Where have all the Sapphics Gone?

Banning books leads to underrepresentation in literature.

Student Commentary

By Giorgia Rifaldi / Staff Writer

Imagine this: a twelve year old boy goes to the library to browse for a new book to read. He comes across a book with a pretty cover, he reads it and he loves it. The book is about two boys who fall madly in love with each other. Our preteen reader finally sees himself represented in a book, in a story. He realises that it’s okay to be himself and to love whoever he chooses.

Now, think of the same story and put a girl as a protagonist. The possibility for her to find a book about a woman falling in love with another woman is much slimmer. This is because books with lesbian romances, also known as sapphic romances, are not published as often as books featuring a male-male romance.   Indeed, it is also nearly impossible to find statistics about recently published sapphic books, which is why one of the most recent articles about the statistics of the publication of books featuring a sapphic romance dates back to 2011.  It shows that only 1% of all the YA books published that year featured an LGBTQ+ character and between these only 25% featured a sapphic romance – compared to the 50% of male-male romance.

One of my best friends didn’t know what a lesbian was until she started high school. She is lesbian, but she didn’t know she even had the possibility to be one until well into her teens. This probably happened because she could not see herself represented in any of the stories she read as a kid.

This problem becomes more and more relevant as libraries worldwide keep banning books with LGBTQIA or other diverse characters. As you can read in an article by 7NewsBoston, the American Library Association has discovered that “The Color Purple,” one of the very few classics which features a sapphic romance, is one of the most banned books across libraries worldwide.  

The Color Purple By Alice Walker

Banning books leads to underrepresentation in literature. Especially when it comes to sapphic books. Malinda Lo, a blogger who focuses on diversity in literature, mentions that “representations of sapphic women have always drawn ire, or resistance, or the lascivious male gaze—or a dismissive shrug. Not important.”  Sapphic literature is published less frequently compared to other diverse books because society sees lesbians as less important, not relevant.

A recent case regarding banned sapphic books happened this past August and it involves the Vatican. Earlier in June, the Vatican decided that the index of banned books will no longer have juridical value, in other words the document has become ineffective. In an article written by reporter Nicole Winfield, Italian author Francesca Pardi, complained to the Vatican about how some of her children’s books that feature non-traditional parents have been banned by the Mayor of Venice. In banning these books he followed the same principles used for the index of banned books. Needless to say that his decision was not well welcomed by LGBTQ+ activists.

What “book banners” don’t seem to understand is that because something makes them uncomfortable, it doesn’t mean it’s not important to other people. As much as some want to see themselves represented in the stories they read,other people also want to see themselves represented in the stories they read.

But why should we, or anyone, read diverse books, sapphic ones in particular? Even if you do not fully recognise yourself in the characters you are reading about, their skin color or their sexual orientation, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy their story. It doesn’t mean you can’t sympathise with them. Just because a character is different from the person who reads the book,  doesn’t mean their story is less important.

Let’s remember that when we read and enjoy and share our love for a sapphic book, it will encourage other authors to write books with the same themes, the same kind of representation. It will encourage publishers to publish more diverse books. 

Therefore, I would like to conclude by sharing with you a list of books featuring  sapphic romances that I read, loved and I highly encourage you to read as well. 

Do you have any more Sapphic books recommendations?  Let’s spread the love. Comment below.