Over the last few years, there have been numerous discussions on Facebook about which term to use. Since learning that folks did not feel included, I’ve chosen to use all three tags in my blogs and try to remember to be inclusive in the language I use, regardless of the fact that most of my characters are lesbians (not all but the vast majority-it’s what I know as a lesbian) versus bi-sexual, pansexual, non-binary or trans. Most of the time, the discussions are respectful and good, but on occasion, our community behaves less than respectfully because there are strong feelings on this topic. I’m not going to get into a debate about those issues because, frankly, I believe it won’t be healthy for me or others. Instead, I came across a great article on the terms sapphic and WLW and wanted to share some of it with all of you.
In the article, a definition of sapphic is noted from dictionary.com, which includes both lesbian as well as, “of, relating to, or being a woman who is sexually or romantically attracted to other women, used especially as an umbrella term for all women who are attracted to women.” The definition also includes a reference to Sappho’s poems which is where sapphic originates. What I found interesting when I was researching this is that the old-fashioned Merriam-Webster definition only includes lesbian as the third option, focusing more on Sappho, the Greek poet. While the urban dictionary seems to be the most current definition that is being recognized more widely today, trans and non-binary are left out of this definition, and one must infer that the “etc.” is a way to include trans and non-binary. Here is the actual definition. “An adjective for a female-aligned person who feels romantic or sexual attraction to female-aligned people. This applies to female-aligned people who are not only lesbians but also bisexual, pansexual, etc.” In my research, there were numerous articles and other places where the meaning of Sapphic was much more inclusive, and I was surprised to learn that even the urban dictionary has not quite caught up. The article I was reading was very clear that Sapphic was not a term that only cis women can claim, stating that “all women or non-men-trans, nonbinary, etc.-can be sapphic if they are also attracted to women.” There’s that “etc.” again leaving open the possibility for another term that might surface in the future.
So…what did the article say about WLW? Basically, the authors felt like WLW is synonymous with sapphic. In their view, they believe it to mean a woman-identifying person who loves or is attracted to other women (I suppose they also define women more broadly as women-identifying person). But how does that include non-binary folks? While the article did not know the origins of the term, WLW, suggesting it might be relatively recent, my research indicates it goes back as far as the 1920s originating in Black American vernacular. One more interesting fact about the term WLW is that the hashtag on TikTok has over 16.7 billion views according to the article. I wonder if that beats sapphic? Regardless of which term is your favorite, I vote for using all three. Although that may seem like overkill to some, it feels the most inclusive to me!
As I evolve, so do my books. Perhaps someday I will go back and look at the terms I’ve used with an eye toward more inclusivity. I’m sure non-binary was a term used well before I started writing, but I don’t remember that. Nor do I remember many people using WLW to describe the kind of books I wanted to write. Perhaps you will see for yourself my evolution as you read my books…just click the links below to get my books!
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2 thoughts on “Lesfic, Sapphic, or WLW?”
Thank you for an informative and enlightening post. You’re right, this issue of terminology and the inclusivity of it has been discussed for several years and in many circles. I was on the board of GCLS when we switched to WLW to the applause of some and the ire of those who preferred we stick with lesbian and lesfic. A year later, they made the full switch to ‘sapphic.’
Like you, I often use all three terms in my posts, especially on social media. I’ll add LGBTQ too. Nothing is perfect, unfortunately.