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LGBT stereotypes


LGBT stereotypes

The Dykes on Bikes motorcycle group in a pride parade, exhibiting a stereotype of butch lesbians.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) stereotypes are conventional, formulaic generalizations, opinions, or images based on the sexual orientations or gender identities of LGBT people. Stereotypical perceptions may be acquired through interactions with parents, teachers, peers and mass media,[1] or, more generally, through a lack of firsthand familiarity, resulting in an increased reliance on generalizations.[2]

Negative stereotypes are often associated with homophobia, lesbophobia, biphobia, or transphobia.[3] Positive stereotypes, or counterstereotypes, also exist.[4][5]


  • Research 1
  • Lesbians 2
  • Gay men 3
    • Appearance and mannerisms 3.1
    • Sex and relationships 3.2
    • Sex and drugs 3.3
    • Pedophilia and predation 3.4
  • Bisexual people 4
  • Transgender people 5
    • Transsexualism 5.1
    • Transvestites 5.2
  • Intersections between LGBT, race, and class stereotypes 6
  • Religion and activism 7
  • See also 8
  • Notes 9
  • References 10


Social scientists are attempting to understand why there are such negative connotations associated with the lesbian community.[6] William James assumed that it was a repulsive instinct that came naturally to each woman and that, when an individual enjoyed same-sex interaction, it was because it became a habit. In short, he assumed that "tolerance is learned and revulsion is inborn" (PBS). In 1908, James and Edward Westermack attempted to understand the violent actions taken toward homosexuals by Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastrian religions. They believed hostility existed because of the historical association between homosexuality and idolatry, heresy, and criminal behavior. Sigmund Freud asserted in 1905 that homophobia was shaped by society, an individual's environment, and the individual's exposure to homo-eroticism. Sandor Ference (1914) believed that heterosexual women's feelings of repulsion toward those identifying as lesbians was a reaction formation and defense mechanism against affection from the same sex. In other words, he believed heterosexual females feared being labeled as lesbians.

Taking an individual that adheres to stereotypes of LGBT people and putting them in face-to-face interaction with those of the LGBT community tends to lessen tendencies to rely upon stereotypes and increases the presence of individuals with a similar ethnic, religious, or geographical background, and who are accepting of homosexuals.[7]


Actress Portia de Rossi came out as a lesbian in the early 2000s.

Lesbian is a term widely used in the English language to describe a female with sexual or romantic attraction toward other females.[8] The word may be used as a noun, to refer to a woman who identifies herself, or is characterized by others, as having the primary attribute of female homosexuality; or as an adjective, to characterize an object or activity related to or associated with lesbianism.[9]

Lesbians have been a part of society around the world, whether their presence was prominent or not. Although Greek and Roman men participating in same sex relationships are typically well known, this was not necessarily the case for lesbians, possibly because of the lack of focus on women during the time period. The first recorded knowledge of lesbians occurs in the Middle Ages, where laws were made banning the practice, and generally lesbian held a negative connotation.[10]

In nearly all parts of the world, lesbians were not accepted fully by society, and only recently are countries beginning to accept women of "alternative lifestyles". Many popular movies put a negative connotation on the lesbian community, such as "The Children’s Hour" (1961). This movie gives viewers the idea that lesbian live a "dark" and almost depressing lifestyle. However, the media has portrayed lesbians in a positive light.[11] For instance, in the popular lesbian television series, The L word the media refutes the "U-Haul" lesbian stereotype, which is that lesbians move in on the second date. The show depicts a lesbian couple that starts a family and stays together long term. It intends to prove that lesbians hold the same "family values" as that of heterosexual couples. The show also uses mostly "feminine" or "lipstick" lesbians to combat the stereotype that all lesbians are "butch", or dress like men. This promotes the idea that lesbians come in all different shapes, sizes, and styles. The show also battles stereotypes through its character, Shane. Shane challenges the stereotype that lesbians catch feelings easily. It is believed that lesbians are easily domesticated, however, Shane shuffles between a varieties of girls, to challenge the idea that lesbians get easily attached to their partners.[12]

