Sapphic Fandom

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Trope · Genre
Synonyms: wlw Fandom
Related: Representation, Lesbianism, Bisexuality, Pansexuality
See Also: Queer Fandom, Mspec Fandom,
Tropes · Slash Tropes · Tropes by Fandom
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Sapphic Fandom one of many possible terms for fandom communities composed of or focusing on women and non binary folk who identify as sapphic in some way, most notably lesbians and mspec women/enbies.

Fans within these spaces may use a variety of terms to describe their identities and experiences, including lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, wlw, sapphic, queer, and others. Sapphic fandom is distinct from femslash fandom in that femslash fandom focuses on pairings between or involving queer women, while sapphic fandom involves the distinct ways that lesbian and mspec women's or enbies' identities informs, impacts, or influences how fandom is engaged with.

Canon Representation

Lesbian

Bi

See Also: Bisexuality and Fandom

Other

Fandom

Sapphic Fandom and Femslash

See also: History of Femslash Fandom, Timeline of Femslash, and Timeline of Femslash Meta

Writing From Experience or For Representation

Sapphic fandom has a strong presence in femslash fandom, and it is often assumed that most femslash creators are sapphic in some way.

Since the early 2000’s, meta on writing femslash as a sapphic creator has discussed a number of different approaches and attitudes. For some sapphics who read or write femslash, the primary draw is interest in depictions of women’s experiences, and specifically queer women’s experiences [note 1].

A number of sapphic fans through the years have discussed writing femslash as a way to represent their own experiences. Sometimes this includes a feeling that no one else will write femslash if they (the creator) doesn’t:

The glib answer to this question [Why do you write femslash] is that I’m a queer woman myself, of course I write/read female characters and especially romance between them.

[snipped] So the answer here is, I mostly write and read female characters and femslash relationships because it’s what’s most relevant to my interests but also because a lot of the time I feel like if I don’t, nobody will. (I’ve also written in a majority of the popular f/f relationship tags, while I’ve written in a whole two of the popular m/m ones.) I’m consistently unsatisfied with how little there is to read for what I’m into (healthy f/f relationships with a variety of variables, including elaborate AUs an pleasantly kinky sex) so I write it myself. My wife and I write together to fill this need. It’s what we do

[snipped] We figure if we want it, at least some others might, and it seems to be that way (we have some fans, although we’ve also had a hilarious incident with someone angry that our fic was “too political” and also that it didn’t feature enough canon [white heterosexual] relationships). But mostly we do it because it’s important to us. Additionally, we do go out of our way to highlight and make up for canonical and fandom treatment of POC characters and relationships they’re in.[1]

Some specifically highlight the sense of hope it gives them, especially in light of mainstream portrayals of sapphic relationships considered inadequate or harmful (including those subject to Dead Lesbian Syndrome):

The overwhelming answer of a community composed of predominantly lesbian and bisexual women to, “How do you feel about mainstream media’s portrayal of lesbians?” was that lesbians are flatly underrepresented, and poorly represented when they are.

[snipped] As a teenager struggling with my own sexual identity in the 1990s, I was keenly aware of my options according to those rare mainstream lesbian portrayals: kill myself, be killed for being myself, or die of natural causes but alone and desperately unhappy.

[snipped] More than any other genre of fanfiction, femslash is a place where the sex is always good and the endings are always happy. In response to the categoric lack of happy endings for lesbians in mainstream media, femslash stories exist as a place where, while perhaps a relationship might begin with misunderstandings and strife, and surrounding characters may respond to the main ship’s romance with derision and violence, the end is idyllic and accepting.[2]
Looking back, it’s perfectly natural that I was processing my own experiences and identity crises through fictional characters, especially when I was the one in control of their fates. I couldn’t find enough lesbians in the media who actually got the girl and came out on top and didn’t kill themselves, but on the Internet, femslash was giving me more than just a queer character who made it to the end of the story. Femslash characters got to thrive and survive and have messy beautiful love. I finally saw the happy endings I didn’t know I was allowed to have.[3]

Others focus on the opportunity femslash gives them to explore nuanced and complex relationships and sexuality:

I feel a kind of—bone-deep lack, in the culture I live in, around the unacknowledged urgency of female sexuality. I am a woman who overwhelmingly prefers to sleep with other women; and I am also a woman whose primary reason for leaving a thirteen-year partnership, was that I was sexually unfulfilled; and I am also a woman who dislikes children; and I am also a woman whose first instinct is generally to challenge rather than to nurture; and I am also a woman who craves solitude and artistic expression above human company. And in all of these things I feel a just—starving lack of fellowship with the vast majority of female media portrayals. [snipped] So I feel a bone-deep compulsion to write, not just fiction about women, but sexually explicit fiction about women; and sexually explicit fiction about complicated, sharp-edged, not-necessarily-good-people women; and sexually explicit fiction about women who want sex, like—not women who are putting up with sex because they’re in love and it’s what the other person wants; not women who do want sex but only because it’s this special True Love partner (not that there’s anything inaccurate about either portrayal, they’re just not what I particularly want to write); but women who, in the presence of emotional connection or no, are sexually drawn to other women and act on that desire. Women whose lusts and infatuations are viewed as equally strong and compelling as mens’; because that’s been my experience, that’s been my—passionate and forcibly life-changing experience; but it’s not what I see reflected in mainstream media, or in peoples’ assumptions about me as a woman in the real world. [4]

For additional meta or articles on the subject of representation and writing to one’s experience, see for instance:

Quality and Themes of Femslash Content

Some sapphics through the decades have felt frustrated by what they feel is a lack of diversity, complexity, or variety in the topics and themes given focus in femslash [note 2].

Sometimes the frustration seems directed at the source material fans are responding to:

The most sexist and exhausting thing in wlw content is how fucking soft it always is and how it must be perfect and completely soft with no rough edges otherwise its toxic and bad but nothing is perfect and wlw and women in general arent some perfect useless angels who do nothing but blush and braid each other hair like all wlw are different with layers and problems and im fucking starving for some actually interesting enjoyable wlw content with actual fucking emotions realness roughness mistakes complexity development and raw non conforming beauty[5]

Sapphic Fandom and Slash

Sapphics have written extensively through the decades about their interest and participation in slash fandom.

Some fans directly contrast their interest in slash to a hesitance in writing femslash; for instance, while discussing the assumption that if you’re writing femslash you must be a queer woman [note 3].

A number of fans describe wanting some distance from writing their own experiences:

I realized that my distance from the material is different in female slash. I have all of that equipment, I have sex with women -- I wasn't able to go with the flow so much. There was an intermediate level doing the rather stupid job of checking each piece of action and thinking, 'would I like this,' 'have I done this,' 'would I do this with (Jenna (Y), Beverly (Maybe), Gina (Y), Trudy (Y), Cally (Y), Dayna (YES, YES, YES), Servalan (not unless I had someone holding a gun on her at the same time). I don't know what this means, but I'd love to hear from other women about it--queer and straight.[6]
For me, the primary thing I look for is a reflection of the gay experience that I can identify with, and those issues are pretty much the same for gay men as they are for Lesbians, especially boiled down to their essentials. (For example, most homosexuals of either sex question their own gender identity. Whether characters decide that their natural inclination is to follow tradition – i.e., be a feminine woman or a masculine man – or that the opposite sex's traditional identity works best for them or that they're somewhere in between, doesn't matter to me. What matters is, I asked these questions of myself and learned what worked for me as an individual, and I sympathize with this journey regardless of where it leads for the individual in question.) So either kind of slash works for me. But I don't really want to write about feminist issues. And I don't think many other contemporary women do either. I think we're ready for the equality of the sexes to be taken for granted. We're tired of having to argue about it. We want to bypass the whole issue.[7]
Slash fanfiction transgresses by revolving around a queer couple. This appeals to me because it better reflects my life than does het fiction. However, considering the queer couple in question is generally male/male, slash also has the benefit of *not* being a reflection of my life. There is no character to whom I have to compare myself, nor one with whom I would hypothetically be competing… The stories aren’t about me and aren’t supposed to be about me, which I find freeing. In some ways, I think that allows me to explore issues I might otherwise steer clear from – complexities of life and imperfections of character that aren’t all lovely and happy and easy to handle, but make the character and/or the story ring true. [8]

