LGBT stereotypes

LGBT stereotypes
Dykes on Bikes motorcycle group in a pride parade is considered a stereotype of butch lesbians.

Stereotypes about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are conventional, formulaic generalizations, opinions, or images about persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Stereotypes and homophobia are a learned outlook, i.e. from parents, teachers, peers, or the mass media,[1] or a lack of firsthand familiarity, may tend to lead to more reliance on learned stereotypes.[2] Negative stereotyping is often a result of homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia.[3] Positive stereotypes, or counterstereotypes, also exist but may be no less harmful, as they are still oversimplified views of the group being stereotyped.[4][5]



Lesbian is a term most widely used in the English language to describe sexual and romantic desire between females.[6] The word may be used as a noun, to refer to women who identify themselves or who are characterized by others as having the primary attribute of female homosexuality, or as an adjective, to describe characteristics of an object or activity related to female same-sex desire.[7] Lesbians are subjected to the stereotypes and misconceptions of whom they are, and how they dress and behave. Typically, they are thought to be butch, with short haircuts and work boots, dressing more masculine. Dykes, a pejorative term that has been reclaimed by the LGBT community, are thought to be making a strong statement of their place in society.[8] Portia de Rossi made significant progress in dispelling the general misconception of how lesbians look and function.[9]

Lipstick lesbian refers to femme women who tend to be hyper-feminine. The term U-Haul lesbian became a stereotype of intimating that lesbians move in together in a very short period of time.[10] This joke is considered a classic of lesbian humor.[11] The origin of this term is an old joke which refers to a brand of rental "move yourself" trucks and trailers: Question: What does a lesbian bring on a second date? Reply: A U-Haul.[12][13]

Any stereotypes of lesbianism need to be seen through the filter that generally men controlled whom the writers, subjects and content of any lesbian history related over time.[14] The varied meanings of lesbian since the early 20th century have prompted some historians to revisit historic relationships between women before the wide usage of the word was defined by erotic proclivities. Discussion from historians caused further questioning of what qualifies as a lesbian relationship. As lesbian-feminists asserted, a sexual component was unnecessary in declaring oneself a lesbian if the primary and closest relationships were with women. When considering past relationships within appropriate historic context, there were times when love and sex were separate and unrelated notions.[15] In 1989, an academic cohort named 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.[16]

Female sexuality is often not adequately represented in texts and documents. Until very recently, much of what has been documented about women's sexuality has been written by men, in the context of male understanding, and relevant to women's associations to men—as their wives, daughters, or mothers, for example.[17] Often artistic representations of female sexuality suggest trends or ideas on broad scales, giving historians clues as to how widespread or accepted erotic relationships between women were.[citation needed]

Gay men

Contrasting 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 flamboyancy and effeminacy, it remains a gay male stock character in Hollywood.[22] Theatre, specifically Broadway musicals, are a component to another stereotype, the "show queen".[23] The stereotype generalizes that all gay men listen to show tunes and are involved with the performing arts, are theatrical or dramatic and are campy.

The bear subculture of the LGBT community is composed of generally large, hairy men called bears.[24][25] Stereotypically, they are usually seen with facial hair and also wearing suspenders. They embrace their hypermasculine image, and some will shun a more effeminate man, such as a twink.

Appearance and mannerisms

In addition to being called effeminate, gay men are also identified with a gay lisp and/or a female-like tone and lilt.[26][27] Fashion, effeminacy and homosexuality have long been associated. A stereotype based on the visibility (within popular and consumer culture) of a reciprocal relationship between gay men and fashion; gay men who are visible in popular culture may purchase fashion as a means of expression; and gay men have high visibility within the industry creating fashions.[28] This has become a countertype in recent years with the arrival of mainstream shows such as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.[29] The "Queer Eye" countertype has been criticized for its use of stereotypes to create a false impression of groundbreaking progress while simply reinforcing old, patronizing identity scripts and convenient generalizations with questionable validity.[30] 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.[31]

Sex and relationships

Gay on a pride parade float in Rome.

A prevalent stereotype about gay men is that they are promiscuous and are either unwilling or unable to have enduring or long-term relationships. However, several surveys of gay men in the United States have shown that between 40 percent and 60 percent are involved in a steady relationship.[32] Research also suggests that a slightly higher proportion of lesbians than gay men may be in steady relationships.[33][34] A 2007 study reported that two large population surveys found "the majority of gay men had similar numbers of unprotected sexual partners annually as straight men and women."[35][36]

Constantly "partying" is another stereotype associated with the male homosexual community. Before the Stonewall riots in 1969, most LGBT people were extremely private and closeted and house parties and later bars and taverns became one of the few places where like-minded men could meet, socialize and feel safe. The riots represented the start of the modern LGBT social movement and acceptance of sexual and gender minorities has steadily increased. Social occasions which are generally festive and party-like remain at the core of organizing and fundraising even currently. In cities where there are large populations of LGBT people, benefits and bar fundraisers are still common and alcohol companies invest heavily marketing to LGBT subcultures. The disco era starting in the 1970s ushered in by underground gay clubs and disc jockeys kept the 'partying' aspect vibrant and ushered in the more hardcore circuit party movement that was hedonistic and associated with party and play (PNP or PnP), or simply 'partying'.[37]

