10 Lesbians You Should Know

Audre Lorde

Where would we be without the pioneering women who came before? Take some time to appreciate 10 Sapphic sisters who paved the way and made history.

Throughout time there have been lesbians. Some may argue lesbians evolved only due to
social situations that allowed women to break away from the support and cooperative survival with men. As a former anthropologist I state—and the greatest scholars adamantly agree with me—there have always been lesbians. So, let’s look at the “Top 10 Lesbians,” leaving out, of course our, unknown hairy lesbian pre-human ancestors like possibly Lucy or Betty Rubble.


Okay, who else would we start with but the ancient poet who lived in our motherland, the Isle of Lesbos? How much action that toga saw is lost in the chronicles of time. This is the original “lyrical gangsta” (actually, she probably owned a lyre) who lived from about 610 BCE to 570 BCE, penned—or rather, quilled—poetry celebrating the love of women while being admired by nymph-ish young followers who longed to understand her learned teachings. Or, you could say she read poems to young women around a tree all day, and then took one home at night to reveal her personal horizontal Socratic method. Only tiny vestiges of her literary evidence remain with us today. Her latest and fourth poem was discovered recently as part of the papyrus wrappings of an Egyptian mummy. Whether this is the ultimate honor or insult is up for discussion, but it is at least the very best in recycling.

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon

Wow! What a jump in time—2,600 years brings us to the 1950s. These activists are the literary foremothers of lesbian publications like Curve, with their self-published monthly magazine, The Ladder. They were the founders of the Daughters of Bilitis, a group that advocates for lesbian rights, but—and more importantly—they also organized potlucks. How many romances were spawned when a baby dyke pointed at a mysterious side dish and the proud cook stated, “That’s my famous faux chicken, hummus and soy casserole,” can only be estimated by multiplying potlucks by attendees divided by the deliciousness factor. Aside from their potluck fame, Martin and Lyon are known for being the first lesbian couple married in San Francisco when California legalized lesbian and gay marriage. Yes, the reception was potluck-style.

Del Martin and Phyllis LyonCris Williamson

She’s a singer, songwriter and a co-founder of Olivia Records. Her 1975 independent album The Changer and the Changed sold over 500,000 copies back when “album” meant vinyl 12-inch flat circle-y thing that you had to flip over half way through right when you were in the middle of getting your groove on…so inconvenient. Cris Williamson is to Womyns’ Music Festivals what lesbians are to hummus, Birkenstocks and fleece. Wait, that’s all the same. But Cris is not the same—she is a powerful singer. Period. With or without hummus.

Cris Williamson

Ellen DeGeneres

She hemmed and hawed about being a homo and then finally came out on the cover of Time, proclaiming, “Yep, I’m Gay.” Now she’s gone mainstream and yes, [yawn] she is a lesbian. Whatever. She is just so damn funny five days a week, and she dances and talks a lot about her pets…so lesbian.

Ellen DeGeneresMartina Navratilova

This tennis star was given asylum from her communist homeland of Czechoslovakia so we could watch her volley and kick Chris Evert’s ass, while we drool over her bulging forearms. She’s racked up 167 singles titles. That’s more than anyone. Ever. Sweet, sweet lesbian freedom.

Martina NavratilovaRita Mae Brown

She harbored Navratilova for a period of time but is known more famously for her lesbian novel Rubyfruit Jungle. She introduced a generation and beyond to their first hot and sweaty sexual literary experience, Yee-ha! Praise be to the power of the pen.

Rita Mae Brown, Author of Rubyfruit Jungle

Melissa “I’m a Rock Star” Etheridge

This Kansan kicked ass with her guitar while dodging undergarments thrown from the arms of the fiercest softball third base dykes from around the United States.

Photo Credit Lauren Dukoff

k.d. lang

This dykalicious lesbian crooned her way into our hearts, first thru C&W music then stampeded past the spiritual, musical and gastronomical limitations of some of those hetero beef-eating fans when she proclaimed she was a vegetarian. She ate salad and did not use capital letters. She fought the restraints of oppressive English teachers and beef-eaters. Moo-rah for her!

k.d. lang

Audre Lorde

This self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” struggled and flourished in the late 20th Century. She confronted racism within the feminist and lesbian communities. Two of her more famous quotes are, “Your silence will not protect you”—take heed cheaters—and, “You cannot dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools.” No, but you can steal the tools and sell them on eBay. Personally, I like drills.

Audre Lorde


Your Gym Teacher

Yes her! Didn’t she inspire you to recognize that “special” spark? As a hot, throbbing teenager (out to yourself, or not yet), you lingered and gushed around the one cradled in cleats or high tops, holding a clipboard, whistle around her neck. What young baby dyke was not nurtured, caused to perspire or transgressed by her gym teacher or coach? And for a time, was that coach not your number one lesbian?

The lesbian you are today did not just spring up out from the loins of your first lover. Many, many women beat and chopped down a path through a dangerous forest,  and then cried many tears that grew the beautiful lesbian garden that is there to enjoy. The few above and those not mentioned all made, contributed and created. And you contributed and created, too, by just being a lesbian, being out, defying the norm and being uncomfortable at times and scared. We all do things so that we can be lesbians and that makes it easier for our sisters to be lesbians too. Take a minute to appreciate, and then go be a “gym teacher” for someone.