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This is a point I addressed in an earlier post, rather poetically called “LGBT or just GGGGG?“, which, though sort of outdated, points out something similar: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