This week, my intern SexualErudite (their screename) is sharing a bit about their identity as being pansexual, and some of the reasoning and history surrounding this identity.
I identify as pansexual (and also in certain contexts as bisexual or queer), and I work in LGBTQ education and awareness, so I am going to try and explain why I refer to myself as a pansexual more than anything else. Most of you will probably assume this is pretentious anyway, but I’ll give it the old college try.
I am going to use cisgender and cissexual within this context because it is the most inclusive way to do so. While it seems like many people are content to lump people into “trans folks and normals” and “trans folks and people who feel okay with their bodies” and “men, women and trans folk” I am not comfortable with this, as it places trans folk into some weird other category that I feel is pretty offensive. Cisgender/sexual exist as a way of subcategorizing larger categories, such as “women.” Within “women” exist two sub categories: cis women and trans women. The same exists for sex, so within “female” there exists cis females and trans females.
There are more than two genders. Rather, there exists men (both cis and trans), women (both cis and trans) and those who fall outside the gender binary. There are many different categorizations of this non-binary gender, one of the most common is genderqueer, although it is far from being the only one. Some people who fall within this “outside the binary” gender consider themselves trans, others do not.
There are more than two sexes. We have male (cis and trans), female (cis and trans) and intersexed. Hermaphrodite is not used within a medical construct, but rather, pseudohermaphrodite is, because humans are not capable of being “true” hermaphrodites, as while they may have a mixture of sexual characteristics, they do not possess both full sets of fully functioning reproductive organs. In any case, the intersex community prefers intersex, and we should honor their right to define what terms they prefer.
Whatever social scientists may have decided, in terms of identifying bisexuals as people who engage in homosexual and hetereosexual sex, most people interpret this as having to do with genitalia, regardless of whatever the scientists were really thinking, and I cannot speak to that.
Identifying it based on behaviors based on that becomes tricky – what if I, a cissexual female, engage in sex with a pre-op trans man? Is it heterosexual because I identify as a woman and he identifies as a man? Is it homosexual because we both have boobs and vaginas? I would say the former, but if we are defining it based on sexual acts, to most people we are defining it based on genitalia.
When we discuss “gay, straight, bi” we’re not just talking about what genitalia we are attracted to – we’re talking about how they present themselves, and how they identify themselves as well. Many straight men would balk at the idea of having sex with a trans man, even though he may have a vagina, meaning cock/vaginasexual would be problematic as a term describing many people. So when we talk about our sexual orientations, we’re really discussing what genders we are attracted to.
So, if we have more than two genders, bisexual can be problematic in terms of not being specific enough. Most people assume that bisexual people are referring to being attracted to men and women, and that’s it, and generally, that’s a problem on the listener’s behalf, not the bisexual person themselves. But, because bi is a prefix meaning two, it can mean that someone is attracted to men and women, men and people outside the binary or women and people outside the binary.
As someone who is attracted to men, women and people outside the gender binary, I find that pansexual is more apt, because pan is a prefix meaning all. It doesn’t mean that bisexuals are prejudicial individuals that just need to open their hearts – people are attracted to who they are attracted to. I’m not going to rail against a gay man because he fails to find women the object of his sexual desires. It’d be ludicrous.
Yes, there are pretentious pansexual people out there who sneer about being attracted to “people,” or not seeing gender, but there are a ton of pretentious people in any other gender or sexuality category, so it seems really ridiculous that we’ve decided it’s totally fine to complain about it like it’s a new and speshul thing only inherent in people who use words that fall outside straight, gay, bi and trans*. I’m sure there were plenty of homosexual men who sneered at people who preferred the word “gay” back in the day.
Everyone deserves to have a space to occupy, and having a word that accurately describes you to a point that you feel comfortable with it is part of having that space. It doesn’t mean you should automatically assume everyone should know what obscure sexualities are (which is why I have made it part of my life to educate others), but it doesn’t mean that we should immediately stomp on anything new. Just because you are fine with common words to describe your sexuality does not mean everyone is. Demanding that I justify my right to a name that fits makes you no different than any other common bigot.