INTRODUCTION: WHAT IS A STUD?
The word “stud” has always floated around me. As a kid, I never bothered to ask for the definition, but I used context to associate it with my surroundings. Whenever someone referred to a stud, I pictured a masculine lesbian. This was the definition that stuck with me; but I was missing one crucial part of what it means to be a stud.
I was first corrected in 2021, in a conversation with my Black friend who had two mothers. Back then, I had tried to explain to her what a stud was.
“It’s like when a female lesbian dresses like a dude.”
She went on to say she knew, and that her mom was one. She also pointed out that she dresses like a man and that she’s not a stud.
“Because you’re not a lesbian. A stud is just a masculine lesbian.” I reasoned.
I felt ignorant when she corrected me that the term “stud” only applies to Black or Latina masculine lesbians. After 2021, I used the word accordingly but never did research to understand the origins or culture behind studs. Since February is Black History Month, I decided to dive into this background; here’s what I learned.
HISTORY OF THE STUD
There are various explanations for how and when “stud” was coined, but one stands out as the most widely accepted. In America’s early years, white slave owners would use animal terms for Black people to further dehumanize them. Popular examples of this are the words “buck” for men and “stallion” for women. Britannica provides the definition of stud in this context. “A male animal (such as a horse) kept for breeding.” Being called a stud signaled that you were strong and an optimal slave. This word was originally used for Black men, so how did it become a term for masculine Black women?
The masculinization of Black women by white men is nothing new. The practice sought to dehumanize and oppress them further, stripping them of a femininity only white women were afforded. In a post-slavery America, it was hard for Black women to get jobs even as domestic workers or menial laborers on farms and in factories. To work around this, many Black women used the white man’s bias in their favor; they dressed in masculine attire to find jobs, which was much easier as a man.
It’s speculated that the term “stud” came from the Black men working alongside these dressed-up women. It was obvious to the Black men who among their fellow workers were women, but they weren’t going to whistleblow. If questions were raised about the sex of a woman in disguise, the real men would tell white people she was an eligible working man, a stud. Not only was the word stud a cover for women, it implied they were stronger – optimal workers.
While this origin story makes sense, resources to confirm it are spotty, and it’s hard to fully prove. However, the word was confirmed to have been used in the 1960s in the writings of Ethel Sawyer, a monumental figure for Black lesbian research. One of her essays, written and based on real lesbian experiences, revealed that Black lesbians called themselves studs. Apparently, the word was frequently used in gay bars. The St. Louis LGBT History Project provides more context to Ethel’s research: “Sawyer befriended a group of African-American lesbians who lived in North St. Louis. Sawyer spent time with them at a bar they frequented and she interviewed them about their lives, identities, and relationships.”
The word “stud” holds a lot of history and culture. People today use “stud” as a way to differentiate a uniquely Black queer experience from the more all-encompassing term “lesbian”. “Stud” highlights the importance of intersectionality among marginalized groups. When voting rights for women were won with the 19th Amendment, only white women were allowed the privilege at first. A similar white privilege existed in lesbian feminism; the movement focused on winning rights and recognition for white members of the community, rather than for all lesbians.
This history illustrates why it’s so important that the word created its own community. It’s crucial to use the word correctly and not the ignorant way I once used it. Taking steps to recognize the importance of labels to identity means taking steps to further appreciate Black and queer people.
Shoutout to my stud muse, Zaria McKibbins.