So, what the heck is a bi lesbian, anyway?
Simply put: A bi lesbian is someone who uses both the bisexual and lesbian label! There are a wide variety of reasons why someone may use the term "bi lesbian".
Bi-lesbianism fits into the larger sub-category of lesbians called m-spec lesbians. M-spec is short for multispec, which includes anyone attracted to multiple genders. This can include bi lesbians, pan lesbians, omni lesbians, ply lesbians, etc.. Each one of these identities has their own flag, as well as a general m-spec lesbian flag.
The term lesbian formerly applied to any woman who was in a romantic or sexual relationship with other women, and many bisexual women still use the word for this reason. However, due to lesbian separatism around the 70's, many people who identified as lesbians were pushed out of their own communities and history, and still are to this day.
Somewhat recently though, there has been a resurgence of people using the term "bi lesbian", along with a lot of talk of it in general from both people for and against such labeling.
Some sources and further explanations
This page will compile all the evidence I have found thus far on m-spec lesbians. Important to note that I do not have every single source, and there are more to be found, but this will be added to whenever I find new ones.
Some of this is historical record, some are posts presenting an argument, and some are posts with links in them.
Note: Not every person cited has views I agree with; I log posts purely because of their sources and objective information.
The experiences of a a self-identified gay bisexual (✩)
Using lesbian as an umbrella term (✩)
Bisexuality has been included within lesbianism for decades (✩)
Radical feminism separated bisexuals from the community (✩)
Some bisexuals have become disconnected from their history due to lesbian separatism (✩)
'Sapphic' is not a replacement word for lesbian (✩)
Bisexual women face some of the highest rates of sexual violence in the entire community (Not about bi lesbianism specifically, but moreso to refute the claim that bi people somehow don't face SA from men.) (✩)
Lesbianism can be flexible (✩)
Bisexuality can be flexible, too (✩)
"Are Bi Lesbians a Thing™?" by Luxander (✩)
Lavender Woman, Volume 2, Issue 5, August 1973: "What is a Lesbian? To me, a lesbian is a woman-oriented woman; bisexuals can be lesbians..." (✩)
Lani Kaahumanu, "Bisexuality & Discrimination", BBWM Vol. 3, No. 6, Dec 1985-Jan 1986: "...my lesbian awareness isn’t lost now that I claim my bisexuality [...] My political consciousness is lesbian but my lifestyle is bisexual..." (✩)
Robyn Ochs, "Bi of the Month: Betty Aubut", Bi Women Vol. 5, No. 2, April-May 1987: "I call myself a “bisexual lesbian.” I will always politically identify as bisexual, which to me means opposing restrictive categories [...] I consider myself gay. I think bisexuals are gay and gay liberation is our liberation..."(✩)
Amy Wyeth, "Don't Assume Anything", Bi Women Vol. 13, No. 4, Aug-Sep 1995: "Unfortunately, many of my experiences as a lesbian-identified bisexual woman have said to me that having an appearance or demeanor that diverges from the expected means I will not be accepted as truly belonging in the lesbian community."(✩)
(WIP, this will be added onto as I come across more arguments)
1.) Lesbian isn't an umbrella term, just use a different label instead. Bi lesbians don't exist.
Lesbian did actually used to be an umbrella term, and we have multiple sources on this! There's no debate on this; we know bi women were pushed out of the lesbian community, so using this argument on it's own is in bad faith.
Furthermore, if specific labels are fine, why aren't people allowed to have this one? Why, in the name of "using more labels", are we trying to restrict people from using labels that are not only harmless, but also decades old? Who am I, or anyone else, to tell other lesbians they cannot use terms they historically were always allowed to use? We cannot speak over our own history, our own older community members, who have already talked about this label over decades, and then act like we're supporting history by erasing bi lesbianism.
Yelling over and over again that someone's experiences don't exist will not make them disappear. Not believing in a grey area between lesbian and bisexual won't be able to silence the people who already live within it.
