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Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are associated with certain stereotypes - conventional, formulaic generalizations, opinions, or images based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Stereotypical perceptions may be acquired through interactions with parents, teachers, peers and the 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, but may still be hurtful or harmful.[4][5]


Lesbian is a term widely used in the English language to describe a female with sexual and/or romantic attraction toward other females.[6] 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.[7]

Typically, lesbians are thought to be "butch", dressing 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.[8] 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").

Many stereotypes of female homosexuality are seen through filters that men generally control, including the content of any lesbian history that has been relayed over time, the writers often being male.[9] Consequently, the varied meanings of the term lesbian, some of which have been introduced by male sources since the early 20th century, have prompted some historians to revisit historic same-sex relationships between women - that is, relationships that were formed prior to the popular usage of the term, whereby lesbian is defined primarily by erotic proclivities.

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.[10] 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."[11]

In more general terms, the representation of female sexuality in texts and documents has been described as inadequate. As of 2012, much of what has been documented about women's sexuality has been written by men, with any significant exceptions published in recent years. Critics have stated that those works written by men have been constructed within the context of a male understanding of female sexuality, and reinforce notions of women as wives, daughters or mothers.[12]

Gay men

File:Capital Gay Pride parade in Albany New York 2009.jpg

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.[13][14]

Homosexual men are often equated interchangeably with heterosexual women by the heterocentric mainstream and are frequently stereotyped as being effeminate,[15] despite the fact that gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation are widely accepted to be distinct from each other.[16] The "flaming queen" is a characterization that melds flamboyance and effeminacy, remaining a gay male stock character in Hollywood.[17] Theatre, specifically Broadway musicals, are a component of another stereotype, the "show queen",[18] generalizing that all gay men listen to show tunes and 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.[19][20] 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 and/or a feminine speaking tone.[21][22] Fashion, effeminacy, and homosexuality have long been associated, stereotypes often being based on the visibility of the reciprocal relationship between gay men and fashion.[23] 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.[24] A limp wrist is also a mannerism associated with gays.[25]

Sex and relationships

File:Carro Arcigay MI - Gay Pride nazionale di Roma 16-6-2007 - Foto Giovanni Dall'Orto 5.jpg

Gay men 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% and 60% are involved in a steady relationship, and that many others are single, but have the intention of becoming involved only in monogamous relationships.[26] Research also suggests that lesbians may be slightly more likely than gay men to be in steady relationships.[27][28] 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."[29][30]

Another persistent stereotype associated with the male homosexual community is partying. 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 they 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 since. Generally festive and party-like social occasions remain at the core of organizing and fundraising in the LGBT community. In cities where there are large populations of LGBT people, benefits and bar fundraisers are still common, and alcohol companies invest heavily in LBGT-oriented marketings.[citation needed] 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.[31]

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.[32]

Sex and drugs

The term Party and Play (PNP) is used to refer to 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 Party and Play 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 ecstasy, GHB, and cocaine.

A report from the National HIV Prevention Conference (a collaborative effort by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other governmental and non-government organizations) describes PNP as "sexual behavior under the influence of crystal meth or other 'party' drugs." [33] It has been referred to as both an "epidemic" and a "plague" in the gay community.[34][35] British researchers report that up to 20% of gay men from central London gyms have tried methamphetamine, the drug most associated with PNP.[36]

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 and/or pedophiles.[37] The former perception can lead to "gay panic", usually in straight men, who fear being hit on by gay men, and can be either a cause or an expression of homophobia.[38] The perception that a greater proportion of gay than straight men are pedophiles is one contributing factor to 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,[39][40] and actual figures on pedophilic acts show that most instances (generally over 90%) of child sexual abuse are perpetrated by heterosexual males having non-consensual sexual intercourse with underage females.[41][42]

Bisexual people

See also: Bisexual erasure

Rock musician and personality David Bowie became one of the world's most famous bisexual people when he came out in 1972.[43]

Bisexuality is romantic or sexual attraction to males and females,[44][45][46] though numerous related terms, such as pansexual and polysexual, also fit this description. People who have a distinct but not exclusive preference for one sex over the other may also identify themselves as bisexual.[47] Bisexuality has been observed in various human societies[48] and elsewhere in the animal kingdom[49][50][51] throughout recorded history. The term bisexuality, like the terms heterosexuality and homosexuality, was coined in the 19th century.[52]

Woody Allen is quoted saying, "Being bisexual doubles your chance of a date on Saturday night."[53] Common bisexual stereotypes include an inability to maintain a steady relationship (based on a perception that bisexuals are promiscuous because of their attraction for both genders),[53] and indecision as to whether one is 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.[47] 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."[54]

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.[55] 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."[56] In a 1983 interview he said it's "the biggest mistake [he had] ever made",[57][58] 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."[43]

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.[59] The beliefs that transgendered people are all prostitutes and caricatures of men and women are two of many erroneous misconceptions.[60]


A transsexual is a person born with the physical characteristics of one sex who psychologically and emotionally belongs to a variant or different gender to their physical sex characteristics.[61][62] Stereotypes of trans women include that they are generally taller than cisgender women, and that they may have larger, more masculine hands.[63]


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.[64] Most transvestites are heterosexual.[65] Transvestism may have a fetishistic component, whereas cross-dressing does not, although many people use the words interchangeably.[66]

See also


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