Many lesbians are associated with short hair, wearing baggy clothes, and playing sports.[13] Further, news coverage of LGBT issues reinforces stereotyped portrayals of lesbians. Often news broadcasts highlight stories on more "masculine" lesbians and fail to give equal coverage to other more faceted lesbian identities. Thus, the populations who receive information about marginalized communities from a news source begin to equate lesbian sexuality with masculine presentation. The way lesbians are portrayed leads people to make assumptions about individuals in everyday life.[14]

Typically, lesbians are stereotyped as belonging to one of the two following categories: "butch and femme". Butch lesbians dress in a more masculine manner than other women. "Dykes" (a pejorative term that the LGBT community has reclaimed, to an extent) are considered members of a community that is perceived as being composed of strong and outspoken advocates in wider society.[15] Actress Portia de Rossi has been credited for significantly countering the general societal misconception of how lesbians look and function when, in 2005, she divulged her sexual orientation in intimate interviews with Details and The Advocate which generated further discussion on the concept of the "lipstick lesbian" ("femme" women who tend to be "hyper-feminine").

Lesbian feminists assert that a sexual component is unnecessary for a woman to declare herself a lesbian if her primary and closest relationships are with women, on the basis that, when considering past relationships within an appropriate historic context, there were times when love and sex were separate and unrelated notions.[16] In 1989, an academic cohort called the Lesbian History Group wrote:

"Because of society's reluctance to admit that lesbians exist, a high degree of certainty is expected before historians or biographers are allowed to use the label. Evidence that would suffice in any other situation is inadequate here... A woman who never married, who lived with another woman, whose friends were mostly women, or who moved in known lesbian or mixed gay circles, may well have been a lesbian. ... But this sort of evidence is not 'proof'. What our critics want is incontrovertible evidence of sexual activity between women. This is almost impossible to find."[17]

Gay men

The contrast between a twink and a bear can be seen in this group of men in the Capital Gay Pride parade in Albany, New York in June 2009. The young blond (center), Naked Boy News host J.Son Dinant, is generally considered twink-ish because of his slender build and overall youthful appearance, while the man on the right, porn star Manuel Torres, would generally be considered a bear because of his stocky build and body hair.[18][19]

Homosexual men are often equated interchangeably with heterosexual women by the heterocentric mainstream and are frequently stereotyped as being effeminate,[20] despite the fact that gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation are widely accepted to be distinct from each other.[21] The "flaming queen" is a characterization that melds flamboyance and effeminacy, remaining a gay male stock character in Hollywood.[22] Theatre, specifically Broadway musicals, are a component of another stereotype, the "show queen",[23] generalizing that gay men listen to show tunes, are involved with the performing arts, and are theatrical, overly dramatic, and campy.

The bear subculture of the LGBT community is composed of generally large, hairy men, referred to as bears.[24][25] They embrace their hypermasculine image, and some will shun more effeminate gay men, such as twinks.

Appearance and mannerisms

Gay men are often associated with a lisp or a feminine speaking tone.[26][27] Fashion, effeminacy, and homosexuality have long been seen as stereotypes. They are often based on the visibility of the reciprocal relationship between gay men and fashion.[28] Designers, including Dolce & Gabbana, have made use of homoerotic imagery in their advertising. Some commentators argue this encourages the stereotype that most gay men enjoy shopping.[29] A limp wrist is also a mannerism associated with gay men.[30]

Recent research has suggested that “gaydar” is an alternate label for using stereotypes, especially those related to appearance and mannerisms, to infer orientation.[31]

Sex and relationships

Gay men on a pride parade float in Rome.

