Aug 292011
 

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.

Oct 112010
 

I am one of the winners of the Phoenix Pride Coming Out Story Essay contest ( I even got to read mine out loud at the Zoo yesterday at the Coming Out celebration)…and as today is officially National Coming Out Day, I thought I’d share. Please feel free to share yours, or links to your own stories on your own sites, etc.

My coming out story isn’t just one day, or a week or even year. In fact, my coming out story isn’t finished. It is happening every day of every week of every year.

In college, I discovered the concept of orientation being fluid, and realized that I liked some of the women on campus. I joined QSA and EQUAL, and began to identify as bisexual. I told my mother and sister, and they reacted as expected; they didn’t really care.

Then in graduate school, I decided that I didn’t really like men anymore; I became a proud, flag-flying lesbian. I’m actually not kidding about the flag. I was a lesbian, and I liked women, and was attracted to women, and I came out to my friends and family and work and then…suddenly, I hit a speed bump.

Why? Well, I was suddenly dating someone that didn’t identify as a woman. I was dating a gender queer identified person. She didn’t care what pronouns people used to refer to him. When we were out and about, sometimes people saw us and identified us as a lesbian or dyke couple…other times, I could swear that people thought I was a twenty-something woman robbing the cradle with a 15-year old guy.

I loved this person. And this person didn’t identify as a woman. So I did what most young people in the middle of an identity crisis would do; I went online. And as I searched blogs and forums, I came across the term “Pansexual.” Ok, I thought. I can be pansexual, and be attracted to many people across the sexual spectrum. I was now a card carrying (I’m joking about the card) pansexual woman. Great. I started coming out to people as such on a regular basis.

In the midst of all this, I discovered something else about myself. Despite my angry feminist moments in college where I distained all things feminine as a creation of our misogynist culture and the patriarchy, I realized that while I didn’t embrace all or even most feminine things, my gender identity was developing, and it happened to have a Femme bent to it. One person I was seeing told me one day that I was “such a Femme.” I froze. I had always thought that being feminine or even a Femme was a bad thing, capitulating to social norms. But here I was, having spent almost an hour getting ready, getting a tingle in my stomach as my date opened the door for me, and a smile on my face as they brought me a drink. I had embraced the power of femininity, and I realized that even though I rarely wore heels and was allergic to pink, I am a Femme. Femme is my gender.

So here I was, a Pansexual Femme, and trying to come out to people. Trying to explain how Femme differed from female or woman was hard enough, but when I got into the term pansexual, people shut down. It was too academic, too different, too much. As I continued to prowl around online, I found that pansexual was a privileged term; it was mostly people in academia using it (and often just open minded bisexual people). I didn’t identify as bisexual, and I didn’t want a term that wasn’t accessible to everyone.

That is when I discovered the term QUEER. I was at a house party I’d been invited to by a fellow fierce Femme from roller derby, and I started talking to people about identity. At this party were people of all different gender presentations, from high femme to stud, gender queer and andro to trans folks of various presentations. And let me tell you, almost everyone at this party was smoking hot. I was trying to figure out how one would identify if you were a fierce Femme (IE, me) who was attracted to pretty much everyone in the room, and then, magically, I heard the term QUEER. It fit. It was perfect. It was me. It was an identity that fit me regardless of what I was wearing, who I was attracted to, what my own gender identity was, and everything else.

Now, as Queer Femme, I had to re-come out to everyone I’d already come out to. My family was open to it, but needed some education on the term queer. My co-workers were already reading Judith Butler and Kate Bornstein, so they got it. Some of my friends asked me what took me so long to figure that out, while others still thought of the term queer as a hateful term, and that involved much discussion.

When I moved to Arizona, the coming out process started all over again. Explaining my gender as Femme is always a hoot; people assume that unless you’re trans or gender queer, your gender is just a given. Mine is not. Femme is an attitude, a belief system, a presentation, and it is my deliberate gender. And here in Arizona, very few people understand my queer identity, and so it’s been an opportunity for education. My coming out story never ends, because I have to come out to everyone I meet, and everyone I’ve met, and because my identities are so fluid, sometimes I have to come out to myself.

The other day, my partner’s softball coach referred to me as her “roommate.” I was hurt and angry and frustrated. I’d come out to him already; as queer, as her partner, as her fiancé, and yet here he was, invalidating our relationship. So we both came out to him again. And will do so again if needed.

THIS is why coming out is so important. It creates visibility, and dialogue, and understanding, and these three things create change in our community. It is only with change that we can be seen as full members of our society, instead of second class citizens. So please, keep on coming out.

Happy Coming Out Day!

-Shanna