The fascinating history of the lesbian slang terms ‘stud’ and ‘stem’

Two black lesbians lying down opposite each other

Imagine being out on a date and they tell you that they’re a “baby dyke”, or a “chapstick lesbian” – would you know what that means?

What if they start saying that they’re “femme” or “butch” or that they’re a “stud” or a “stem”? Would you assume they’re using the word “stud” like Olivia Newton John in Grease?

Dating is hard enough when you know all the words and slang you’re supposed to, but with new terms cropping up every day because of the internet, it’s just getting harder.

Terms like stem and stud are becoming increasingly popular on TikTok, with the lesbian community on the app sharing the definitions in a number of videos.

The hashtag #studlesbian has over 20,000 videos, but many videos relating to stud lesbian traits and identifiers have up to 1.5 million views.

The term ‘stud’ is specifically used by the Black community to define a Black masculine identifying lesbian. Of course, not all Black masculine lesbians might say they are a stud – but a stud lesbian will be a Black woman, as it is a racially specific term.

Soso and Poussey kiss in their make-shift den (Netflix/Orange Is the New Black)
Soso and Poussey kiss in Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)

It’s not exactly clear where the term comes from, though some sources say it dates back to the 1960s and to the rise of both the civil rights and LGBTQ+ movements in the US, the latter of which was led by Black trans women.

In The New York Times, prominent author Roxanne Gay said: “Black women often get read as butch whether they are butch or not. Black women in general are not seen, so Black butchness tends to be doubly invisible. Except for studs: They’re very visible.”

“People tend to assume if you’re a Black butch, you’re a stud and that’s it. That is not always the case; not everyone uses the label.”

The term is thought to be influenced by Black cisgender men, particularly in their mannerisms, while at the same time being a “repudiation of the male gaze”, according to the New York Times, which is why it is a term specific to the Black community.

Similarly, a stem lesbian is also typically refers to a Black or Latinx lesbian who lies somewhere between a stud and a femme. It can also be described as a combination of butch and femme traits, or as a soft butch, as they exhibit some butch traits without leaning fully into a masculine stereotype.

According to queer dating app Taimi: “A stem woman can dress like a man but have Instagram-worthy feminine makeup on. A stem lesbian is a complex women who may be a tomboy in appearance but has a feminine touch in the way she dresses.”

“Stem girls generally enjoy masculine hobbies and activities but have often have expressive feminine sexuality,” it continues.

The term has also gained popularity on TikTok, with Black and non-Black people of colour using the term in videos about their gender expression and sexual identity. Some videos with the hashtags #stem and #LGBTQ – so as not to confuse it with the term STEM in an educational setting – have reached over a million views.

There are still many terms out there that are being revitalised, discovered, and made up every day so it’s important for LGBTQ+ people who are dating to keep their finger on the pulse and update their own personal glossaries.

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