All lesbians have a rich history and were grouped together for centuries. People trying to force us apart less than a hundred years ago can't change our history. Not to mention, "gay" has been an umbrella term for longer than me or anyone else reading this, and there's been no issues there. It's inconsistent to say that "lesbian" is the one term that can't have variation, especially when historical record shows this to be inaccurate from the start.
2.) But we need spaces for specific experiences
Lesbianism does not have to be about what it excludes. When someone says they are a lesbian, it means they like women. Not giving an extra specification on that is fine, and specifying further if you want is also fine. Labels are very often not cut-and-dry for people, and "bi-lesbian" could also be considered it's own specific experience that needs a space and recognition.
This also assumes that subgroups within lesbian wouldn't be able to exist, when subgroups are a normal thing in just about every single other label. Labels are allowed to be broad and have specific groups within it, and it works that way with just about every other group.
(Also, important to note: bisexual just means "liking two or more genders." A woman who likes both women and some/all nonbinary people could also use bisexual, if they wanted to. While liking both binary genders along with nonbinary people is seen as it's most common usage, it is far from the only one.)
If you wanted to make a space specifically for women who only love women, maybe you shouldn't put that onto a term that has historically been for all of us. It is not the job of people who have always been here to leave for the sake of others who don't feel comfortable with their existence.
Transgender, nonbinary, MOGAI, queer, m-spec, even gay, all have variations in what those terms can mean to different people, and having differences in identity doesn't mean they suddenly have to detach from the lesbian community.
3.) Having a Lean or Strong Prefrence Does Not Make You Any Less Bisexual
Please read the very first word in "bi lesbian", and then explain to me how someone is not identifying with the label "bisexual" by using it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being bisexual, but:
1.) That's probably why bi lesbians are okay with calling themselves bisexual!
2.) Just because it's okay to identify as something, does not mean you must, if it doesn't fit you or properly explain you.
3.) Someone being partly bi doesn't mean they can't also use another label with it. It's not your job to choose which labels someone does or doesn't "need."
There is a fundamental disagreement between people within the community, on what labels are. Some people seem to think that they are never about someone's personal comfort or specific experiences, and must exclusively fall under broad ones they technically fall under, instead of ones that may be more specific, at expense of their comfort. This has been discussed and criticized by older community members, namely bisexual activists.
This type of thinking is used against a lot at pan, ply, and omni people, and it's directed at mspec lesbians too. I shouldn't have to explain why it's a cruel belief to have. Labels are things that we choose for ourselves based upon both what we experience and how we want to label them. Trying to force someone into a box they do not want to be in is shameful, and misrepresents what a label is for in the first place.
4.) Mspec gays don't exist, so mspec lesbians existing must be due to lesbophobia
Mspec gays do exist. (See the sources page)
They have flags, and I've personally met people who use the label. There's also been various instances of gay men talking about rare attraction to women. The thing is, lesbianism is policed a lot more than gay men are due to lesbian separationism and the continued prevalence of radical feminism in our community. To claim this isn't a major issue in the community would be a disservice, regardless of your personal stance on mspec lesbians.
Bi women and other wlw were pushed out of the lesbian community by radical feminists, and yet the debate on who is included under lesbianism isn't a new one. To those who see lesbianism as more of a political stance than something you just are, they see lesbianism as more of disliking men than what it actually means, which is liking women.
It would be ridiculous to claim that an argument that's been going on for decades by lesbians is lesbophobic. What's more likely: WLW were unwillingly pushed out of the community and have been fighting for that to not happen for a long time now, with it recently becoming more mainstream in our intracommunity issues, OR, mspec women suddenly just really want to be lesbians now for no reason except to hurt their fellow WLW? I'll let you decide that one.
5.) Why don't you just use sapphic?
If people stole a word from you- one that you've always fallen under, fought under, and were included under for decades, would you feel better if those people said, "well, don't worry, you can have this other word (so long as you don't take ours, don't get it twisted)"? Probably not.
