Casanova , illustration by Jules-Adolphe Chauvet (1828–1906)

The adjective lesbian (noun: lesbian , now rarely used lesbian ), actually " belonging to Lesbos ", usually refers to homosexual women. The scientific term "homosexual" (from Latin sexus "gender") is rejected by many same-sex oriented women because of the alleged reduction of their feelings to " sexuality ", since the lesbian way of life contains or contains sexuality as well as emotional affection and the desire for partnership could. Homosexuality in women is also known as lesbianism .

Concept history

The word lesbian is derived from the Greek island of Lesbos (Λέσβος; today's pronunciation: Leswos), which is located in the East Aegean Sea. The ancient Greek poetess Sappho , who lived in the 6th century BC. BC lived on Lesbos, had sung the love between women in her poems, even if their own sexual orientation is still controversial today. In antiquity was also used by the Romans, among others, the word "τριβάς" for female homosexuality both by the Greeks as tribas used, which in various forms like the tribadism or Tribadie used and the Tribadin or tribades to mid-20th century and has become more and more important over time. (→ Tribadie) The word "Λεσβιάζω" Lesbiazō ("Do it like the women from Lesbos") used to describe oral stimulation in general and cunnilingus in particular.

The first clear connection between female homosexuality and the island of Lesbos is from the 2nd century AD. In analogy to the pedagogical eros of pederasty , biographers in the 3rd century AD used the word gynerastia for the relationships Sapphos. Names from the area lesbian and sapphist appeared for the first time in France in the 17th century. In 1787 a German lexicographer mentions Lesbiam Venerem ("lesbian love"). In 1837 the sapphic love was mentioned in the Brockhaus . The term lesbian appears for the first time around 1870 as a term for same-sex female sexuality, and in 1890 the associated adjective lesbian is used for the first time in the current sense. True to other historical examples such as sadism or Donjuanism , Richard von Krafft-Ebing used a term from fictional literature to describe case studies that occur in reality. In 1890, the term lesbian first appeared in Billing's Medical Dictionary and spread quickly. Before the name lesbian, later lesbian, became popular, the term sapphic love or sapphism was occasionally used. At the beginning of the 20th century, euphemisms such as “woman looking manly” or “girlfriend” were often used as a paraphrase.

Like many terms from the sexual field , the adjective lesbian was sometimes used pejoratively , i.e. pejoratively . Since the lesbian and gay movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the expressions “lesbian” or “lesbian”, as well as gay , have been used to describe themselves.

Lesbian pride flag

Lesbian self-image and feminism

The lesbian subculture saw itself to a greater extent than the gay movement as a political movement . Lesbians were and are often active in the general women's movement and for a long time only understood the fight for lesbian rights as part of the general fight for women's rights. With the controversial debates of the feminist movement , the so-called Feminist Sex Wars , sexual orientation also became a point of discussion, with sex-positive feminism advocating acceptance of homo- and bisexuality, while second-wave feminism was a clear one There was a desire to distance themselves from the lesbian subculture. One of the reasons for this rejection was that the lack of public acceptance of lesbians could jeopardize the goals of feminism.

Lesbian women in film and television

The film Girls in Uniform from 1931 is considered to be the first ever lesbian film . Since the 1990s, lesbian women have been increasingly portrayed in films and television series. Examples are Lindenstrasse with the characters Tanja Schildknecht and Sonia Besirsky, Dark Angel (2000–2002) with the character Original Cindy, Queer as Folk (2000–2005), Berlin, Berlin (2002–2005) with Rosalie, the best friend the main character Lolle, Friends (1994-2004) with several lesbian characters, including Ross' wife Carol, who falls in love with her best friend, or Ellen (1994-2001) with actress Ellen DeGeneres , who ends at the same time as her series character the 1990s came out. With The L Word - When Women Love Women , which first appeared on German television in 2006, there is a completely lesbian series. In the Netflix series The Prince of Dragons (since 2018), several lesbian relationships are built into the plot.

Lesbian life plans

Title page “The Girlfriend” from 1928

In the 1920s, in Berlin in the Roaring Twenties , lesbian lifestyles and political positions were discussed in public for the first time in magazines such as Die Freund , BIF - Blätter Idealer Frauenfreundschaft or Liebende Frauen . Lesbian organizations were founded and an independent culture and, above all, a lesbian-cultural infrastructure such as cafes and clubs were created, thus providing space for lesbian lifestyles. The rise of National Socialism ended this in 1933.

