Your Lack of Interest In Anything About WLW Does Not Exist In a Vacuum

The other day on Twitter, there was some discussion of the problem of authors and readers alike talking about how they’re “just not interested” in reading or writing f/f or sapphic romance. (I will be using sapphic in this post as it’s less awkward and more inclusive.) I wrote this thread about it, but I think I really want to talk about the way sapphic content is discussed and consumed in mass media.

There is a fact that often gets ignored, which is that not liking sapphic fiction is something a lot of sapphic women have experienced – internalized misogyny and internalized homophobia combine in such a deeply painful way, especially as a Baby Gay. It can also feel alienating, as pointed out by Brooklyn Ray on Twitter, to write f/f for some trans and nonbinary people. We all have our experiences, and I think especially for queer women and non-cis people, reading sapphic can hit really close to home.

There is another fact, which is that the mainstream romance and YA communities almost completely sidelines wlw or sapphic romance, and that it is completely normalized to say things like “I’m just not interested in f/f” without any type of questioning behind that statement.

We see this sidelining of sapphic romance in a lot of elements of fandom, many of which come across in anecdotes: if any of you used to follow those Tumblr Top 20 Yearly Ship Lists, you may remember that several years running contained not one single f/f ship. (The first sapphic ship on the 2018 list, in case you were wondering, comes in at #12). But I’d like to draw your attention here to a bit of research on fanfiction done by Tash @SapphicSolace, in which she demonstrates the disparity of f/f vs. m/m vs. m/f fic in almost every remotely popular book fandom:

Multiple times there were more ‘general’ than f/f fics and most of the time m/m had the most. Why? So many people claim to ‘love’ queer relationships but that seems to only pertain to m/m.

This is a point I addressed in an earlier post, rather poetically called “LGBT or just GGGGG?“, which, though sort of outdated, points out something similar:

The thing is that despite the rise in diversity in YA, the only kind of diversity that gets popular is focused around (usually white) gay guys. It’s great that we’re seeing more gay guys, but I’ve gotten to the point where I hate reading “diversity recommendation lists”. They’re all like “here are ten books about gay guys, 90% of them written by straight women! and here are two contemporaries that use mental illness as a plot device! diversity!! confetti!!” Okay, okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it’s also… not. I am constantly shocked by the amount of lgbt recommendations list that don’t have a single book with gay or bi women or with trans characters. That’s not an lgbt list.

The common counterargument to all this is that f/f content just doesn’t exist, and what’s weird is that a few years ago, I could almost take this as an argument. (Although let’s still think carefully about the amount of content for noncanon m/m ships vs. the amount of content for noncanon f/f ships.) But the reality seems to be that f/f content, even when it does exist and is wonderful and good, struggles to find an audience with the same kind of obsessive love we see for popular m/m and even m/f pairingsSome more research Tash has done on m/m and f/f reading rates in romancelandia can be found here

And it’s not just a problem of writing rates and reading rates; it’s an issue of the comfort with which f/f content is approached when it’s talked about at all. I’ve been thinking a lot about this excellent Tumblr post recently:

wlw aren’t allowed to have a personality outside of being wlw. that would ruin the aesthetic. we aren’t supposed to be complex individuals with complex relationships, we’re just supposed to look pretty, especially if it’s to make the other ship and/or the artist look better. we aren’t people to them, we’re props.

there’s a word for this: objectification. it’s not sexual objectification, but its still the literal definition of it. youre degrading wlw to nothing more than a little prop, an aesthetic for yourself, devoid of authentic care for us. you’re stripping away our unique traits, our entire personalities and relationships, and molding us into your ideal image of what we should be, pretty and in the background… nothing but cannon fodder for your other ships, the ones that get to be complex and dynamic and interesting and passionate. the ones with men.

I really want to reiterate here that this is not a public callout, because this is not an issue of one person. I don’t know the story of the author who originally stated she isn’t interested in f/f; again, this isn’t about her intent, or any one specific person’s intent. It is about a broader problem in fandom and culture as a whole, where women are not allowed a voice and agency in our own literature, and where as a result, sapphic women are worse: we are treated as nothing but props. 

And guys, I absolutely love sapphic fiction (as you all know), and it’s been a HUGE help to me in working through internalized homophobia. but… I didn’t come into this world excitedly reading sapphic fiction, ya know? Learning to like myself enough to like romance that reflected me was a process (a process I’m actually going to talk about more in a blogpost later this week). But it’s still a process that was important for me to go through. Oh, I don’t mean just politically, but on a personal level. 

What scares me is it seems like a lot of authors and readers have decided that it’s okay to Just Not Be Interested in sapphic lit, and never gone through that process of working through internalized misogyny and homophobia. It is completely okay to have your own experiences, to struggle reading sapphic lit due to internalized homophobia, to struggle buying sapphic content. But we should be able to work through our “lack of interest” in reading about an entire subset of the population

And you can start by reading some excellent sapphic fiction.

So um… yes. Please tell me all your thoughts in the comments, as I could talk about this all day, and have a lovely week!watercolor-2087454_960_720Blog | Goodreads | Twitter | Youtube


23 thoughts on “Your Lack of Interest In Anything About WLW Does Not Exist In a Vacuum

  1. I love what you said about not initially LOVING this type of fiction because of personal things or in many cases a stigma or lack of interest and just so many things that can make us internalize the idea that they aren’t worth the read. I had to fight some of that myself, and now I can’t get enough — which has really opened my eyes to just how it’s received and treated. From the writing side of things I notice it very rarely takes off except in many of the same smaller communities. I haven’t had much luck on that front but I write it because sometimes reading isn’t enough. I’ve definitely noticed the abundance of cis m/m romances too, and it makes me feel… I’m not sure if “envious” is the right word. Like it’s great that’s being published, we could always use it, but it just seems to stop there in many cases.