Other fans have shared that they feel writing slash allows them to escape sexism or negative experiences that women have. For instance, this fannish essay argues that slash allows women to avoid objectification and the heterosexual gaze:

I argue that slash’s sweeping popularity has to do with women’s shared experience. No woman, gay, straight, bi, demi, pan, queer or ace, can completely escape the narrow paradigms of female sexuality that are imposed on her. Our sexualities are reflected to us through the lens of gendered stereotypes, with its assumptions of female passivity to the man’s agency, of woman as conquered, dominated, objectified and demeaned by the heterosexual sex act. By using two male bodies, slash does away with these paradigms and offers women a chance to explore their sexual desires freely. In addition, it gives women the means to escape from the “forced identification” that necessarily follows from using a heterosexual pairing, and allows them to identify into the sex scene as much or as little as they are comfortable. And lastly, the world of slash is one that is completely free of female sexual objectification.[9]

Another fan on Tumblr wrote in 2019, on the topic of tropes she enjoyed in slash but not het fic:

[snipped]… it’s much more difficult for me, and I think for many women, to relax and enjoy romantic and sexual stories when they involve female characters. We’ve been burned too many times by shitty depictions, by shallow role models, by abuse portrayed as romantic. We have developed a stress response, a trauma response to heterosexual romance. We are hyper-reactive to a wide variety of triggers in regards to it. But removing women from the equation makes stories safer for us. And maybe it shouldn’t? In an ideal world? But for many of us, that’s the truth.[10]

The post, which has over 49,000 notes on Tumblr as of December 2021, contained a fair amount of commentary and critique from other fans, either on the topics raised by the OP or about how the concepts raised related to femslash content.

Male Characters and the Sapphics Who Love Them

Non-Sapphic Characters

Some characters popular within sapphic fandom are not sapphic themselves:

  • Thor - For some time, Thor was dubbed the "God of Lesbians." Fanworks of him setting up and being the wingman for Valkyrie, who is canonically bi, emerged.

Specific Fandoms

Some fandoms are known for having a larger sapphic following than others, whether intentionally or not. Many of these are known to be key examples of lesbian media or an important part of sapphic fandom culture:

Genre Fandom Intentional Sapphic Following? Medium Character Ship Actor Other
Action/Adventure Xena: Warrior Princess TV Xena
Gabrielle
Xena/Gabrielle Lucy Lawless
Action/Adventure Person of Interest TV Root
Sameen Shaw
Shoot
Action/Adventure Terminator: Dark Fate Film Dani Ramos/Grace Harper Mackenzie Davis
Anime Diebuster Anime Lal’c
Nono
Lal’c/Nono
Anime Revolutionary Girl Utena Intentional Anime Utena
Anthy
Utena/Anthy
Anime/Manga Puella Magi Madoka Magica Intentional Anime/Manga Kaname Madoka
Akemi Homura
Miki Sayaka
Sakura Kyoko
Tomoe Mami
Numerous pairings, including Madoka/Homura, Kyouko/Sayaka, and Mami/Homura, as well as pairings from the spin-offs
Anime Kill la Kill Anime Matoi Ryuko
Mankanshoku Mako
Kiryuin Satsuki
Ryuko/Mako
Cartoon She-ra and the Princesses of Power Intentional. The show is often described as having a sapphic vibe throughout and is ine of few source texts in which Everyone is Queer is the generally accepted fanon (if not semi-canonical). TV She-Ra
Catra
Glimmer
Catra/Adora
Catra/Adora/Glimmer
Comedy Glee Somewhat intentional. After fans launched a campaign to make Brittana canon following a throwaway line about them hooking up in the mid-season finale of season 1. TV Santana Lopez
Brittany S. Pierce
Brittana
Drama The L Word Very intentional. The first American television series to have a cast consisting mostly of lesbian characters. TV Bette Porter
Tina Kennard
Tibette
Drama Orange Is the New Black Intentional. TV Piper Chapman
Alex Vause
Poussey Washington
Piper/Alex
Taystee Jefferson/Poussey Washington
Brooke Soso/Poussey Washington
Samira Wiley
Drama Dead to Me TV Judy Hale
Jen Harding
Jen Harding/Judy Hale
Judy Hale/Michelle Gutierrez
Drama Killing Eve Intentional. TV Eve Polastri
Villanelle
Eve Polastri/Villanelle Sandra Oh
Jodie Comer
Drama Grace and Frankie TV Grace Hanson
Frankie Bergstein
Grace/Frankie Lily Tomlin
Historical Fiction Gentleman Jack Very intentional. It is based on the extensive collection of diaries Anne Lister kept which were partly written in a secret code, documenting a lifetime of lesbian relationships. TV Anne Lister
Ann Walker
Anne Lister/Ann Walker
Historical Fiction Dickinson TV Emily Dickinson
Susan Gilbert Dickinson
Emily Dickinson/Susan Gilbert Dickinson
Historical Fiction The Handmaiden Intentional Film Nam Sook-hee
Izumi Hideko
Izumi Hideko/Nam Sook-hee
Historical Fiction Portrait of a Lady on Fire Intentional. Film Marianne
Heloise
Heloise/Marianne
Historical Fiction Carol Very intentional. Based off the novel “The Price of Salt” from 1952, which portrayed a lesbian relationship. Film Carol Aird
Therese Belivet
Abby Gerhard
Carol Aird/Therese Belivet
Carol Aird/Abby Gerhard
Cate Blanchett
Rooney Mara
Horror The Haunting of Bly Manor Intentional TV Dani Clayton
Jamie Taylor
Dani Clayton/Jamie Taylor
Romantic Comedy But I’m a Cheerleader Intentional Film Sometimes uses as a fusion fic
Romantic Comedy Imagine Me and You Intentional Film Luce
Rachel
Romantic Comedy Happiest Season Intentional. Film Harper Caldwell
Abby Holland
Riley Johnson
Harper/Abby
Abby/Riley
Sloane/Riley
Mackenzie Davis
Kristen Stewart
Aubrey Plaza
Science Fiction Supergirl Mostly unintentional TV Kara Danvers
Lena Luthor
Alex Danvers
Cat Grant
Diana (Wonder Woman)
Many, including Kara/Lena
Kara/Cat
Kara/Alex
Kara/Diana
Science Fiction Orphan Black Intentional TV Cosima Niehaus
Delphine Cormier
Cophine
Science Fiction Sense8 Intentional TV Nomi Marks
Amanita “Neets” Caplan
Amanita/Nomi
Science Fiction San Junipero Intentional TV Kelly, Yorkie Kelly/Yorkie Mackenzie Davis
Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Science Fiction
Fantasy
Horror
The Locked Tomb Intentional Novel Gideon Nav
Harrowhark “Harrow” Nonagesimus
Ianthe Tridentarius
Gideon Nav/Harrowhark Nonagesimus
Harrowhark Nonagesimus/Ianthe Tridentarius
N/A
Science Fiction This Is How You Lose the Time War Intentional Novel Red and Blue Red/Blue N/A
Supernatural (genre) Wynonna Earp Somewhat Intentional TV Waverly Earp
Nicole Haught
Wayhaught
Video Game Life is Strange Intentional Video Game Max Caulfield
Chloe Price
Rachel Amber
Kate Marsh
Victoria Chase
Max Caulfield/Chloe Price
Max Caulfield/Victoria Chase
Max Caulfield/Kate Marsh
Rachel Amber/Chloe Price
Rachel Amber/Chloe Price/Max Caulfield
Ashly Burch
Video Game
Horror
The Last of Us Intentional TV Ellie, Dina, Abby Ellie/Dina Elliot Page
Ashley Johnson
Webseries Carmilla Intentional. Specifically targetted towards sapphics. Web series Carmilla Karnstein
Laura Hollis
Hollstein Natasha Negovanlis
Elise Bauman
Webseries Critical Role Intentional. Especially in Campaign 2, there are a number of canon queer or sapphic characters. Web series, podcast Beauregard Lionett
Yasha Nydoorin
Jester Lavorre
Beauregard/Yasha
Beauregard/Jester
Beauregard/Jester/Yasha
Beau/Keg
Beau/Reani
Ashley Johnson
Ashly Burch
Ashley Johnson
Laura Bailey
Podcast Alice Isn’t Dead Intentional. Also notable in that the title and creators specified before the show aired that the show would not bury their gays Podcast Keisha, Alice Keisha/Alice Jasika Nicole
Erica Livingston
Roberta Colindrez