Research also suggests that lesbians may be slightly more likely than gay men to be in steady relationships.[32][33] In terms of unprotected sex, a 2007 study cited two large population surveys as showing that "the majority of gay men had similar numbers of unprotected sexual partners annually as straight men and women."[34][35][36]

Another persistent stereotype associated with the male homosexual community is partying. Before the populations of LGBT people, benefits and bar fundraisers are still common, and alcohol companies invest heavily in LBGT-oriented marketing. Ushered in by underground gay clubs and disc jockeys, the disco era kept the "partying" aspect vibrant and ushered in the more hardcore circuit party movement, hedonistic and associated with party and play.[37]

The relationship between gay men and female heterosexual "fag hags" has become highly stereotypical. The accepted behaviors in this type of relationship can predominantly include physical affections (such as kissing and touching), as in the sitcom Will & Grace.[38]

Sex and drugs

The term party and play (PNP) is used to refer to a subculture of gay men who use recreational drugs and have sex together, either one-on-one or in groups. The drug of choice is typically methamphetamine, known as crystal or tina in the gay community. Other "party drugs" such as MDMA and GHB are less associated with this term. While PNP probably has its genesis in the distinct subculture of methamphetamine users, and is most associated with its use, it has become somewhat generalized to include partying with other drugs thought to enhance sexual experiences, especially MDMA, GHB, and cocaine.

A report from the National HIV Prevention Conference (a collaborative effort by the U.S. [39] It has been referred to as both an "epidemic" and a "plague" in the gay community.[40][41] British researchers report that up to 20% of gay men from central London gyms have tried methamphetamine, the drug most associated with PNP,[42] despite methamphetamine use being relatively unknown in the UK outside the PNP subculture.[43]

Extreme sex or bondage is also a stereotype in gay men. People often presume that that gay men often conform to the stereotype of leather and chaps, including fisting.

Pedophilia and predation

It is a common stereotype that gay men are sexual predators or pedophiles.[44] The former perception can lead to a knee-jerk reaction that created the "gay panic defense", usually in straight men, who fear being hit on by gay men, and can be either a cause or an expression of homophobia.[45] The perception that a greater proportion of gay than straight men are pedophiles is one contributing factor of discrimination against gay teachers, despite the stark contrast to statistical figures, which have generally revealed that upwards of 80–90% of male pedophiles are heterosexual and usually married with children of their own,[46][47] and research on child sexual abuse shows that most instances of child sexual abuse (one cited percentage being over 90%) are perpetrated by heterosexual males having non-consensual sexual intercourse with underage females.[48][49] Research has consistently indicated that a significant minority of child sex abuse perpetrators are female (5%-20%),[48] but other research has indicated that almost 40% of child sexual abuse against boys, and 6% of abuse against girls, is committed by women.[50]

Bisexual people

Rock musician and personality David Bowie became one of the world's most famous bisexual people when he came out in 1972.[51]

[53][54] or romantic or sexual attraction to people of all gender identities or to a person irrespective of that person's biological sex or gender, though numerous related terms, such as pansexual and polysexual, are also equated with this description and there exists debate with regard to the terms' interchangeability.[55][56][57] People who have a distinct but not exclusive preference for one sex over the other may also identify themselves as bisexual.[58] Bisexuality has been observed in various human societies[59] and elsewhere in the animal kingdom[60][61][62] throughout recorded history. The term bisexuality, like the terms heterosexuality and homosexuality, was coined in the 19th century.[63]

Woody Allen is quoted saying, "Being bisexual doubles your chance of a date on Saturday night."[64] Common bisexual stereotypes include an inability to maintain a steady relationship (based on a perception that bisexuals are promiscuous because of their attraction to more than one gender),[64] and indecision as to whether one is gay or straight (which assumes a binary, either-or spectrum of sexuality). Over a person's life, one's sexual desires and activities may vary greatly.[58]

In 1995, Harvard Shakespeare professor Marjorie Garber made the academic case for bisexuality with her Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life, in which she argued that most people would be bisexual if not for "repression, religion, repugnance, denial, laziness, shyness, lack of opportunity, premature specialization, a failure of imagination, or a life already full to the brim with erotic experiences, albeit with only one person, or only one gender."[65]

