Pansexual is a relatively new word when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, the + at the end was added to encompass new terms like pansexuality. Being pansexual, ‘pan’ coming from the Latin ‘all,’ means an attraction to all genders, including non-binary ones.

It seems like a simple enough word and a welcome addition to the LGBTQ+ community, right? Truth be told, there is an ongoing debate on the definition of pansexual versus bisexual that is still raging to this day. It’s not a small debate, either. It’s played a significant role in dividing members of the LGBTQ+ community. Some have even claimed that they feel discriminated against. Why?

Pansexual VS Bisexual: At a Glance

Bisexual, ‘bi’ coming from the Latin ‘two,’ was once thought to mean an attraction to both binary genders: male and female. However, many bisexuals insist that the ‘bi’ in ‘bisexual’ implies attraction to more than one gender in general. They believe that bisexual can mean the same thing as pansexual in so many words. On the opposite side, you have people who believe that bisexual means an attraction to only cis-gendered men and women and nothing else.

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This debate is causing quite a division in the LGBTQ+ community. Many people feel that wearing the label most befitting their sexuality is highly significant. My question is not “Can I solve this debate?” It is “Can I shed some light on it for those left confused?” Here’s to hoping.

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Insider’s Perspective

Bear in mind, this is coming from someone that identifies as pansexual. I used to identify as bisexual back before the awareness of genders beyond cis-gender began to take off. As far as I knew, there were men, women, and transgender people that wanted to transition. That was my understanding when I was younger, and I found that I could be attracted to any of the three.

Bisexual was the best word I had, so I used it; it made sense. That is when I started to learn there were more genders than I had any comprehension of. I did some reading followed by some introspection. Met some people that fell outside of my previously defined genders and realized: hey, I am still capable of being attracted to them. Awesome! I looked for more information at that point and found pansexuality — it seemed to fit, and I have used it ever since.

Labels never made a huge deal to me, personally. I had found something that made sense and ran with it. However, the more I told people that I was pansexual, the more of this debate I observed. Many people take these identifying labels seriously; they will debate it with you to their last breath. My bisexual friends insisted that bi-erasure was happening by people insisting that “bi means binary.” My pan friends, on the other hand, tended to believe that others felt being pansexual was just a “fad” and unnecessary; so, I decided to do some digging.

From Around The Web

An article on the topic by Charlotte Dingle quotes Lynette McFadzen, President of BiNetUSA:

I identify as bisexual because the community definition encompasses what my sexual orientation is to me,” she says. “My attraction includes all genders. The bisexual community has understood gender was more than two from the beginning. I fear that pushing ‘bi is binary’ erases that history and work. It hurts us. It is simple. Bisexuality encompasses ALL non-monosexuals. It means attraction to one or more genders up to all. Even dictionary.com gives a non-binary definition of bisexuality. This need to push bisexuality as binary is deeply biphobic.”

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In the same article, Charlotte quotes 20-year-old Ali:

“’I’ve identified as pansexual for seven years — from around the time I learned about the label,’ says Ali, 20. ‘Before that I thought of myself as just open-minded as I didn’t feel any other terms described the way I felt. I thought of the term bisexual but it didn’t feel right for me. It made me think of having ‘limits’ to who I could like/be attracted to.’ She is insistent that “bi” definitely means “two” and doesn’t account for an attraction to all genders. ‘As far as I know, that’s the ‘official’ definition as well as the meaning/origin of the words. I feel the term pansexual is broader than bisexual in the sense that it leaves room for a broader definition of sex/gender.’”

What It Comes Down To

You have several perspectives on the matter currently clashing. “Bi is binary,” or it is not. In essence, both words have numerous definitions at the moment that all count towards separate schools of thought, in a sense. In a post, Radical Bi puts together some points on the similarities between bisexuality and pansexuality. One of their points is:

“Bisexuality comes from a type of political thought based on sexual identity, pansexuality comes from a type of political thought based on gender identity: Talk to a bi person about bisexuality, they’ll often talk about sexuality and desire, and focus on biphobia; talk to a pan person about pansexuality, they’ll often talk about transgender and genderqueer identities, and focus on transphobia.”

In that regard, it does all seem to come back to the advent of recognizing more genders — genders that many bisexuals had already seen as viable romantic partners, long before they had established names. The problem seems to boil down to some wanting to define bisexuality as an attraction to no more than the two binary genders we knew at the time.

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This contradicts work and effort from the bisexual community into establishing not only LGBTQ+ rights from an early standpoint but confuses a name that they wear with pride. While bi, in and of its own origin, means ‘two,’ the bisexual community has made it clear that the word has evolved to cover more than two.

From My Perspective

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Again, I was sort of a noodle head at a younger age. I did not know squat about genders beyond the three that had been defined for me. I identified as bisexual because I felt like I could love anyone, no matter who or what they were or identified as.

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Now, as a pansexual, I do not feel any different — I just personally think the word encompasses the fact that I can feel attraction for all genders. I always personally identified with The Iron Bull from Dragon Age: Inquisition, who is pansexual. I felt like I could live my happiest as a laid back brick fortress of a person with a heart (and pants) open to anyone.

When it comes down to it, the division of terms is not as important as the community that both represent. No one outside of a particular label should be assigning definitions to said label arbitrarily or to distinguish differences. Bisexuality and pansexuality are a lot alike and, really, quite dependent on each other in many ways. It is great to wear a label and be proud of it, but that should never constitute tearing a label off of another person and rewriting it for them.

Hopefully, the LGBTQ+ community will see this soon enough, and we can go back to working towards what matters.

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