There are certain characteristics about me that cause people to suspect that I’m a lesbian.
- I’m a feminist (which apparently means I hate men by default)
- I don’t shave my legs or armpits (not related to feminism: I’m just really lazy)
- I like cats more than people and have three of my own
- I spend more time in my research lab than anywhere else, and don the frizzy hair and glasses that go with that stereotype
- I’m a libertarian (I really don’t see the connection)
- I’m attracted to women (I kind of see the connection with this one)
However, I am not a lesbian. I am attracted to men just as much as women. I’m also attracted to transgender people, intersexes, and if ever a third sex* spawns out of the earth, I’ll probably be attracted to it, too. And I have no preference for one gender over another. This is what distinguishes me from just being bisexual.
I’m pansexual. This means that my attraction to people is not based on a person’s gender. I personally feel that what is between a person’s legs should not be the deciding factor for another person’s attraction. Also, this will sound pretentious but it’s true, looks don’t matter to me. Things like that just seem overly superficial, in my humble opinion. Love should be deeper than that.
The prefix pan- means all-inclusive. Whenever it is placed in front of a word, it means that every member of that group is included in the description. With pansexualism, all sexes (and genders) are included in one’s sexual attraction. That’s really all there is to it. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between pansexuality and bisexuality, but it’s not the type of thing that is worth getting worked up over.
This doesn’t mean that I’m attracted to everyone, and of course it is limited to humans that are not closely related to me. It doesn’t mean that I’m some highly sexual individual that is into group sex and exotic, kinky stuff. (It doesn’t mean I’m not into that stuff either, wink wink.) It doesn’t mean I’m confused, or transitioning, or experimenting, or trying to up my chances at finding a partner.
I want to make a note here. During my casual research of sexual orientation, I’ve come across a bit of a skirmish between bisexuals and pansexuals that alarmed me. I’m aware that there is way too much stigma surrounding bisexualism. I am very ashamed to admit it, but back in high school I shared some of these thoughts. Looking back, I think it had more to do with my own difficulty identifying my sexuality, since I had for a long time assumed I was attracted to men, but started noticing that I was attracted to women and felt pressured to choose one or the other. Maybe I thought that bisexuals were taking the easy way out by not making a decision (WRONG). Maybe it’s because the first openly bisexual person I knew had a boyfriend and a girlfriend at the same time, and I assumed that was how all bisexuals were (WRONG).
Biphobia is prevalent in even the LGBT+ community. Bisexuals are accused of being binary when it comes to gender. This isn’t necessarily true. Apparently people reject bisexualism for pansexualism because of this. I don’t like this at all. The word bisexual was coined in 1824. This was back when people had very strict gender roles, and the mainstream was not very understanding of mismatches between sex and gender. Therefore, using a term that referred to “both sexes” seemed all-inclusive. The word was just never updated to accurately represent our more expansive understanding of sex and gender over time. However, the meaning has, according to certain interpretations. Still, some bisexuals only like cis-men and cis-women.
This is how I see it: pansexual is a type of bisexual. The figure below shows this best. Bisexual simply means being attracted to both genders and all of the in-between. Pansexual means having no preference for one over another. Bisexuals might prefer people with vaginas to people with penises, or may prefer people who identify as men to people who identify as women. Looking at the sexualities like this, it makes no sense for the two to be at war with each other. It makes NO SENSE for ANYONE to be at war with bisexuals. IT MAKES NO SENSE FOR ANYONE TO BE AT WAR WITH ANYONE ELSE FOR ANYTHING RELATED TO SEXUAL ORIENTATION.
I made the figure below by hand. I’m not very artistic, but I think it gets the point across well enough. Before you look at it, though, I just want to say that it is only a guideline. These terms have different meanings to different people, so before you assume anything about someone, it’s best to ask. Be civil, though. It’s a touchy subject for many.
Unfortunately, I had to leave out some sexual orientations, just for the sake of simplicity. I didn’t want to add too many to make it cluttered and confusing. I think a lot of them fall under these umbrella terms, though. Some of the I couldn’t include because of how I set up the axes, including androsexual (attracted to males, men, and/or masculinity), gynesexual (attracted for females, women, and/or femininity), fluid-sexual (a fluctuating sexual orientation), and asexual (not experiencing any or very little sexual attraction to any group of people).
Now that I’ve successfully defined a label for myself, let me just say that I absolutely abhor the idea of labeling sexual orientation. Homosexuality, bisexuality, heterosexuality, skoliosexualilty, and asexuality are not boxes that we fit ourselves into. It’s a continuum, much like how liberalism and conservatism are a continuum (hence the blurred boundaries on my graph). I see it as a problem in our society that we feel the need to use these labels. Once you start using labels, you instinctively allow yourself to be defined by them.
If you identify as a liberal, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you wholeheartedly support every single point on their platform and reject every point on the conservative platform. It means that you happen to agree with more of the liberal ideas or feel strongly enough about a few of them that you feel you can generally identify better with a liberal candidate.
Sexual orientation is the same way. By default, we’re all assumed to be heterosexual. I guess this makes sense because only 3.8% of the United States population identifies as something other than heterosexual.** I’m sure if we stopped assuming sexual orientation at birth, this statistic would be a lot different, but that’s a matter for a different conversation. Unless someone has a strong, reoccurring, overwhelming attraction to their own gender, they typically stay in their heterosexual box. This causes these people to limit themselves to only the opposite gender, unless they’re especially open-minded or meet an exceptional person who enables them to venture of the box a bit. Therefore, we have people firmly aligning on opposite sides of the spectrum, limiting themselves to single-gendered attraction. If someone dares to pursue his or her attractions to both genders, he or she has put on a bisexual label and fully embrace being a bisexual. Bisexuality has enough stigma associated with its name to drive people away unless they’re pretty close to the center and able to overcome the social obstacles.
I propose that we get rid of these labels altogether. We should never ever have to check a box on a form for our sexual orientation anyway, unless it’s for a dating service or sex club because those are the only places where I can see it being at all relevant. If someone is hitting on you and you don’t fancy them because of what’s in their pants, you can just say “I’m not interested in you,” or, if you prefer, “I’m not into men.” This says everything it needs to without including a label. Just by changing the language from a word with pounds of baggage, preconceptions, and limitations to the small part that pertains to you specifically, you keep your unique identity and freedom to do what feels right to you. They shouldn’t have to reply with, “Why aren’t you into me/men? Are you a lesbian?” They should just be able to say, “Thank you for letting me know before I invested time and money trying to woo you with hopes of an end result that may not have been obtainable. Excuse me whilst I take my efforts elsewhere to someone more inclined to what I have to offer. Have a nice evening.” Is that asking too much?
*Although a third sex has not (yet) been encountered, the term “third gender” does exist. It does not recognize a unique gender in addition to masculine and feminine, but is more of an umbrella term for anything in between, including gender-queer, genderless, and gender-fluctuating.
**Gates, Gary J. (April 2011). “How many people are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender?”. Williams Institute, University of California School of Law.