So, I’m on Queer BookTok (I mean, who isn’t?) and I had noticed repeated use of the word “Sapphic” to replace the word “Lesbian” – especially around pop culture content. Example, “I’m so excited for a Sapphic Rom Com!” regarding the movie Happiest Season. I finally sat down with Google today, assuming I was going to learn that “Sapphic” was a new word.
I WAS SO VERY WRONG.
Sapphic is derived from the 600 B.C. poet Sapphos who wrote a love poem about a woman! While the use of Sapphic and Lesbian originated around the same time to describe female homosexuality (Lesbian just became more colloquially used) the origins are MUCH OLDER.
So, if you think you’re late to learn something, you can remember the time Kim thought a word with roots 6th Century BCE was “new”.
(Note: It turns out that that some people from Lesbos submitted a petition in 2008 that asked people to stop taking a word that describes them to describe female homosexuality, although it doesn’t seem to be viewed as problematic to most Lesbians)
There’s still a fluid use of the words “Sapphic” and “Lesbian” in queer communities and there’s no journalistic “standards” yet that I can find. Neither the GLAAD Media Glossary nor the glossary from UC Davis LGBTQIA resource center even define it. The best and most thorough “definition” of it was what I found on non-binary glossary wikia here and then a whole wikia page about the Sapphic identity here.
So, while it seems to not be in mainstream use yet, it’s all over Queer TikTok – when it comes to using it to describe books/movies (where I hear it used most).
Essentially “Sapphic” is a wider umbrella than “Lesbian.” Like…a novel about WLW (women loving women) can be classified as Sapphic or Lesbian but most save Lesbian for when it’s women who EXCLUSIVELY love women. Sapphic is used more for content about person is is female-aligned who may be bisexual or pansexual. And while those Wikia pages do show how it’s used to describe a personal identity, that’s not how I’ve been seeing it used most on Queer BookTok. But it might being used as an identifier in other parts of the Queer community so I did want to clarify that I’m seeing it used to describe Pop Culture because THAT IS WHERE I LIVE ON TIKTOK.
(That an on Mental Health TikTok but that’s another entry for another day.)