Not to mention, there are people out there who say only lesbians can use sapphic. Every single word in this community that used to belong to multiple groups is getting twisted into a "women who only love women" label, no matter which label that happens to be, and no matter how much evidence proves this to be ahistorical.
Butch and femme, sapphic, lesbian, and other terms we have, let me remind you, been using for longer than anyone here has been alive, are not for you to take away so you can have more clear cut definitions that are easier for you to understand.
6.) Mspec women being able to use lesbian will make men more likely to hurt us
Men will hurt us no matter what we identify ourselves as. Men being misogynists is not the fault of women. Not to mention: Being a lesbian shouldn't have to be our only reason for saying "no" to a man. Bi women aren't automatically going to want to be with men, either. "NO" should be enough of a reason to say no to a man, and if said-man hurts us as a result, that is the fault of men, not bi women. "NO" should always be enough, regardless of whether or not you could theoretically be attracted to a man at some point.
This argument is what people like me would call "victim blaming." It implies, if not outright says, that bi women either deserve the assault they go through, or don't go through it at all, because they have the capability to sometimes be attracted to men.
7.) Okay yeah sure lesbian used to be for all wlw but it's not like that anymore so just use bi please
Look. If we had willingly left the community, this would be a fine argument. But we didn't. We were kicked out against our will, and we've been trying to make that stop for a long time now. Not to mention, in modern day, sometimes just "lesbian" or just "bi" doesn't specify enough for our personal identity. That is why many of us use bi lesbian to begin with. Part of the resurgence in bi lesbians is due to a need for this label, to explain experiences that were not able to be explained with something else.
8.) But mspec women are x y z!!!!
Full-stop, biphobia was a huge part in why the separationism started in the first place. Bi women were "too promiscuous", "available to men", "traitors to women", and just about a million other things that made us "incompatible" with lesbians.
If bi women, and other mspecs, scare you this much to the point where sharing a label with them makes you feel disgust, you should probably work on your internal biases instead of taking it out on us.
9.) How would you personally define lesbianism then?
Something I read from Lavender Woman, vol. 2 that I particularly liked was, "Woman oriented woman". (Since lesbianism also includes many nonbinary people, it could also be a woman-oriented nonbinary person).
I may have the capability to like other genders on occasion, but my primary focus and central lifestyle is around loving women, which is why I feel much closer to the lesbian label than the bisexual label, but technically fall under both.
Keep in mind that people can and will define lesbianism differently. Some people are only attracted to women, some people are not, and neither one is lesser than the other. I would personally say being woman-oriented is a good way to refer to it, but I can't speak for every lesbian besides just myself.
10.) Would all mspec women have to identify as lesbians then?
No, of course not. Labels are just that: Labels. Which ones you choose to use are for you to decide. Nobody has to use the lesbian label unless they want to use the label, and many bi women would likely prefer to just be bi. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and none of them should ever be pressured into identifying with a community they don't want to be in.
The idea of mspec lesbianism is not to force every single mspec woman into being a lesbian, but rather to just make the option available if they align with it and want to. While many bi (+ other mspec) women still align themselves with the lesbian community and history, some do not. Both groups can and should be respected; it does not need to be one or the other.
11.) What would you call a lesbian who's only attracted to women?
Well, for starters, they can still use lesbian. A lesbian is someone who is attracted to women, so if a lesbian wanted to say "I am attracted to women", lesbian already defines that. Someone who calls themself a lesbian likes women, and how exclusive that attraction is wouldn't be anyone's business unless they wanted to say so. Lesbians shouldn't be assumed to be automatically mspec when someone uses that word; if someone calls themself a lesbian and nothing more, that should be everything I need to know, and I wouldn't assume they're also mspec. (Because why would that even be my business to speculate on, y'know?)
But if someone wanted to specify that they are exclusively attracted to other women, they could say they're monosexual. Monosexual is a label that's used to define someone who isn't mspec. This includes monosexual gay men, monosexual lesbians, ceterosexual people, and anyone else with attraction to only one gender. A lot of people seem to have a particular hatred for this term, and I assume it's for the same reason everyone is so scared of the term "allo"; misunderstanding, or bigotry.
