Who has the right to call themselves Lesbians?
Is it gay women, or the 100,000 people living on Greece’s third biggest island – plus another 250,000 expatriates who originate from Lesbos?
Campaigners on the Greek island of Lesbos are to go to court in an attempt to stop a gay rights organisation from using the term “lesbian”.
The man instigating the case, publisher Dimitris Lambrou, claims that international dominance of the word in its sexual context violates the human rights of the islanders, and disgraces them around the world. He says it causes daily problems to the social life of Lesbos’s inhabitants. In court papers, the plaintiffs allege that the Greek government is so embarrassed by the term Lesbian that it has been forced to rename the island after its capital, Mytilini.
The term lesbian originated from the poet Sappho, who was a native of Lesbos. Sappho expressed her love of other women in poetry written during the 7th Century BC.
But according to Mr Lambrou, new historical research has discovered that Sappho had a family, and committed suicide for the love of a man.
I don’t know about the family, but surely the story of Phaon in Greek mythology is not new. He was (to quote from the Wikipedia entry, a boatman of Mitylene in Lesbos. He was old and ugly when Aphrodite came to his boat. She put on the guise of a crone. Phaon ferried her over to Asia Minor and accepted no payment for doing so. In return, she gave him a box of ointment. When he rubbed it on himself, he became young and beautiful. Many were captivated by his beauty.
According to mythology, Sappho fell in love with him. He lay with her but soon grew to resent her and devalue her. Sappho was so distraught with his rejection that she threw herself into the sea to drown.
To me that tale seems to simply show that the male fantasy of winning the physical love of a lesbian is not new.