January 1959 to December 1959
These days, we refer with ease to 'lesbians' and 'gay men'. These terms separately and together are widely used within and outside the LGB community. However, even within the seventy years covered by the memories from our contributors, a variety of terms has been used. Some memories include these words but it appears that people talking now have modified their terminology.
For example, the lesbian and gay centre which was set up in 1984 describes itself as run for and by homosexual men and women.
Some of the terms used in interviews and background are referenced below.
Lesbian: The word 'lesbian' is a reference to the female lovers taken by Sappho, a poetess from the Greek Island of Lesbos in the sixth century BC. It has been used to refer to female sexual orientation since at least to 1732 and lesbianism appears in the 1870 Oxford English dictionary meaning sexual orientation. Lesbian as an adjective is in the 1890 Oxford English Dictionary and as a noun by 1925. Until the early twentieth century lesbian was interchangeable with Sapphist.
Views differ as to whether gay is acceptable as an all encompassing term for men and women or not. In quotes it has been used both specifically for men and broadly for men and women.
Dyke is a slang term for a lesbian. Originally it was a derogatory label for a masculine or butch woman, and this usage still exists. However, in the ‘70s it was reappropriated, particularly by lesbian feminists, as a positive term implying assertiveness and toughness, or simply as a neutral synonym for lesbian.
In the late 70s and 80s many lesbians and lesbian feminists described themselves and each other as ‘dykes’. This had declined in such common usage by the late ‘90s.
Earlier usage had related to terms such as bulldyke or diesel dyke
‘Dykes on Bikes’ famously ride motor bikes and sometimes lead Gay Pride Parades.
Baby Dykes – a young, or newly out lesbian.
‘Dykes to watch out for’ – a popular American cartoon series started in 1983 and running over several decades, parodying a range of different ‘types’ of lesbians in an entertaining series of sketches by Alison Bechdel.
Queer - a term of abuse, but it was stated by one of our interviewees that homosexual men used to refer to themselves as 'queer' in the 1950s and 60s. More recently queer has been reappropriated in a political sense.
Bluebell - was also used by gay men in the 60s