sunset lesbian flag

Lesbian is the word used to describe women exclusively attracted to other women. One might come across the terms sapphic and wlw while researching lesbianism.

"Lesbian" specifically designates women only attracted to other women, though some people have decided to incorrectly use the term. There are other terms available to express attraction to women if one is attracted to women (and other genders) and/or doesn't identify as a woman themselves, such as trixic or gynosexual.

This word is not an umbrella term for attraction to women. Lesbians can never be attracted to men. If one is attracted to men in any way, they are not a lesbian. One also cannot identify as a man or any other gender as the word isn't an umbrella term for anyone attracted to women regardless of gender.

The word originally referred to inhabitants of the island of Lesbos, until the 19th century where it took on the meaning of "female homosexuality", due to numerous writers using it in reference to Sappho.

Sappho by J.W Godward

The poet Sappho (c. 610–c. 580 BCE) was born and lived in the city of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos. In her time (7th and early 6th centuries BCE) she was extremely famous among Greek and Roman circles and wrote an incredible amount of poetry. She was considered on equal footings with Homer (c. 8th BCE) by some.

There were 9 books compiling her writings in the great library of Alexandria. A lot of it was never translated or simply got damaged over time. Only a fragment of her poetry survives to this day ;barely 650 lines. It's mostly focused on women, their daily life and rituals, as well as relationships between women. The only complete poem we have recovered is called Ode to Aphrodite. It's about a woman begging Aphrodite to help her win the romantic favors of a young woman.

Her attraction to women has been historically erased ; during the 10h century a byzantine encyclopedia called the Suda pretended that she was married to a man named Kerkylas of Andros (roughly translated to the crude joke "big d*ck of the island of man") and the Greek comedy playwright Menander (c. 341-329 BCE) started the legend that she was attracted to a man named Phaon and threw herself in the sea after he rejected her. This story was made up, and Phaon never even existed.

She's known today for her poetry featuring passionate descriptions of love for women and has thus been seen as a symbol of female homosexuality since.

Lesbians are often classified between "butch" lesbians (=masculine women) and "femme" or "lipstick" lesbians (=feminine women), of course not everyone fits on this spectrum.

A lot of lesbians are considered as GNC women (=gender non-conforming) which means they do not fit traditionally feminine stereotypes. They are still women : things such as having short hair, a masculine outfit or "behaving like a man" doesn't make them any less of a woman.


Labrys flag from 1999

When looking for the lesbian flag, one may come across a purple flag with a black triangle and a labrys (a double headed axe), drawn by graphic designer Sean Campbell in 1999.

This flag does not represent the Nazis.

The black triangle was put there to commemorate the sisters we lost during the holocaust and who were forced to wear a black triangle in concentration camps. The colour purple was associated with the poet Sappho based on her writings ; the axe is a labrys which is associated with the Amazons (a mythological group made entirely out of female warriors) and was a symbol used by the lesbian feminist community in the 70s and 80s.

lipstick lesbian flag from 2010

There's also one with a gradient of pink. The pink one used to be the lipstick lesbian flag, before being adopted as the general lesbian flag, and was first seen in the weblog This Lesbian Life in 2010. The flag is for lipstick lesbians with the stripes having little meaning other than being stereotypical feminine colours.

butch lesbian flag from 2017

Another flag is the orange gradient one. It's used by butch lesbians and was designed by Tumblr user butchspace in 2017.

sunset lesbian flag from 2018

The most recent flag is the sunset one, designed by Tumblr user Emily Gwen in 2018. It combines the colors of the lipstick and butch flags into one single flag. The white stripe of the sunset flag is meant to represent unique relationships to womanhood and not nonbinary people as some may claim.

Meaning of the colors used in the sunset flag

It is not possible to become or chose to be a lesbian, homosexuality is innate. However, some people may come out and discover themselves only later in life, due to external factors such as education, societal norms, religion etc.

Lesbians shouldn't be called "non-men" simply because nonbinary people want to be included in the term. A lesbian can only be a woman and there are other words available for nonbinary people exclusively attracted to women.


[1] lesbianism and Sappho on

[2] lesbian flag history

[3] meaning of the sunset lesbian flag

[4] lesbian in the Oxford dictionary

[5] why this word shouldn't be used to describe nonbinary people

[6] History of Lesbianism

[7] Sappho and Phaon

[8] Sappho and Kerkylas

[9] Ode to Aphrodite (translation from 1997)