Bisexual? Pansexual? Both? Neither?

80That’s me, pondering orientation and language!

It’s #BisexualAwarenessWeek, aka #BiWeek, and I was… Well, I was planning to avoid it, honestly. I’ve been pretty out about my queerness for years, but I’ve avoided labeling myself with any specific orientation. I’ve just been calling myself queer and moving right along.

In fact, I wrote about it in my book, Watching P()rn. In Chapter 12, I describe the time I started identifying as “queer” rather than “bisexual” when I realized that I wasn’t only attracted to two genders. And that was that. (Cough cough, you can watch video of me reading Chapter 12 here, or get a copy of the book in print, ebook, or audiobook here.) But since I wrote that, I’ve done some thinking and evolving. And the dialogue around what bisexuality is has also evolved, along with the conversation about pansexuality, and about queerness. So it seems like a good time to talk about all of this.

I made a video to talk through these themes, too! If you’re more of a watcher than a reader, check it out here.

What Does “Bisexual” Mean?

325The bisexual pride flag!

The word “bisexuality,” with “bi” right there at the beginning, does seem to imply, for some people, that being bisexual means you adhere to the gender binary. That you’re attracted to men and women, full stop.

Way back when I started to plumb the depths of my not-straightness, I realized that gender didn’t have much to do with my attraction to people. I knew lots of folks who identified lots of ways, so I knew that gender is not just binary. I also had crushes on enough of the gender nonconforming folks I knew to recognize that I wasn’t only attracted to two genders. So I ditched the “bisexual” label and aimed instead for “queer,” the overarching linguistic umbrella for everything that’s not heterosexual, cisgender, and patriarchal.

But since then, there’s been a growing conversation about what “bisexual” really means. A lot of folks who identify as bisexual reject the notion that they’re only into men and women. To them, bisexuality instead means an attraction to more than one gender—potentially limitlessly so.

Then again, it does feel a bit specific for me. Like, if I’m bisexual, and I’m attracted to more than one gender, I feel as if I’m expected to make a list of the genders I am attracted to. Not every person who identifies as bisexual feels that way, but to me, it’s a little stifling.

What Does “Pansexual” Mean?

pansexuality flag lynsey g
The pansexual pride flag!

During the time between me ditching “bisexual” and now, there’s been a growing awareness of people who identify as pansexual. “Pansexual” is defined as an attraction to people, regardless of their gender. There’s no cap on how many genders pansexual folks are into—it’s a wide open field of hotness.

I like the freedom in this concept. And I think that, linguistically speaking, it’s the term that most closely matches my orientation. I’ve never felt daunted by the fact that someone I was into was this or that gender. I just like who I like. And, rather than adding a new gender to my “list of acceptable-to-crush-on genders” every time I have the hots for someone, I’d prefer to just identify as pansexual and be done with it.

Bi vs. Pan: Both? Neither?

Ah, but here’s the thing: I think a lot of people who are my age (mid- to late thirties) and older who are into multiple genders identify as bisexual. We grew up with the word “bisexual” being the only one we knew of to describe our sexuality, so it’s how we identify. This whole “pansexual” thing feels a little too new, a little to young, if you will. And us olds? Sometimes we like to stick to what we know. As long as those things aren’t hurting anyone, I think we should be able to do that. And hey, if we’re the ones identifying some way, we should, again, get to define it for ourselves.

Some folks identify as both bi and pan. That’s cool. Maybe that’s where I fall. But for me, personally, neither “bisexual” nor “pansexual” really, totally, 100% fits. “Bisexual” feels too limiting. But “pansexual” makes me feel like I’m borrowing some younger, hipper person’s lingo looking silly for it. Like I’m trying to use “yeet” incorrectly and everybody knows it.

And to further complicate matters, I like the colors on the bi flag more than the pan flag. It’s just an aesthetic preference, but maybe that means something? I dunno.

So, hey, this has been an opportunity to think about my orientation, learn about the terminology for different orientations, and be open about my journey. My orientation may keep changing with time, and I bet the ways we use these terms will do the same. That’s pretty cool. Growth is change, and both are good for you when you undertake them intentionally. At least that’s what I think.

So anyway, happy #BiWeek from a kinda-sorta bi person who’s on a journey. There’s lots to read about bisexuality, and here’s a great place to start!

horizontal line lynsey g

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