Alphabet soup is a term used to describe a collection of letters. QUILTBAG. In the words of TikTok, “the LGBTQQIP2SAA+ initialism appears to have been in a constant state of reinvention” from its beginnings, “the Alphabet Mafia.” Queer identities are constantly in change, with new labels being introduced and old ones being abandoned on a regular basis. The fact that we are continually evolving and that the queer imagination is infinite can be seen as a positive in some ways. We’re constantly looking for methods to make language more suited to our needs, to find terms that make us feel like we’re celebrating rather than being restricted. The negative, on the other hand, is that navigating through all of this terminology can be challenging at times.
I started a lesbian and bisexual women’s book blog more than a decade ago, and if I’m being really honest, the “bisexual” bit was a complete afterthought at the time. As a result of the lack of bi women’s literature available at the time, the vast majority of the novels reviewed were lesbian in nature. I also referred to it as a queer women’s book blog from time to time. If I had started it today, I would have called it a sapphic book blog, which is what it is now. So, what exactly is the distinction between all of these? What is the difference between picking up a lesbian fiction book, an F/F romance, a stack of WLW books or sapphic novels, or a stack of queer women’s books? There is a lot of overlap between the two, but there are some significant differences that matter whether you’re making book recommendations or requests. Most of the time, readers request WLW books and are dissatisfied when they don’t receive any F/F romances. By being more specific with these labels, we can ensure that customers receive the representation they are seeking for in the marketplace.
Queer Women Books
Queer women books, of course, include any and all novels that are about queer women in some way. Queer is a broad umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of people and is not limited to sapphic individuals. Queer women may identify as asexual or aromantic, and ace or aro women titles can (and should) be included in roundups of queer women titles. Straight trans women may also identify as queer, and vice versa. Some persons who identify as sapphic or lesbian, on the other side, do not identify as female; these individuals are known as nonbinary sapphics and lesbians. Thus, depending on what you’re looking for, the phrase “queer women books” might be both too narrow and much too broad. A book blog like The Lesbrary, for example, isn’t really a broad queer women’s book blog because it doesn’t feature works in which the primary character is a straight asexual woman.
Unlike queer women books, women-loving-women novels are more particular than lesbian books, but they are less specific than lesbian fiction. Women who love women are covered under this law, which covers lesbians, bisexual women, pansexual women, and any other non-monosexual women (polysexual, omnisexual, etc). Of course, we still have the “woman” modifier to contend with. Individuals that are nonbinary lesbians or sapphics would not fall under this category. But because it was coined by Black lesbians, there is some disagreement about whether or not it is suitable for non-Black persons to use the acronym WLW. Another snag is that, while WLW does not always imply an F/F relationship — you might be a single lesbian or a bisexual woman in a relationship with a male, for example — it is frequently mistaken as such. Many individuals believe that the terms WLW and F/F are interchangeable (which, given how similar they looks, makes sense).
Overall, despite the fact that this is a concise phrase that makes things like tagging simple, there are numerous hazards to be aware of while using it.
Along with WLW, sapphic is a term that has only just acquired traction – despite the fact that sapphic dates back to the 16th century and has the same referent as lesbian, it has only recently gotten support due to the internet. Despite the fact that sapphic and lesbian are derived from the same root, their meanings are distinct. A group of lesbians, bisexual women, and nonbinary people who identify as sapphic are included in the phrase. As a result, all lesbian literature, as well as all WLW literature, is sapphic. They can be of any genre, and they are not required to contain an F/F romance. Even if the main character is a bisexual woman who has no love interests throughout the course of the book, the book would still classify as sapphic.
This is when things become a little complicated. Lesbian fiction, taken literally, should include any works with a lesbian main character. In practice, however, there is a great deal more information that is associated with this classification. Until recently, lesbian fiction, also known as lesfic, was the term used to describe the majority of gay and lesbian romances. In the lesfic publishing community, publishers such as Bold Strokes Books and Bella Books are commonly referred to as lesfic publishers. Those books typically have F/F relationships, although they may also contain aspects from other genres in addition to just romance. In an awkward twist, this has also resulted in books with F/F romances, particularly those published by well-known lesfic publishers, being referred to as lesbian fiction, even when the primary character is bisexual or heterosexual. This has, in my opinion, muddled the waters and rendered the phrase unhelpful. Even though lesbian fiction should be focused on a certain identity (only lesbians) and broad in scope (any fictional novel), it is often used interchangeably with straight-to-heart romances.
What irritates me about this is that it implies that lesfic is the only type of sapphic fiction that exists, which I find to be incorrect. While these novels can be excellent, they represent only a small portion of LGBT literature. Lesbian works do not have to be romances or even contain romantic interactions in order to be considered lesbian literature. A lesbian who is single is just as much of a lesbian as a lesbian who is in an F/F relationship. Lesbian books can be written in a variety of genres, including historical fiction, high fantasy, hard science fiction, middle grade comics, and more. They are more than just a romantic relationship. Lesbian readers who are looking for representation in the novels they read will have to jump through more hoops in order to receive suggestions as a result of this decision as well. “I’m seeking for lesbian fiction, which means characters that identify as lesbians and use the word lesbian, but it doesn’t have to be a romance.” “I’m looking for lesbian fiction,” says the author.