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The Markedness of the Female Sex

Why do people (of all sexual orientations) speaking English persist in using the syndetic phrase “gays and lesbians” when the epicene word gay alone would do for both male and female homosexuals? As anyone who has read Y-H-B-‘s squib in American Speech (65 [1990], 191-192; see PDF list) knows, the reason has to do with the marked value of the female sex, as of the feminine gender. Since lesbian can only pertain to females, whereas gay does service for both males and females, there is no need to single out females unless males are explicitly being excluded from the universe of discourse. That female homosexuals still require linguistic individuation is strong evidence of the abiding marginal status of the feminine in an age that propagandizes equality of the sexes.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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