Despite an increased media presence of homosexual women since the 1990s, an openly lesbian way of life is not established, so that there are, for example, only a few openly lesbian top politicians, which is also due to the fact that there are generally few female top politicians. In Austria, for example, Lisa Rücker (Vice Mayor of Graz from 2008 to 2012) or Ulrike Lunacek (from 1999 to 2009 Member of the Austrian National Council, 2000 for four months State Secretary for Art and Culture) from the Greens are openly lesbian women or in Switzerland the mayor of Zurich, Corine Mauch , in Germany Barbara Hendricks , Federal Minister in the Merkel III cabinet.

The lesbian identity is essentially related to women and lesbian-centered lifestyles and interests. Lesbian identity and culture today span a wide spectrum. The connection with feminism, which was taken for granted in the early years of the lesbian movement , is also viewed in a differentiated manner by many lesbians - not least as an unintended consequence of the successes achieved through lesbian-feminist engagement in recognizing same-sex lifestyles.

Current topics in lesbian life are analogous to the general social discussion, for example questions about life in old age and rainbow families as an equal form of family.

Romantic friendship with women around 1900

Rainbow families and political situation in Germany and Austria

Same-sex marriage has been possible in Germany since October 1, 2017.

In Austria, a legal institution for homosexual couples was introduced in 2010 with the Registered Partnership Act (EPG). It has been adapted to marriage more and more and differs little from it in legal and tax law. Conservative parties such as the ÖVP or the FPÖ reject full equality between heterosexual and homosexual couples . Since January 1, 2019, according to a ruling by the Constitutional Court ( VfGH ), homosexual couples have also been allowed to marry in Austria.

Lesbian ways of life in old age

Lesbian lifestyles in old age are sometimes subject to different challenges than those that other - heterosexual or gay - groups know: What may have been perceived as an advantage in younger years, inconspicuousness, then turns into a disadvantage when it comes to a strictly standardized one World, like that of a stationary care facility for the elderly, to be perceived and taken seriously. Lesbian women often notice their homosexuality or bisexuality later than men or are open to it. As a result, they often lack an accepting, social and family environment in old age. Due to the generally lower visibility, especially of older lesbian women in film and television, and the small number of openly lesbian women in politics, literature and the visual arts, there are hardly any role models.

At the end of 2002, several conferences on the subject of lesbians and old age took place. B. the symposium on the subject of being different and getting older - lesbians and gays in old age , organized by the Berlin Senate Department for Education, Youth and Sport, which was documented in detail with the study Getting older - older lesbians and gays in Berlin . In 2004, the psychosocial women's counseling center Donna Klara prepared a report on lesbians and old age for Schleswig-Holstein , which also contains recommendations for action; A report is now also available for North Rhine-Westphalia.

Butches and Femmes

Until the 1970s, the division was in the lesbian subculture in the English-speaking world in Butches (American often dyke , in German-speaking countries also CR = "kesser father," Asian tomboy ) for stressed masculine appearing women and Femmes (Asian- Dee ) quite common, if not compulsory, for women who appear to be emphatically feminine. This distinction between Butch and Femme was considered "politically incorrect" after the rise of feminism during the 1970s and 1980s and was rejected. This part of lesbian history is represented in Leslie Feinberg's Dreams in the Awakening Mornings , for example . Since the mid-1990s, the butch and femme concepts have increasingly appeared again in the lesbian subculture. Many lesbians would not assign themselves to any group and reject self-reduction through categorization. The categories are particularly controversial against the background of the category criticism of queer theory . In addition, parts of the lesbian and feminist movements criticize the fact that Femmes and Butches are “heterocopies” that support negative patriarchal structures and power relations. This criticism is often rejected as a prejudice. Femme or Butch is by no means a “heterocopy”, because on the one hand the femme chooses a woman as a partner and not a man and on the other hand a butch does not always choose a woman who appears to be a woman. On the other hand, Judith Butler argued that the concept of a copy presupposes an original that does not exist, since there are no ontological criteria according to which heterosexual or feminine women and masculine men are “natural”, “not derived”, “correct” “Gender performance could be awarded.

Relationship to transsexuality

Dragkings and trans men , especially those who have or had a connection to the lesbian subculture, are criticized by the lesbian and women's movement even more than butches and femmes . Although there are seldom overlaps, drag kings and trans men are clearly distinguishable. Dragking is a woman who represents or satirizes stereotypical male behavior within a stage role in typical male clothes and looks. In contrast, trans men are people who were assigned the female gender in the legal and medical determination of gender, which usually took place at birth, but who identify with the male gender.