12.) I, a lesbian, am invalidated by bi lesbians.
If someone's existence is invalidating to you, that's something you need to work on, not us. Like I've already said; it's not the job of people who are just living their life and being harmless to change so that you can feel more comfortable with a label that had been inclusive to begin with. Ask yourself: Why are you so afraid, or angry, at them? Why do you have such a kneejerk reaction to their existence and experiences? Why do other people having valid experiences make you feel like it's invalidated your own? You cannot force people to fit your own views and personal experiences with a label in order to feel better about yourself and your experiences.
Pushing down other people and invalidating their lives will not fix, or help, anyone. It will hurt people, and if that's what you need to happen in order to feel validated, then I have to say again: That's something you need to work on.
I am well aware that sometimes, when a label you felt comfortable in started accepting other people you didn't understand, and who had different experiences than you, can feel invalidating, or alienating in your community. My personal acceptance of various people started with the realization that I am uncomfortable with change, and I have so much to learn about so many people. Once I did that, I began to let myself learn, wander, and talk to people from these groups, and I changed as a person because of it. Talk to these people, learn from them, read their sources; have an open mind about things. I can't force you to accept anyone, all I can do is ask you to understand them.
12.) Lesbian was inclusive because it wasn't an identity, but an act. because that's changed, lesbian is no longer an umbrella term.
This doesn't really make a whole lot of sense, when you boil it down to it's point. What is an orientation label, if not just identifying with something? What about lesbian "becoming an identity, not an act" suddenly closed it off to bi women? Remind me who decided that lesbian should only be for women who exclusively love women, again? Only a very specific subsection of lesbians who decided that bi women were too "gross" to be included with lesbians, because they had the capability to love men. Why didn't bisexuals get an opportunity to discuss this too?
Why did lesbian separatism, a community filled to the brim with transphobic, biphobic people, get to choose what this word meant, over people who had been in it for decades already- and why do their opinions seem to be seen as more important than the bi women who helped build the community to begin with?
Saying lesbian only closed off because it used to "just be an act" isn't true. Lesbian wasn't just an act, it was something that people used as an identity and a community, long before lesbian separatism came into the mix. "Tribade" was the original word used to describe 'the act of being a lesbian', and when lesbian became a more solid identity that people self IDed as, it was still very much so bi inclusive.
Bi women self identified as lesbians, not because they simply dated women, but because they were in the lesbian community, with other lesbians, because they all identified as lesbians. They were just as much of a lesbian as anyone else, regardless of if they were bisexual or not, because lesbian had never been only for women exclusively attracted to women in the first place. Someone identifying as a lesbian, regardless of what that reason was, still makes lesbian a part of their identity. Lesbian was always an identity, and the meaning of it was forced to change, not something that just magically did over time.
It's concerning that there are people who saw what lesbian separatism did to the community, how it filled it with radical feminists and harmful ideology, and sees that as the beginning of the community, because they find it to be a better beginning than one that included bi people.
Good flags and terms
Note: I use "turian" here in place of "gay mlm/nlm" so that it can be more inclusive of nonbinary people. You don't have to use "turian" specifically in order to use those flags, I'm just trying to use language that is as inclusive as possible, and turian is what I personally use! All blue text is a link.
General / multiple label
A term for people who move back and forth from mspec turian to mspec lesbian, or are both at the same time. This would generally be because someone is multigender and/or nonbinary. By @kenochoric on Tumblr.
A shorthand term for mspec lesbian. The term "lunian" can be used for anyone who's an mspec lesbian, even people who don't use the flag, and people can use the flag without calling themselves lunian specifically.
(Turian is the mlm/nlm equivalent of "lesbian", and it is all inclusive. It's also called "veldian" which is a more neutral version that nonbinary people might prefer. By @kenochoric on Tumblr.)
A shorthand term for mspec turian. The term "solian" can be used for anyone who's an mspec turian, even people who don't use the flag, and people can use the flag without calling themselves solian specifically.
other, or related