Popular Ships

Popular Characters

Specific Actresses

For various reasons, certain actresses appear to have a much larger following of sapphic fans than others:

Other Real People

Popular Headcanons

Some characters seem to be more commonly headcanoned as sapphic in some way than others:

Common Themes & Tropes

Intersectionality

Intersectional Representation

Issues of Racism

Issues of Transphobia and TERFs

LGBT Fans Deserve Better

LGBT Fans Deserve Better is a fan-led movement that came about in 2016 in response to the death of Lexa on the television series The 100, as well as the disproportionately large number of queer female characters killed off on television around the same time. The movement garnered widespread media and industry support, and propelled the "Bury Your Gays" trope into a national talking point.

Writing about the movement in a 2017 editorial for the Transformative Works and Cultures, Dr. Eve Ng and Dr. Julie Levin Russo noted the unique position sapphic fandoms have with regards to fan activism:[12]

Male slashers have made similar interventions, for example regarding characters Derek and Stiles on the show Teen Wolf (MTV, 2011–), but they are less typical and arguably less effective than instances from femslash communities. The fusion that femslash presumes between fans and characters in terms of sexual and gender identities affords it this powerful platform for literal campaigns of resistance to heteronormative structures.

Fanworks

Fests & Exchanges

See: Category:Femslash Challenges for a listing of Femslash exchanges documented on Fanlore

Fanarts

Zines

See Category:Yuri Doujinshi and Category:Femslash Zines for a list of F/F zines and Doujinshi documented on Fanlore.
This zine was an early example of a more political fanzine, created by a lesbian and gay sci-fi fanclub and operated as a collective.
Not primarily F/F focused, but the editor's named lesbians in the Star Trek universe as one of their priorities.

Meta

See also: Timeline of Femslash Meta

Communities & Websites

Discussion Boards

Archives

Conventions

Resources & External Links

References

  1. ^ Response by unwind-myself to Why DO you write(/read) fanfic with female characters? or: Why DO you write(/read) femmeslash?, 2014
  2. ^ No Pairing Left Behind: The function of lesbian fanfiction in conversation with mainstream media, BooklandReeve, 2014
  3. ^ Femslash Can Save the World If We Let It, Kate, 2014
  4. ^ Response by havingbeenbreathedout to Why DO you write(/read) fanfic with female characters? or: Why DO you write(/read) femmeslash?, 2014
  5. ^ The most sexist and exhausting thing in wlw content is how fucking soft it always is, Archived version, Tumblr post by nbitchn, Apr 14th, 2019
  6. ^ Normal Female Interest in Men Bonking: Selections from The Terra Nostra Underground and Strange Bedfellows – Sandy Hereld, "T-shirt Slogans Are Intellectual Discourse," Terra Nostra Underground #12, November 1992
  7. ^ Some Thoughts on Femslash, Kadorienne, January 25th 2003}}
  8. ^ What's so compelling about slash fiction?, Alanna, March 10, 2003. There was a fair bit of discussion generated with some people disagreeing about the “identification with a character” element of the meta, or the “slash as a shared erotic experience on a lesbian continuum” aspect
  9. ^ Silly little girls: Slash Fanfiction and Female Sexuality, teresa-dances-in-sequins, 2005.
  10. ^ Tumblr post by three--rings, Archived version, Oct 27 2019, archived Dec 20 2021
  11. ^ Works tagged Useless Lesbians on AO3. (Accessed March 24, 2021)
  12. ^ Envisioning queer female fandom by Eve Ng and Julie Levin Russo. Published in Transformative Works and Cultures (2017).

Notes

  1. ^ See, for instance comments by Eska_rina, Snarkylightning, and [pit_chick666] in Why do femslash? (2006); various responses to Why DO you write(/read) fanfic with female characters? or: Why DO you write(/read) femmeslash?, 2014; The I Am Femslash essays (2017)
  2. ^ For example, Where’s all the good femslash? Does anybody know? (2003), archived from the original, or where are the femslash epics? (2010)
  3. ^ See for example M/M vs. F/F (2005), comments by cyberorganize or mrsfrankenstien in Why is there so little geeky academic discussion of femslash? (2007), or Is it a law that you have to be lesbian to write Femslash? (2007)