Especially trans men who had gender reassignment measures carried out were increasingly excluded from the lesbian and women's movement , especially after the publication of The Transsexual Empire in 1979. This only started to change again in the last few years. The idea that trans men are basically lesbians who would “betray” women because they would only give in to the social pressure of heteronormativity , but not their gender identity, does not correspond to the state of the art. Accordingly, trans manliness is now mostly accepted; The decisive factor is the self-identification of the persons concerned.

The integration of lesbian trans women created similar conflicts . The Transsexual Empire described trans women as “disturbed men” who were part of a patriarchal conspiracy to occupy women's spaces with men and to “rape” the female body through physical assimilation; an idea incompatible with the state of the art. According to the critics, the potential for conflict also harbors the socio-social construction of femininity, which is hardly comprehensible for trans women; an assertion that is again criticized, as on the one hand the average age of the transition is decreasing and on the other hand trans women face the same structures as a result of their passing. The rejection of lesbian trans women is declining, albeit only for a few years; While many lesbian and women's groups, events, etc., are equally open to trans women, other events are closed to them.

Lesbian women under National Socialism

During the Nazi era, female homosexuals were also threatened in many ways.




  • Ingeborg Boxhammer: Desire at a Glance: Forays through 100 years of lesbian film history. Mäzena, Bonn 2007, ISBN 978-3-939650-00-3 .
  • Ingeborg Boxhammer: Marta Halusa and Margot Liu: the lifelong love of two dancers. (= Jewish miniatures . Volume 175). published by the Centrum Judaicum . Hentrich & Hentrich , Berlin 2015, ISBN 978-3-95565-116-9 .
  • Claudia Breitsprecher : Bring your girlfriend with you. Conversations with lesbian teachers. Krug & Schadenberg, Berlin, ISBN 978-3-930041-57-2 .
  • Traude Bührmann: Wrinkles. Lesbian and old age. Krug & Schadenberg, Berlin 2000, ISBN 978-3-930041-22-0 .
  • Gabriele Dennert, Christiane Leidinger , Franziska Rauchut (eds.): Keep moving. 100 years of lesbian politics, culture and history. With the collaboration of Stefanie Soine. Querverlag, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-89656-148-0 .
  • Waltraud Dürmeier et al. (Ed.): When women love women, ... and are interested in self-help therapy. Women's offensive, Munich 1990, ISBN 3-88104-196-6 .
  • Ulrike Janz (Ed.): Metamorphoses: Lesbians and the menopause. Krug & Schadenberg, Berlin 2006, ISBN 978-3-930041-52-7 .
  • Manuela Kay, Anja Müller (eds.): Come nicer, the sex book for lesbians. Querverlag, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-89656-047-6 .
  • Stephanie Kuhnen: Save the dolphins - lesbian gossip. Quer, Berlin 1999, ISBN 3-89656-043-3 .
  • Gertrud Lehnert: We're getting more and more beautiful. Lesbian and fashion. Krug & Schadenberg, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-930041-31-6 .
  • Christiane Leidinger: Not a daughter from a good family. Johanna Elberskirchen (1864–1943). UVK, Konstanz 2008, ISBN 978-3-86764-064-0 .
  • Madeleine Marti: Deposited messages. The representation of lesbian women in German-language literature. JB Metzler Verlag, Stuttgart 1992, ISBN 3-476-00856-8 .
  • JoAnn Gardner-Loulan, Margaret Nichols, Monika Streit and others (eds.): Lesbian love passion. Texts on feminist psychology and love relationships among women. Orlanda Frauenverlag , Berlin 1992, ISBN 3-922166-80-6 .
  • Felice Newmann: She loves them: the lesbian sex book. Krug & Schadenberg, Berlin, ISBN 978-3-930041-66-4 .
  • Lillian Faderman : Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present. 1981, ISBN 0-688-13330-4 .
    • German by Fiona Dürler, Anneliese Tenisch: More delicious than the love of men: romantic friendship and love between women from the Renaissance to today. eco, Zurich 1990, ISBN 3-85647-103-0 .
  • Silvy Pommerenke: kisses in pink. The lesbian coming-out book. Krug & Schadenberg, Berlin, ISBN 978-3-930041-62-6 .
  • B. Reinberg: Sample of lesbians: Experiences of lesbian women with their heterosexual environment. Hamburg 1985.
  • Hilde Schmölzer : love for women. History famous female lovers. Promedia, Vienna 2008, ISBN 978-3-85371-295-5 .
  • Sonja Schock: And then you came - and I loved a woman. Krug & Schadenberg, Berlin 1997, ISBN 3-930041-12-X .
  • Gretchen Schultz: Sapphic fathers. Discourses of same-sex desire from nineteenth-century France. University of Toronto Press, Toronto et al. 2015, ISBN 978-1-4426-4672-8 .
  • Celeste West: On the Art of Loving Women. Krug & Schadenberg, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-930041-27-8 .

