Pansexual is not a term many people know, both in and out of queer communities. But the term is being used more frequently than ever before, and it continues to grow. It is my hope to create further awareness of pansexuality.
Pansexuality is the potential for an individual to feel sexual attraction, desire, or romantic love towards people of any gender expression, identity, or biological sex. It is not the sexual attraction kitchen pans, as some may believe.
I often struggle with explaining to people what pansexuality is. When I finally manage to get an explanation out, people most often respond by asking “well, isn’t that the same as bisexual?” The answer is no.
I often get frustrated when asked this, but I shouldn’t. Pansexual is a new term to most people and when giving a simple explanation, bisexual and pansexual sound very similar. But if I explain what pansexuality is, you must take it seriously.
If you dissect each word, they mean very different things. Bisexual has a prefix of bi-, which means two. Pansexual has a prefix of pan-, which means all. In elaboration, bisexuality is the attraction to two sexes, male and female, or two genders, men and women. Pansexuality is the attraction to all sexes and genders, or any mix thereof.
Many people may ask “Aren’t there only two sexes and genders?” Again, the answer is no.
There are intersex people who aren’t strictly male or female. Intersex is a varied combination of physical characteristics that usually define male or female. Intersex people may have any mix of chromosomes or reproductive organs that do not define them as either male or female.
There are also more than two genders. For a long time sex and gender have been intermixed. But they are two different things. Sex is the biological characteristic of a person and gender is how they identify with mostly socially constructed roles. Typically people think of females as feminine and men as masculine. But a person’s biological sex does not determine how “feminine” or “masculine” they are, nor what “femininity” nor “masculinity” necessarily look like.
There are people who may be biologically one sex, but identify with the “opposite” gender expression. A person may be biologically male but identify with typical “feminine” expressions. There are also people who physically identify as the opposite sex, some who transition and some who do not. There are even people who physically identify as the opposite sex but not the “opposite” gender expression.
The main point is that people of any sex vary greatly in their gender/sex expression. Bisexuality recognizes a gender binary, which is the idea that there are only males and females and they are only men or women. I am in no way attempting to invalidate or mock bisexuality. It most definitely exists and some people are only attracted to men and women.
Pansexuality entirely rejects the idea of a gender binary. Pansexuals have the capability to be attracted to people of various identities. It doesn’t matter what a person’s sex or gender is. For many pansexuals sex and gender, and sometimes even sexual orientation, bar zero restriction to their capability to be attracted to a person. Many also have attractions to people based on certain sex or gender characteristics, but they are not necessarily the same for all people.
A common misconception is that because pansexuals have the ability to be attracted to anyone, that they are attracted to everyone. This is not true. Just because someone may have the capability to have attraction to people of all sexes and genders, does not mean that they do have an attraction to every person.
Pansexuality faces invisibility. Not only do many people not know what it is, but many do not take it seriously. Within some queer communities, pansexuals face the thought or pressure that they are “not queer enough.” Many bisexuals face the same pressure. But the difference is that more people recognize bisexuality. It even has its own place in the LGBTQIA acronym.
The Q in LGBTQIA stands for queer and questioning. Queer is a very broad and inclusive term that envelopes many different identities. Pansexual typically falls under this “queer umbrella.” While myself and other pansexuals feel comfortable identifying as queer, I believe pansexuality needs to come out from beneath the “queer umbrella” and gain more recognition. Recognition that would force more people to see that it exists.
Pansexual needs to be seen as its own identity. People need to start taking pansexuality seriously and stop regarding it as “a fancy way to say bisexual.” It is just as valid as homosexuality, heterosexuality, bisexuality, or asexuality.