Some of them are not seeking same-sex rights, but the protection of the word “lesbian” as a unique identifier of the inhabitants of Lesbos.
“My wife is a Lesbian, my daughter is a Lesbian and I am a Lesbian,” said the Greek man who started this amusing case in an Athens court last month.
Ken Blanchard provides some background,
According to Thucydides, it went down like this. The island of Lesbos rebelled against the Athenian Empire. The Athenians quickly subdued it, and then it was up to the popular assembly in Athens… to decide what to do with the rebellious islanders. The assembly voted to kill all the adult males, and sell the women and children into slavery. Frees up a lot of real estate. A boat was sent out (powered by rowers) to inform the marines on Lesbos as to their duty. But the next day a shrewd speaker convinced the assembly to reverse its vote. So they sent out a second boat, with a reward promised to the rowers if they got there in time. They did. And so the Lesbians were saved. The male Lesbians that is.
But its association with gay females is traced back to a poet that inhabited it named Sappho, who lived around 530-670 B.C.E. Sappho wrote on a number of subjects that included passionate prose that included targets of the same sex.
Rename the Island instead of Lesbians
Dimitris Lambrou, a contemporary inhabitant of the island, is petitioning the courts against the Greek Gay and Lesbian Union (Olke) from using the name “lesbian” in their name. He claims that the human rights of the islanders have been violated because it disgraces them around the world. Presumably, he would continue his case to the national and international level as well if he was successful.
Granted, Labrou does use some very strong language, claiming islanders have suffered “psychological and moral rape” from the “seizure” of the use of the word “lesbian.” Although women raping men is far more rare, it does happen.
One 36 year old woman in Spokane County in the U.S. was convicted in 1997 of torturing and raping a 42 year old man. South African papers reported last year that men in that country are being raped without the use of a condom, a scary proposition considering HIV/AIDS rates there. Then of course there are the stories of pedophilia, usually involving a female in a position of authority such as a teacher.
But rape of the psychological and moral kind, and corresponding damages, are unlikely even under Greek law.
Lambrou also claims the Greek government is so embarrassed that they are renaming the country’s third largest island as Mytilene.
There are several other reasons for viewing Labrou’s concerns with skepticism.
Not an Aggressive Act Against Women
Lambrou has explained his motivations,
I’m a fan of old values and traditions.
He publishes a magazine promoting ancient Greek culture and religion, and frequently criticizes the Catholic Church.
Jane Czyzselska says in Beware of Greeks bearing prejudices,
While lesbians in more than 80 countries are still denied their basic equal rights and more than 50 per cent of Britain’s lesbian youth are bullied, poor old Lambrou and his sister are upset that use of the word violates the human rights of the islanders and disgraces them around the world. Clearly, Hellenics hath no fury like a lesbian scorned.
However Labrou has said,
This is not an aggressive act against gay women. Let them visit Lesbos and get married and whatever they like. We just want [the group] to remove the word lesbian from their title.
A Genericized Global Trademark
The other issue with the claim is that the word “lesbian” is similar to a proprietary eponym, when a supposed brand name under intellectual property rights enters the colloqial landscape and synonmous with the general term.
Examples of genericized trademarks include Band-Aid, Kleenex, Jell-O and even Google. If your brand is too successful, you actually lose your intellectual property rights towards it.
Lambrou said the word lesbian has only been linked with gay women in the past few decades. “But we have been Lesbians for thousands of years.”
The word “lesbian” has been used all over the world in this manner, and has been for some time.
Rictor Norton traces the use of the term in A Critique of Social Constructionism and Postmodern Queer Theory, “The ‘Sodomite’ and the ‘Lesbian,’ to at least 1732 in William King’s The Toast. By 1890, it had entered the Oxford University Dictionary, indicating a genericide for some time now.
Blanchard also adds the numerous sporting teams that use as their mascots or team names indigenous peoples and tribes that would seek similar intellectual property protection.
Hauke Goos describes the scene in the court,
Lambrou sat in the gallery, surrounded by Greek gays and lesbians. He seemed convinced that the case was progressing in his favor. But then the opposing party’s attorney cross-examined the witness. What about twins whose bodies are joined at birth? he asked. Wouldn’t he, the witness, refer to them as Siamese twins? “Yes,” the witness replied. “Don’t you think the Siamese might object to that?” He hadn’t come to Athens to discuss the problems of the Siamese, the witness said curtly.
No one can say with any firmness when and why Dildo acquired its name, but there are plenty of theories to choose from. Some say Dildo was named after a Spanish sailor of the same name who sailed the waters of the area. Others claim Dildo Bay was named after a ship’s part, a long metal cylinder. Still, others assert that Dildo, Nfld., is named for a certain species of cactus, the Dildo-Pear Tree, found only in the Caribbean. Still others hold to the theory that Dildo was named after an archaic term for a song’s chorus. The word is used that way by Shakespeare in A Winter’s Tale, Act 4, Scene 4: “…with such delicate burdens of dildos and fadings.”
And then there is the Amish town of Intercourse, Pennsylvania.
You can see where we are going with this…
The decision for the case was released July 18, and published today. The court rejected the plaintiff’s claim and said that the term could be used by gays, and said that Lambrou was free to appeal.
Michelangelo Signorile claims that Lambrou has been living in Canada for the past 30 years, which adds yet another interesting twist.
Back in Canada, legal lesbians are losing their jobs.
h/t Ainsley Brown of University of Westminster law and UWO law