Lesbian and transsexuality

  • Janice G. Raymond: The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male. Teachers College Press, New York 1994, ISBN 0-8077-6272-5 .


German speaking

  • L-MAG . German magazine for lesbians since 2003
  • Lespress . German magazine for lesbians, 1995–2006
  • Your sense . theory-oriented lesbian-feminist magazine, 1990–2004

English speaking

Web links

Commons : stories of lesbians, tribades and other same-sex loving women  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
Commons : Lesbians  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Lesbian  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. Kurt Wiesendanger: Gays and Lesbians in Psychotherapy, Pastoral Care and Counseling: A Guide. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2001, ISBN 3-525-45878-9 , p. 17.
  2. Duden: Lesbianimus .
  3. ^ Rudolf Köster: Proper names in the German vocabulary: A lexicon. Walter de Gruyter, 2003, ISBN 3-11-017701-3 , p. 102: Lesbe.
  4. ^ Wilhelm Kroll : Lesbian love . In: Paulys Realencyclopädie der Classischen Antiquity Science (RE). Volume XII, 2, Stuttgart 1925, Sp. 2100-2102 .. Ellen Greene: Reading Sappho: Contemporary Approaches. University of California Press, 1996, ISBN 0-520-20601-0 , p. 130.
  5. ^ A b Norman Elliott Anderson: Lesbianism and female bisexuality in ancient Literature , 1992; Version: January 29, 2004.
  6. ^ Walter Marle: Guttmanns Medical Terminology. 25th and 26th edition. Urban & Schwarzenberg, Berlin / Vienna 1932
    “Tribadism: Sexual intercourse between women, esp. Genitals or Imissio clitoridis of one woman into the vagina of the other. "
  7. Julius Rosenbaum : History of the lust epidemic in antiquity together with detailed studies of the Venus and phallic cults, brothels, Νούσος ϑήλεια of the Scythians, paederasty and other sexual excesses of the ancients as contributions to the correct explanation of their writings. 7th edition. H. Barsdorf, Berlin 1904, pp. 143 and 204 f.
  8. ^ Lukian von Samosata : Discussions of the Hetaerae in the Gutenberg-DE project
  9. a b Anita George: Sappho. ( Memento of April 13, 2015 in the web archive archive.today ) 2002, Version: June 11, 2005, In: Claude J. Summers (Ed.): Glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture.
  10. ^ Louis Crompton: Greek Literature: Ancient. ( Memento from October 7, 2014 in the archive.today web archive ) 2002, version: July 28, 2005, HTML page 2; In: Claude J. Summers (Ed.): Glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture.
  11. ^ Johann Georg Krünitz: Economic Encyclopedia . Volume 41: Club - Knutzen. 1787, p. 164: "Boys = Schänderey".
  12. Sappho. In: Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon. Volume 1, FA Brockhaus, Leipzig 1837, p. 37.
  13. Angelika Corbineau-Hoffmann, Pascal Nicklas (Hrsg.): Body / language: forms of expression of corporeality in art and science. Georg Olms Verlag, Hildesheim / Zurich / New York 2002, ISBN 3-487-11682-0 , p. 101.
  14. Wendy McElroy: XXX: A Woman's Right to Pornography. St. Martin's Press, 1995.
  15. Julia Rieke, DER SPIEGEL: Lindenstrasse is discontinued: Gays and lesbians owe a lot to the show - DER SPIEGEL - Netzwelt. Retrieved January 6, 2021 .
  16. ↑ The Constitutional Court opens “Marriage for All” from 2019. Retrieved on March 4, 2019 .
  17. ^ Carolina Brauckmann : Final report: Inventory of lesbian senior work in NRW. ( Memento of August 24, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) Cologne 2004, Appendix P. X (PDF)
  18. Getting older - older lesbians and gays in Berlin. Study. (PDF)
  19. Lesbians and Old Age. ( Memento of September 29, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF)
  20. Inventory of lesbian senior work in NRW. Final report ( Memento of August 24, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF)
  21. Anna Hájková and Birgit Bosold: “I didn't want to die before I kissed a woman”. Der Tagesspiegel, November 22, 2017, accessed on January 6, 2021 .