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The word ‘lesbian’ can conjure many different connotations depending on who’s listening.

Sappho may come to mind for some, or a modern-day lesbian celebrity. Sadly for others, it might just be a sexualised term. There are so many associations that come with identifying as a lesbian, that even saying the word as opposed to something like ‘queer’ or ‘sapphic’ may seem daunting. Just Like Us’ research has shown that many young lesbians delay coming out because of stereotypes, and also that lesbians are the most likely to feel ashamed of their LGBTQ+ identity. I too was ashamed of my identity, until I realised that ‘lesbian’ is not a dirty word.

Growing up, I would hear members of my own family talk about same-sex relationships in such a negative way that it made me want to do nothing but retreat inwards, hiding myself and my identity in the closet. But that’s not where I belong.

One of the main ways I learned to be proud of my own identity was through immersing myself in lesbian history – and there is a lot to learn. Poems, letters, diaries, protests, activism – all these pieces of history, and for every new thing I learned, I would uncover more.

My knowledge certainly isn’t extensive, and that’s simply because there’s so much to discover. Seeing all these people, and the way they stood not only for themselves but for other lesbians, was truly eye-opening. ‌The love I saw fellow lesbians show each other throughout history and in the media not only warmed my heart, but filled me with joy.

Lesbians exist in all corners of the world, as is wonderfully shown by the platform Queering the Map. Across the globe, it allows anyone to make submissions pinpointed to the map, that range from humorous moments to declarations of love. This beauty of this snapshot in time across the world represents what being LGBTQ+ is at its core: love, and its universality. It truly is for everyone, and deserved by all those who seek it. It evokes both sentimentality and hope in knowing there are so many others like me, and that they are happy and proud of who they are.

We have existed forever. Think Sappho. Even before Sappho. Lesbian love in all of its forms has existed since the dawn of time. So who are we to deny ourselves the pleasure of learning of the rich and extensive history of women loving women, of living life unashamed of who we are. Lesbians are not broken, and do not need to be fixed.

It wasn’t easy reaching a point in my life where I can confidently say the words ‘I am a lesbian’, without shying away or hinting at it. The process certainly took a long time, but I wouldn’t trade my identity for anything, because my sexuality is such an integral part of who I am as a person. There is nothing unnatural about continuing a legacy spanning thousands of years, and certainly nothing dirty.

Zaynab is an ambassador for Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people’s charity. If you’re LGBT+, age 18-25 and living in the UK, you can volunteer for the Ambassador Programme here.