    Anywho. Wonderful wonderful post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I totally get what you mean here – like, I’m not completely envious, the fact that there’s m/m fic isn’t a bad thing (although there’s a greater discussion about fetishization to have) but it’s not… the end all be all of representation? we need more.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved this post and you’re right. I see so many mlm romances, (and that’s great!!) but I think I’ve read only three books with a sapphic romance (and one I unfortunately really disliked because of the lack of worldbuilding and flat characters). I do have some more on my tbr though and I’m so excited to read them!!

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  3. this is such an amazing and well written post i love you so much elise!! even though I love supporting sapphic relationships, I still have internalized bias against them and I need to fix it all by reading hella more sapphic books !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ju I love u so much n I’m glad this post spoke to u!!!! I honestly feel like loving n embracing sapphic media has been such a cornerstone of me feeling more okay with myself and happier to be myself and I really hope that works for you too even on some small level 💜

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  4. This post is amazing, really. I remember when we touched this topic, about not being interested, in a book group I’m in… and wow, people really didn’t see the problem. I stopped long ago to believe that behind this not dangerous affirmations, there’s always something behind.

    Also because, if they’re not interested, why certain people are so into m/m? Because there’s a reason in that too.
    And yes, as someone who moves in many fandom (not only book releted) it’s pretty common to see only m/m ships getting populars, if not talking about canon sapphic characters with their sexuality erased in ship. At least for me is very disrespectful.

    This also kind touch me in the moment because, first identify as ace, I’m slowly working in my romantic orientation which is probably primaly aromantic but also.. I’m noticing that i may actually like girls or other people in a spectrum? That I would date one (in aro/ace way for me)?
    It’s just that… I never see that around, while getting all other ships and romance around. And… okay, a lot of things to say here and I’m not even sure where I’m going with it. Feelings are complicated stuff 😂

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    1. Thank you so much, Camilla! I totally feel this on the note of fandom – it’s such a common and widespread problem, it’s really hard to combat.

      Aaaah, so I identified as acearo spec for a few years (I no longer do) and I feel like that adds a whole other lens to what you’re comfortable with – reading about sex, and then also in terms of representation. I wish there was more discussion of those intersections in lit :/

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I just sat here trying to think of a single book I’ve read with f/f and I’m coming up with… Leah on the Offbeat, Echo After Echo, and The Lost Coast… and two of these books are by the same author. This is a problem. Especially because that amounts to about 0.03% of the books I’ve read.

    I wish I could say that the market is slowly opening up and the different shades of sexuality as starting to be explored more… but you’re right. There’s a stigma we culturally need to get over.

    I’d really like to add more books with sapphic love stories to my TBR! What are some of your favorites?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I linked my shelf on best sapphic books at the end of this post:
      https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/52545435-elise-thebookishactress?authenticity_token=FH5T43CgGLyiTy7itatWKVS1Uc8oDX1Ky7e9hnHba6ID6WYXmh9cJXDBtLVlYhtOfLj6C%2FAPiwNneFp344rQCg%3D%3D&order=d&shelf=that-gay-sapphic-books-shelf&sort=rating&user_id=52545435

      but a few of my faves are Sawkill Girls, The Weight of Stars, Girl Made of Stars (which is f/gq), The Abyss Surrounds Us, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. As a sapphic girl myself, who doesn’t read any sapphic fiction, this post really kind of hit home. I read a lot of queer things but all have been m/m because that somehow feels more comfortable and safe to me. I don’t know why that is but your post made me think it’s something I should explore more.

    I’ve recently figured out that I’m demisexual and I’ve been looking for more books that explore that, so hopefully that will lead me into more books that represent me, f/f and all.

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  7. I never even realised how little I saw sapphic books until I started following your reviews, Elise. Like it had just never even occurred to be, despite the fact I had recently come to terms with my own sexuality.

    I’d seen such little sapphic content in all areas, I just assumed it wasn’t out there I guess? But now?

    Now I can’t get enough, I want all the sapphic content. I want whole books where men are relegated to the background, and I’m given complex women and girls standing front and centre.

    I think it’s important that as a community we analyse why certain things are rarely the focus while other things are always in the spotlight. And I think on a personal level, we should analyse how and why were contributing to that.

    Love this post, as always Elise, you bring the goods whenever you post a discussion and I appreciate it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really really love this comment, Grey. I feel like wlw media is so not talked about that it becomes normal to just not even CONSIDER the impact – it’s really messed up. And it’s always so important to consider our own actions in the context of a culture.

      Again, thank you so much, this was such a lovely and introspective comment and I hope you’re having a wonderful week ❤ ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Very interesting post! This is something I’ve been trying to unpack for myself personally. I think it’s because certain kinds of personalities – the kinds I most like to ship – are rarely represented among female characters. Like, where is my girl Ronan Lynch? Or my girl Andrew Minyard? Or my girl Alabaster? Not that I’m demanding carbon copies of these specific characters, but like… I feel that author bias, unconscious or otherwise, often informs/limits the kinds of personalities that authors give to girls. And this probably impacts the popularity of wlw media. Thanks for reading this mess of a comment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahhh Hubbub I actually think that’s a really excellent point – lady characters get far little room to be flawed and dangerous and messed up, and when those types of lady characters do exist, they often get a lot of hate. I think it’s sort of self-propogating; we get fewer flawed wlw because flawed wlw don’t get popular.

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  9. I LOVE YOU SO MUCH AND I CAN’T WAIT FOR MORE POSTS ABOUT THIS SAME TOPIC!!!! you know how I feel about your discussions (eloquent god) and you also know how I feel about this topic (people will never love gay women as much as they love gay men!!) and you also know how much I adore you (a lot!!!!)

    Liked by 1 person

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