Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Male Lesbians and Your Good Name

It's just part of being human to spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about your public image. This concern manifests itself in different ways-- you seek a more prestigous job title, for example, when you might be just as happy in the mail room if it carried more clout. You try to look presentable. You hope to avoid being the topic of nasty gossip. Having your name dragged through the mud is a great misfortune. (Usually compounded by the fact that we overestimate how much attention other people pay to us)

There are people whose names become sullied by their own actions, as when Monica Lewinsky's last name is used synonymously with a certain sexual act. (Or non-sexual act if you subscribe to Bill Clinton's definitions) After George H.W. Bush had an embarassing bout with illness during a 1992 state visit to Japan, the Japanese coined a new term for a humiliating episode of public vomiting, bushusuru, which translates loosely as “pulling a Bush.”

But then there are those people whose names give them grief through no fault of their own. Adolf Hittler, for example, a perfectly nice, non-genocidal, Austrian tour guide who had the misfortune to be named before that other guy- the one with only one "t" in his last name-- became completely infamous.

Recently Dimitris Lambrou, a proud Lesbian, decided to go to court in an attempt to prevent gay women from appropriating the name of his people-- residents of the Island of Lesbos. Lambrou filed suit on April 10 against an orgainzation called the Greek Gay and Lesbian Union.

"It's not an aggressive act against gay women," Lambrou told reporters. "Let them visit Lesbos and get married and whatever they like. We just want them to remove the word lesbian from their title... My sister can't say she's a Lesbian. Our geographical designation has been usurped by certain ladies who have no connection whatsoever with Lesbos."

Frankly, the ship seems to have pretty much sailed on that one. Language has a life of its own. Once an association is there, it's too late for the lawsuits. Hormel, the makers of Spam (registered trademark) luncheon meat, have had to accept that their product's name is synonymous with unsolicited bulk e-mail.

Less lucky were the descendents of French physician Joseph Guillotin who advocated for more humane capital punishment during the French Revolution. Guillotin didn't invent the instrument of death, but became so closely associated with it that the device came to be known as a guillotin. After Guillotin's death, his children petitioned the French government to change the name of the blade, but it was too late. Their petition was not granted, and they changed their own name instead.

So my message to the proud Lesbian, Mr. Lambrou, is this: They're here, they're queer, they're called lesbians, get used to it. (Those of you who are still smarting by the "loss" of gay meaning happy to the English language-- that goes for you too.)

Post Script: For a vintage recording oddity of the other Lesbian variety, visit WFMU's fabulous Beware of the Blog.