Am I Bisexual Or Pansexual?
I thought I was bi, but maybe I’m pan. What do the terms mean? Am I bisexual or pansexual?
I’ve always thought of myself as bisexual. Well, not always – the realisation that I was sexually attracted to anyone at all came with puberty, and the shock of being attracted to girls as well as boys struck me around the same time. I thought there was something wrong with me, that I was a ‘freak’, so my girl lusts were hidden until in late teens I learned about bisexuals.
“Oh, wow,” I thought. “That’s me!”
It wasn’t until much later in life that the phrase ‘pansexual’ started cropping up in conversations with friends and partners.
“I’m pansexual,” one explained to me. “I’m attracted to people regardless of their gender.”
The tendrils of confusion began to form. I was attracted to women and men, yet gender has never really mattered to me, either. So, am I bisexual or pansexual?
Let’s examine what bisexuality is – or at least, is commonly understood to be. Wikipedia says:
“Bisexuality is romantic attraction, sexual attraction, or sexual behavior toward both males and females“.
In common usage, I hear the term ‘bisexual’ used by people of various genders to communicate the fact that they’re not only attracted to people who they view as the ‘opposite’ gender, but also those who identify as the same gender as themselves.
So what does pansexuality mean, then? How does it differ from bisexuality?
Here’s what Wiki has to say about it:
“Pansexuality, or omnisexuality, is the sexual, romantic or emotional attraction towards people regardless of their sex or gender identity.
Pansexual people may refer to themselves as gender-blind, asserting that gender and sex are not determining factors in their romantic or sexual attraction to others.“
With such a powerfully inclusive definition, pansexuality has clear resonance with those who aspire to view all people as people, rather than segregating by genitals or gender.
You can see why my confusion persists. Even after looking at the web definitions, I’m still left asking myself “am I bisexual or pansexual?“
Why Labels Matter
Perhaps you’re thinking I should just stop worrying about it. Get on with my life, be attracted to who I want, when I want and enjoy this (admittedly privileged) life of sexual freedom. Why should the specific label even matter?
Labels matter because they’re a way to clearly and effectively communicate aspects of who we are with others, without the pre-requisite for them to simply find out on their own, over time. Adopting and using labels which conclusively summarise important features helps others to quickly get a measure of who we are and what we’re about, rather than remaining the enigma waiting to be understood.
You can see why my ‘am I bisexual or pansexual?’ confusion gradually escalated into a need to assign myself the correct label.
Attraction Vs The Gender Binary Myth
The crux of my problem is this. I’m attracted to traditionally masculine physical features, and I’m attracted to traditionally feminine physical features. I’m attracted to those features regardless of how the person who has those physical aspects actually identifies in terms of gender. I’m vividly aware that anatomy and gender are two entirely separate entities.
In short, I don’t want to label myself bisexual and feed into the Great Gender Binary Myth.
Wiki tells us that bisexuality is “sexual attraction… toward both males and females“. “Both” uncomfortably reads like there’s no other option. What about people who don’t identify as either male or female? How about when I’m attracted to genderfluid folk, those who are gender queer, non-cis or transpeople?
How can I identify as bisexual when I am able to be and have been attracted to people so far outside the narrow world view of the gender binary that I start to wonder if the inferred ‘alternativeness’ of their queer or otherwise non-binary nature is part of my attraction to them?
Love And Lust
I feel it’s important at this juncture to make a distinction between love and lust. In fact, making that distinction is an important life skill.
A person’s personality is the core factor when it comes to whether I’ll be deeply attracted to them and fall in love with them. Gender-identity doesn’t matter to me. The specific anatomical features, genitals (and to be honest, whether the genitals exist/are sexually active) don’t matter to me. I can love someone no matter how they identify and no matter what their physicality and whether they’re cis.
When it comes to lust – well, it’s impossible for this to be based on personality alone. I challenge anyone to honestly state that they can only lust for someone when they know them, their personality, the finer aspects of their nature, regardless of physical features. Hello, porn. And even if you’re not a porn (whether mainstream or fetish) fan, are you going to tell me that you’ve never seen a photo/movie where a person has made you think, “mmm, hotness“?
Purely Physical Attraction
Finding physical features sexually attractive is natural for the sexually aware (I don’t want to ‘other’ asexual folk) though of course what we personally find attractive differs for every one of us.
Therefore, I’ve shied away from labelling myself pansexual because I don’t find people sexually attractive based only on who they are inside. I am regularly attracted to physical features which are stereotypically femme or masculine.
But bisexual? Well, I’m not aligned with the belief that there’s only two genders, male and female. I’m attracted to various non-stereotypical features of those who identify as genderfluid, gender queer, plus physical aspects of people who are non-cis.
I’m unsure about both bisexuality and pansexuality when it comes to a label which sums up my attraction to others, in the ways of both love and lust. Having examined the usual definitions of bisexuality, I feel I’m closer to being pansexual – but that won’t stop me from catching sight of a gorgeous woman or a beautiful man and thinking, “fuck me. Now.“
I believe pansexual is what I’m forced to label myself as, rather than bisexual – but it’s not quite right. I see myself as more ‘fluid’ or ‘open’, while retaining the desire to communicate my faithfulness to my relationship(s). But then, maybe no single label is ever exactly right for any of us. All we can do is hope that the labels we do choose communicate our unique aspects in as articulate a way as possible to others.
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