I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the words I use to describe my sexuality.
I have identified as bisexual since I was 17, and known I had attractions to folks of more than one gender since much earlier than that. I later realised that I could also consider myself pansexual, since I’m pretty sure I have the capacity to be attracted to people of any and all genders (and none.)
Even so, I’ve always liked the term “bisexual”, and continue to identify with it for a number of reasons:
- It feels extremely important to claim a label that is so often dismissed as “not really queer” or “queer lite”, despite being the third letter in LGBTQ+.
- It’s an easy shorthand that most people outside of the LGBTQ+ community have at least some understanding of.
- Claiming an expansive definition of bisexuality (“attraction to two or more genders”) is important in pushing back against the false narrative that bisexuals only fancy cis people or that bisexuality is a trans-exclusionary sexuality.
Even so, taken on its own, I haven’t found this term entirely satisfactory and I’ve played around with a few different ones. And the term I keep finding myself drawn to again and again is “sapphic.”
So What is Sapphic, Exactly?
Sapphic is a term “relating to sexual attraction or activity between women” (Oxford Languages.) As a sexual orientation or identity, the LGBTQIA+ Wiki defines sapphic as referring “to a woman or woman-aligned person of any sexual orientation who is attracted to other women and/or women-aligned individuals.”
Fun fact: the term “sapphic” derives from the name of Sappho, an Archaic Greek poet who lived circa 630-570 BCE and whose work described erotic desire and romantic love between women. The word “lesbian” comes from Lesbos, the island where Sappho lived.
Why Identify as Sapphic?
As I said, I’ve played around with a lot of labels over the years and particularly over the last few months. Though I’m definitely somewhere on the bi spectrum, I’m also definitely not a Kinsey 3. I’m probably somewhere between a 4 and a 5 – that is, much more frequently attracted to people with similar gender identities and presentations to mine (i.e. women, femmes, and women-aligned folks) than to those with very different identities and presentations (i.e. men, male-aligned, and masc-of-centre folks.)
In truth, if I told you ten people I fancy right now, at least nine of them would be women, femmes, or women-aligned. The men I love, fancy, hook up with, and date are wonderful… but they’re also the exceptions rather than the rule.
Sapphic is an umbrella term. It can encompass people who identify as lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, queer, and in various other ways. What I love the most about this particular label is that it doesn’t necessarily mean exclusive attraction to women (in the way that the term “lesbian” does). It does, however, centre that attraction.
As a woman and as a femme, most of the world would conceive my sexuality primarily in relation to men. Specifically, the assumption is that I will be exclusively or primarily attracted to them and that, even when I am not, my interest in other women will be performed in a way that centres men. In fact, one of the most common biphobic tropes is that bi+ women’s sexuality primarily exists for the titillation and enjoyment of men. (See “can I watch?” and “that’s hot” and “so if you’re bi, can we have a threesome?”)
I’m assumed to be “straight really” or just dabbling in queerness for funsies because my nesting partner happens to be male. I recently told a man who was trying to pick me up that I was “wayyyyyy towards the gay end of bisexual” and somehow, all he gleaned from that revelation was “so I still have a chance?” (Reader, he did not.) Even – perhaps especially – when you’re loudly and proudly queer, heteronormativity can seem very very pervasive sometimes.
So yes. I think “sapphic bisexual” is the most succinct and accurate way to sum up my sexuality right now.
Choosing a term to describe my sexuality that specifically places my love for and attraction to women at its heart feels like a small act of reclamation and celebration for my queerness. Every time I think about referring to myself in this way it makes me smile. I think that means I am on the right lines.
So what is sapphic? Right now for me at least, it’s pride and it’s joy and it’s queer as fuck.