Sapphic - What is it? What does it mean?

Last Updated: 12/10/2021
4 min read
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Sapphic flag

Sapphic is an umbrella term typically used for a woman. Sapphic word may be used to describe attraction of a woman to another woman. It may also be a synonym for women loving women WLW, Lesbians, Bisexual women, Pansexual, Omnisexual, Queer women, girls loving girls GLG, Nonbinary people and other women who love women. 

It may be used exclusively towards people who are attracted to other women. Sapphic love does not require lesbians, bisexuals, queer and nonbinary people to exclusively love women; instead, it prompts solidarity among people of all identities who are attracted to women. 

Sapphic may also refer to a specific genre of poetry as well as the poems written by the Ancient Greek poet Sappho from the island of Lesbos. 


Table of contents

Terminology

The term stems from the name of the Ancient Greek poet Sappho. The works of this woman, at least those that have survived to this day, often focused on the attraction and feelings between two women. Sappho was a woman from the Greek island by the name Lesbos which is what gave the root to the word lesbian. 

Dr. Laura McGuire a sexologist who writes on intersections of numerous identities says: “Although Sappho is highly regarded as the mother of lesbianism, even that is up for sociocultural debate—many of her love poems also suggest male lovers, implying queer/bi/pansexual identity by today’s standards”

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary definition, sapphic can be used as an adjective or noun. 

“Capitalized may be of or relating to the Greek lyric poet Sappho” or “a synonym for Lesbian”

In fact, the word sapphic can be used as a modifier with other identities. It can highlight not only the attraction to other women, but also stand for sapphic love. Sapphic can also be an identity on its own. Sometimes the term sapphic is used as a descriptor for lesbian relationships between women. 

Sapphic does not have to be an exclusive term for lesbians. Many nonbinary people, queer women, bisexuals claim the term as a non-exclusive counterpart to lesbian.

History

The background of the term sapphic is ancient. Just like many things that have survived over the centuries, sapphic history is up for debate. Some historians prefer to use the term sapphic stanza and limit its uses solely to refer to poems symbolizing love between women.

The Sapphic stanza which was named after Sappho is an Aeolic verse form of four lines. It was originally composed in quantitative verse and unrhymed. It is considered to be the longest lived of the classical lyric strophes in the western culture. Sapphic poems do not have to be written by lesbians. They are historically popular and can be composed by people of all sexualities and gender identities.  

It is clear that the new word sapphic was first used by sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld in his work “Sappho and Socrates: Or How is the Love of Men and Women for Persons of Their Own Sex Explained” 

The term sapphic was used almost exclusively as a synonym for lesbians or women who love other women in the 2000s.

Other Terms

Sapphic may be used interchangeably with lesbian but it does not mean the same thing. 

Lesbian

Typically is an umbrella term for a woman who exclusively loves women. A lesbian is a woman that can be sapphic, but they are solely attracted to females. Sapphic people can be nonbinary, bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual individuals attracted to women.

Bisexual

Typically refers to a woman or man attracted to both male and female sexes. Although a bi woman can be called sapphic the word cannot be used as a synonym.

Flag and Symbols

There are quite a few versions of the sapphic flag out there but majority feature two pink stripes in their design. The sapphic flag is a reflection of the sapphic identity. Since sapphic is an umbrella term for people who are attracted to women the flag has two pink stripes symbolizing love. In the center of the two pink strips on the sapphic flag is a violet flower. The violets were historically given to women to symbolize sapphic love. 

Real violets can be difficult to replicate in print. So, a Tumblr user created the modern sapphic flag in 2017. 

Sapphic flagSapphic flag

Sapphics can use a variety of flags and symbols for their love of women. There is also a demi-sapphic flag that stands for a-spec attraction. This flag may be used for sexual, romantic and tertiary attraction to women. 

Demisapphic flagDemisapphic flag

Pronouns

Sapphics can be of many different gender identities and expressions. Some sapphic people who are lesbians and bisexuas use she/her pronouns. There are some that prefer they/them or other gender neutral pronouns. 

It is always best to show respect and courtesy by sharing your pronouns first. Once you share your pronouns, ask the person about the pronouns they prefer using in conversation. 

Am I Sapphic?

Possibly, if you feel the word describes your sexuality and identity well then you may be sapphic. There are several views on what sapphic means for people. If you identify as a woman who loves another woman you may use the word sapphic to describe yourself. If you bisexual, lesbian, queer, pansexual, omnisexual person and have attraction to women you are likely a sapphic person.

The label does not require you to call yourself sapphic if you are uncomfortable with it. Many people prefer the word queer to label their identity. This umbrella terms simply means it is easier to communicate the love for a woman without labeling each and every sexuality individually.

How to Support Sapphic people?

A few ways to support sapphic people are:

  • Join LGBTQ+ organizations specifically those working with sapphic people
  • Raise awareness of sapphic issues at work and school
  • Provide assistance during events for sapphic people
  • Be an ally to sapphic people
  • Educate yourself and others on sapphic struggles
  • Display sapphic flag during Pride and wherever possible

These are some of the versions of the sapphic flag currently available:

The original sapphic flag symbolizing love:

Original sapphic flagOriginal sapphic flag

Alternate version of the original sapphic flag with two pink stripes: 

Alternate sapphic flagAlternate sapphic flag

Midnight sapphic flag: 

Midnight sapphic flag by @wintermidnight_Midnight sapphic flag by @wintermidnight_

Alternate sapphic flag: 

Alternate sapphic flag by CryptocrewAlternate sapphic flag by Cryptocrew

Another alternate version of the flag: 

Alternate sapphic flag by CryptocrewAlternate sapphic flag by Cryptocrew

Inclusive sapphic flag: 

Inclusive Sapphic flagInclusive Sapphic flag

An alternate version of the original flag: 

Alternate of the original Sapphic flagAlternate of the original Sapphic flag

Lilac flower version of the flag: 

Alternate Sapphic flag by a-marianra-sauceAlternate Sapphic flag by a-marianra-sauce

Demisapphic flag: 

Demisapphic flagDemisapphic flag

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Julia Sotska is a former Senior PR Manager at Taimi. She hails from Toronto, Canada where she studied Communications and Journalism Broadcasting. Julia is an experienced journalist, TV producer, editor and communications manager. Her work has been featured in prominent publications in Canada, the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, and more. Julia is passionate about LGBTQ+ and disability rights, mental health, wellness, and parenthood.

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