What Sapphic and Achillean Mean, and Why They Matter
Haven’t heard the words “sapphic” and “achillean” before? No worries, I hadn’t either until recently. They’re LGBTQIA+ terms, but what exactly do they mean?
According to Urban Dictionary, the adjective “sapphic” describes women who feel romantically and/or sexually attracted to other women. Similarly, the adjective “achillean” describes men who are attracted to other men.
These terms may sound random at first, but they originate from Greek history. “Sapphic” comes from the Greek poet Sappho, a bisexual woman who lived on the Isle of Lesbos (AKA, where the word “lesbian” comes from). “Achillean” is based on the Greek hero Achilles, who had sex with other men.
Some may think these words are useless or redundant. Yes, the LGBTQIA+ acronym spans a wide range of preferences. And yes, these definitions sound like the definitions of lesbian and gay. But these specific terms are important for the queer community—and me specifically as a bisexual woman who’s dating a lesbian woman. Here's why: they don’t leave out the bisexual and pansexual communities.
For example, it’s easier to say I’m “in a gay relationship.” And it's easy for people who don’t know my dating history to think I’m a lesbian woman because I’m dating a woman right now. But frankly, that’s a bit biphobic. While nothing is wrong with identifying as a lesbian, it’s not who I am—and I want to be seen as who I am. Representation matters not only in TV shows and movies, but in our daily lives, too.
We need to see that bisexual and pansexual people exist, are included, and matter. We need to see that these sexual orientations aren’t “myths” or “phases” or “people who are greedy.” We need to understand that sexuality isn't binary just like gender isn't.
This is important for health-related reasons, too. Sometimes doctors assume a woman who’s dating a woman has never dated or slept with a man, and as a result, the doctor neglects their cervical cancer screening. Doctors also don’t always clarify their patients’ sexual orientation and sexual history, which can be detrimental. And as a result, many people in the queer community have had to work harder to find LGBTQIA+ friendly doctors who accurately understand their specific needs.
To fix issues like these, the first step we can take is normalize general descriptors like “sapphic” and “achillean.” I fully believe this small change is crucial for people’s health and well-being.
As LGBTQIA+ activist Sylvia Rivera said, “We have to do it because we can no longer stay invisible. We have to be visible. We should not be ashamed of who we are.”