What does ‘Gold Star Lesbian’ mean, is it offensive – and should anyone still be using it?

Happy women friends forming heart-shape with hands with gold stars behind them

‘Gold Star Lesbian’ is a term that repeatedly comes up in conversations between queer women, but what does it mean? More so, should we even still be using it?

The lesbian dictionary demonstrates there is no such thing as a homogenous lesbian identity – there is the ‘U-Haul lesbian’, ‘pillow princess’, ‘golden retriever lesbian’, ‘GNC lesbian’, and ‘dom fem’ – but where does the ‘Gold Star Lesbian’ fit in?

What does ‘Gold Star Lesbian’ mean?

In the simplest of terms, a ‘Gold Star Lesbian’ is a lesbian who has only ever had sex with other women: they’ve never had sex with a man.

The now outdated term celebrates an ideal of ‘purity’ that supposedly exists in the lesbian community – the concept of a women who has never been penetrated by a man being in some way more desirable. However, it raises a number of questions surrounding the fluidity of gender and sexuality. 

For some, the label of ‘Gold Star Lesbian’ is still one that some people wear with pride. Others use it as a playful, tongue-in-cheek term that is jokingly used. However, the term far from benign: it has also turned into a stereotype in the LGBTQ+ community that could be seen to enforce some archaic and toxic ideas.

Where does the term come from?

Though there is no conclusive history of the term, ‘Gold Star Lesbian’ can be traced to the 1990s in published work, though it is more than likely that the term has been used in lesbian vernacular for much longer. 

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And in a related term, a ‘Gold Star Gay’ is a gay man who has never had sex with a woman.

Critics say that both terms rely heavily on traditional, heteronormative, binary and very “genital-based” views of gender, and that they have been used to erase transgender lesbians and transgender gay men

Somewhat understandably, through the years queer women and non-binary people have identified themselves in opposition to patriarchal society in which compulsory heterosexuality reigns supreme.

One positive reading of ‘Gold Star Lesbian’ is that it was created within the LGBTQ+ community to label a queer woman or non-binary person who has existed sexually without the presence of cisgender men, and who therefore exists outside of heteronormative society.

For some, the choice to never sleep with a cisgender man is a political statement. For others, it is a matter of personal preference.

Is ‘Gold Star Lesbian’ offensive?

The term ‘Gold Star Lesbian’ plays into the fact that women’s sexuality has a history of being defined in relation to men and the patriarchal society.

Many lesbians find the term offensive and criticise the label for its exclusion of bisexual people, trans people and people with other experiences of gender and sexuality. ‘Gold Star Lesbian’ has also been criticised for implying there is one way to be a ‘proper’ lesbian. For example, you could argue it diminishes the lived experiences of lesbians who only realise their sexuality later in life, perhaps after being married to a man.

Additionally, in some circumstances, a lesbian who is a survivor of male rape is then negatively defined by that experience – making the celebration of so-called ‘Gold Star Lesbians’ additionally troubling. It’s no wonder that the term is sometimes reacted to with anger online:

At the end of the day, a woman’s value should not have anything to do with who she has or has not slept with.

Just because someone has slept with a man in the past, it doesn’t mean that their lesbian identity or their attraction to women is any less is less legitimate, and creating a ranking of superiority ranking within the lesbian community serves no-one positively.

Ultimately, if it is a term that some women still wish to use for sexual self-expression, we should respect that choice. However, more widely, the term seems to be more harmful than helpful, and ‘Gold Star Lesbian’ should be definitely be viewed through that lens.