Rock musician David Bowie famously declared himself bisexual in an interview with Melody Maker in January 1972, a move coinciding with the first shots in his campaign for stardom as Ziggy Stardust.[66] In a September 1976 interview with Playboy, Bowie said, "It's true, I am a bisexual. But I can't deny that I've used that fact very well. I suppose it's the best thing that ever happened to me."[67] In a 1983 interview he said it's "the biggest mistake [he had] ever made",[68][69] in 2002 elaborating: "I don't think it was a mistake in Europe, but it was a lot tougher in America. I had no problem with people knowing I was bisexual. But I had no inclination to hold any banners or be a representative of any group of people. I knew what I wanted to be, which was a songwriter and a performer [...] America is a very puritanical place, and I think it stood in the way of so much I wanted to do."[51]

As for bisexual people portrayed by Hollywood, from the end of the McCarthy era to even today, "The history of male bisexual characters in film has been one of negative stereotyping."[70]

Transgender people

Transgender is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of people with more specific identities. In general, a person who is transgender self-identifies with a gender other than their biological sex. The term may apply to any number of distinct communities, such as cross-dressers, drag queens, and drag kings, in addition to transsexuals.[71] The beliefs that transgender people are all prostitutes and caricatures of men and women are two of many erroneous misconceptions.[72]


A transsexual is a person born with the physical characteristics of one sex who psychologically and emotionally identifies with a variant or different gender than their physical sex characteristics.[73][74] Stereotypes of trans women include that they are generally taller than cisgender women, and that they may have larger, more masculine hands.[75]


Transvestites are often assumed to be homosexuals. The word transvestism comes from the combination of Latin words trans meaning "across, over" and vestitus meaning dressed.[76] Most transvestites are heterosexual.[77] Transvestism may have a fetishistic component, whereas cross-dressing does not, although many people use the words interchangeably.[78]

Intersections between LGBT, race, and class stereotypes

Hispanics generally have a difficult time within the Latino community because of strong gender roles the community holds on to. Men are supposed to care for the family and be a strong father figure, while women are supposed to play a subordinate role. Switching this role is often seen as obscene. There have been some shifts away from these stereotypes in recent years, but it has been very minimal. The strong belief in "machismo" has caused these shifts in attitude to be so small. Machismo refers to the male dominant role in society that provides more social freedoms to men that are not experienced by women. Freedoms include: to have more than one partner, failure to disclose HIV, infidelity, and refusing the use of condoms. Lesbians have a particularly hard time with this, since it promotes the idea that lesbians should conform to all sexual standards that require obedience to the family and its rules. Therefore, if an individual defies the ideas of machismo, the individual is defying their family. As a result, lesbians in the Hispanic community are seen as being both disrespectful to their families, and as abnormal.[79]

Asian Americans that identify as lesbians are having struggles earning respect in society, as well as getting society to understand their situation. Many Americans tend to Orientalize those from the East, labeling them exotic and strange. Many Asian practices are often ignored by Western media and, as a result, the LGBT issues are pushed even further under the rug. Often when the media does address Asian LGBT issues, they are often depicted as silent and highly sexualized.


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See also

Kathryn Lehman, former house representative for the Republican Party, is now the lobbyist for the Freedom to Marry coalition. Lehman identifies as a lesbian and has devoted a substantial amount of time to overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, a law she helped write. Lehman says, "I’m trying to break the stereotype that all gays and lesbians, especially lesbians, are democrats" (NY Times). Lehman wants society to realize that woman that identify as Republican and LGBT do so because they believe in Republican values such as small government, not because they oppose their own rights to marriage.[82]

There is a common stereotype that members of the LGBT community are not religious, but this is untrue. The Human Rights campaign is leading a program that promotes the idea that an individual can be gay and religious. Harry Knox, a gay minister, has led this movement since 2005. “Seventy-two percent of adults describe their faith as “very important” in their lives, so do sixty percent of gays and lesbians”(US News). Activists are working to bridge the gap between religion and homosexuality and to make denominations friendlier to the community. Many Protestants have opened their doors and the United Church of Christ now ordains gay ministers. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is working with Jewish individuals in the LGBT community to have a more welcoming atmosphere.[81]

Religion and activism


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