The relationship between the modern day gay man and his heterosexual best girl friend has become highly stereotypical. The accepted behaviors in this type of relationship can predominantly include physical affections (such as kissing and touching) and a depth that suggests star-crossed lovers whose sexualities prevent them from being together. One example from modern day culture, comes from the show Will & Grace. [38]

Sex and drugs

There is a phenomenon and subculture of recreational drug users who have sex together, either one-on-one or in groups. The term is frequently used by and associated with gay men[39] and men who have sex with men (MSM). 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 the term PNP probably has its genesis in the distinct subculture of methamphetamine users, and is most associated with its use, people have been quick to generalize it to include partying with other drugs thought to enhance sexual experiences, especially ecstasy, GHB, and cocaine. This article in the New York Times describes PNP as simply "shorthand for sex with drugs." The GBLT glossary [40] notes that PNP is a term "denoting that someone wants to combine sex with use of drugs such as methamphetamines,[ sic ] etc." A list of gay slang[41] says PNP is "an interest for casual sex that includes hard drugs such as ecstasy". A glossary of drug-related terms[42] produced by the United States Department of Health and Human Services defines PNP as "Methamphetamine used in combination with MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine) and Viagra". The San Francisco Department of Public Health defines it as "a way to describe men who like to use crystal methamphetamine during sex." in its FAQ section.[43]

A report from the National HIV Prevention Conference (a collaborative effort by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a U.S. Government agency, and other governmental and non-government organizations) describes PNP as "sexual behavior under the influence of crystal meth or other 'party' drugs." [44] Although most sources only mention meth, this is inexactly constricting since the term has come into use for other drugs and/or combinations. It has been referred to as both an "epidemic" and a "plague" in the gay community.[39][45] British researchers report that up to 20% of gay men from central London gyms have tried methamphetamine, the drug most associated with PNPing.[46]

Bisexual people

Rock musician and personality David Bowie was one of the most famous bisexual people when he came out in 1972.[47]

Bisexuality is sexual behavior or an orientation involving physical and/or romantic attraction to both males and females, especially in regards to men and women.[48][49][50] "A bisexual individual may experience conflict with a homophobic society; however, such conflict is not a symptom of dysfunction in the individual. The APA Board recognized that a significant portion of homosexual and bisexual people were clearly satisfied with their sexual orientation and showed no signs of psychopathology." [51] Pansexuality may or may not be subsumed under bisexuality, with some sources stating that bisexuality encompasses sexual or romantic attraction to all gender identities.[52][53] People who have a distinct but not exclusive preference for one sex over the other may also identify themselves as bisexual,[54] Bisexuality has been observed in various human societies[55] and elsewhere in the animal kingdom[56][57][58] throughout recorded history. The term bisexuality, however, like the terms hetero- and homosexuality, was coined in the 19th century.[59]

Woody Allen is quoted as saying: "Being bisexual doubles your chance of a date on Saturday night." [51] Stereotypes exist for bisexuals about an inability to maintain a steady relationship on the assumption they are promiscuous because of their attraction for both genders.[51] Another stereotype is that they just cannot decide between being gay or straight which assumes a binary either/or spectrum of sexuality. Over a person's life their sexual desires and activities may vary greatly including being in mostly gay, straight or combined relationships.[54][60] 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."[61]

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.[62] 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."[63] In a 1983 interview he said it "the biggest mistake I ever made",[64][65] elaborating in 2002 he explained "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.[47]

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 one; it is their gender identity, their self-definition. There are vast differences in the people that may be generalized under this "umbrella" that are transsexual people, cross-dressers, drag queens, drag kings, masculine women, and effeminate men. In a broad sense, the term "transgender" includes all people who fall outside of gender stereotypes.[66] The beliefs that transgendered people are all prostitutes and caricatures of men and women are two of many erroneous misconceptions.[67]


A transsexual is a person born with the physical characteristics of one gender (natal sex) who psychologically and emotionally belongs to the opposite sex; in other words they were born into the wrong body.[68][69] It is a painful and confusing phenomenon, especially to those afflicted with transsexuality and their parents, much less society. There is a high rate of suicide among transgendered young people.[70]

Lou Sullivan founded FTM International, the first exclusively FTM organization and is largely responsible for the modern acknowledgment that sexual orientation and gender identity are two totally different concepts;[71] however, many in sexology research dispute this division, especially those scientists investigating the Bailey-Blanchard-Lawrence theory on the etiology of male-to-female transsexuality.

Stereotyping transwomen (male-to-female or MTF) as tall and transmen (female-to-male or FTM) as short is a popular misapprehension. While some MTFs and FTMs will fall into this stereotype, far more do not. Taking steps to alter the body early can avoid the height differences.[72] A transwoman will switch from a tall man's body to a tall woman's body.[73] Another stereotype is that it is possible to "tell" a transwoman by her hands, that they will be larger and more masculine than a woman born female.


Transvestites are often assumed to be homosexual. The word transvestism is from the Latin, combining (trans-, "across, over" and vestitus, "dressed") to refer to the sexual interest in cross-dressing.[74] However, most transvestites are heterosexual.[75] Transvestism may have a fetishistic component, whereas cross-dressing does not, although many people use the words interchangeably.[76][77]

See also


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