What is a lesbian? 1988-2008

The third of a four-part blog series on Bridge Across the Ocean, Randy Boyd’s second novel and a Lambda Literary Award Finalist for Best Small Press Title.

“Some of the biggest people in the entertainment industry are gays and lesbians.”

“I’ve heard that before, but what is it?”

“What, lesbian?” From anyone else, I would have never bought such ignorance. What kind of unaffected town is this place he calls home? I asked myself. Surely, even in Norman Rockwell paintings, they know what lesbians are.“Why, a lesbian is a gay woman, a woman who’s gay.”

“But a guy can’t be a lesbian?”

“Not unless he gets a sex change and only dates women. A guy is gay. A girl is gay or she’s a lesbian.” —from Bridge Across the Ocean

Derek Mayfield, a young black man with HIV/AIDS, must explain to a naïve teenage boy the difference between the words gay and lesbian in my second novel, Bridge Across the Ocean. The scene takes place in 1988 on a warm sandy beach in Cancun. Derek has just come out to the straight-identified teenager, who is now full of questions about the mysterious world of homosexuality. The scene and the novel are both inspired by real-life events from 1988.

I named some lesbians in the public eye and he reacted with the same astonishment as he had with the male sports figures.

“I had no idea,” he said after I named a black singer. “She’s beautiful.”

“And she makes herself beautiful for other women.”

“I had no idea.” He stared out toward the sea, flabbergasted as if he’d just contemplated the very meaning of the ocean, its depths, motions and mysteries, and come up with nothing. “I had no idea.”

It was at that moment that I realized that, until now, I had no idea just how naive and impressionable [this kid] truly was. —from Bridge Across the Ocean

Back in 1988, at the age of 26, I was shocked and awed to realize that some teenagers in America were still ignorant about the existence of gays and lesbians. I thought we had come so far. Heck, I had just attended my first-ever gay pride celebration. Wasn’t America right behind me, coming up from the rear, so to speak? Apparently, not as swiftly as I had imagined.

Fortunately for me—and lesbians everywhere—the world is catching up to the notion that homosexual men and women do exist. In your own neighborhood. In your school. In your church. On your sports teams. Seated in America’s stadiums. Sleeping in bed with their husbands and wives every night (in “traditional” marriages, mind you). Heck, sometimes, gays and lesbians are right next door! Or even living in your own house! Why, I’m almost ready to go out on a limb and say, at any given moment, any American alive could be in bed with a homosexual right this minute—one way or another, mind you.

Yep, I’m guessing the naïve American teenagers of today aren’t so naïve as the two teenage brothers who hero-worshiped me during the fun-filled, Mexican adventure that inspired my second novel. Twenty years later, the American teenagers of 2008 know exactly what a lesbian is.

A lesbian is someone who can have her own sitcom, talk show, music or political career and be openly lesbian and proud of it.

A lesbian is someone who can be an athlete and get paid for it.

A lesbian is a woman who can go to college and make out with lots of females who are eventually headed for the alter with a male.

A lesbian is a heterosexual male fantasy that allows males to compartmentalize the idea of homosexuality into a vicarious adolescent fantasy.

A lesbian is a heterosexual male concession that says to women: “Okay, you’ve got enough balls to admit wanting to fuck around with the same sex, which is more than I can say, so I’ll just watch.”

A lesbian is a marketing niche for corporate America, capable of morphing into anything from reality shows to characters on dramas to two moms choosing their child’s date on MTV.

A lesbian is someone who was around with a helping hand when gay men started dying off in the 1980s, when neither the US government, corporate America, American citizens, nor scared gay American men were willing to care for or about people with AIDS.

A lesbian is a woman who loves women romantically but can have, love and raise all the babies she wants.

A lesbian is a woman who wants to have the same rights as other Americans to marry the one she loves.

A lesbian is a reason for a lot of the great progress in America and the world, from the beginning of time.

A lesbian is a type of person who will exist as long as humans do.


A lesbian is like any other human being, someone who cannot be defined, classified or stereotyped into any single behavior, thought or lifestyle.

A lesbian is someone with whom I might have a shot at my getting laid by a chick dream.

A lesbian is someone with whom I might have a shot at my fathering a child dream.

A lesbian is a word created by humankind to describe behavior and feelings that can’t always be categorized and defined and put in a box, even a lesbian one.

A lesbian is all in your mind, whether the year is 1988, 2008, or some other year created by some other manmade calendar.

A lesbian is as a lesbian does.

A lesbian is whatever you dream a lesbian to be.

  • The third of a four-part blog series about Bridge Across the Ocean, Randy Boyd’s second novel, and a Lambda Literary Award Finalist for Best Small Press Title

Bridge Across the Ocean @ 20: A four-part series
1 – Bridge Across the Ocean @ 20
2 – Bridge to somewhere: where the boys are today
3 – What is a lesbian? 1988-2008
4 – Young jock offers oral sex for magazine subscription