Bisexual / Pansexual discussion

I would like to open a discussion which has been on my mind quite a bit over the last year. I have heard the term “pansexual” used specifically to dissociate an orientation from bisexuality by suggesting that the former includes trans and intersex people, while the former excludes it. In my experience, this has never been true of any bisexual person who did not possess a negative attitude toward such people.

While the term “pansexual” may be more accurate (there are more than two possible biological sex categories, much less gender identification!), I find myself uncomfortable about this shift in terminology for reasons I am not entirely able to articulate. It sometimes seems like those who claim the term pansexual are doing so out of a wish not to be identified as bisexual, and that leads me to wonder if the specificity they claim is really unique.

Hence, I would like to ask a question: For anyone in my audience who identifies specifically as bisexual, if you are comfortable with making this information known, do you also experience attraction to trans and/or intersex people? Have you known any people who identify as bisexual and do not?

Basically, I would like to gauge how many people would hypothetically fall under the pansexual identification while instead identifying as bisexual for any or no reason.

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15 thoughts on “Bisexual / Pansexual discussion

  1. I know you specifically asked people who identify as bisexual to respond, but I’d like to chime in as someone who identifies as ‘pansexual’ when forced to self-label. Sorry to turn it backwards from what you were asking. I specifically identify as pansexual on purpose, because for me bisexual is literally inaccurate. Having spent 20+ years in various LGBTQ groups, and having been very open about my own preferences, I quickly learned that ‘bisexuals’ are generally unwelcome in many groups, due to the prejudice (mostly mythical) that a LOT of LG people have that a bisexual person WILL, despite the best intentions otherwise, ALWAYS CHEAT on their partner of the same sex with someone of the opposite gender, and vice versa. Obviously, this is UNTRUE for most people. (There are cheaters of every flavor, and a bi person is probably no more likely to cheat than anyone else.) There is a second prejudice that a bi person will also DEFINITELY NOT be satisfied with one partner, simply because they have the potential to be attracted to both men and women. That would not have driven me to choose NOT to identify as bisexual if I really WERE bisexual, but it DID drive me to leave those groups. (I have recently started a meetup.com group in my state that is specifically all-inclusive LGBTQA and does not tolerate any discrimination, either direct or implied, but that’s another story…)

    And there may be part of the answer of the question you asked: Bisexuals, by strict definition, have the potential to be attracted either (or both) men or women. Trans*, asexual, genderqueer and/or intersexed people are not included in the definition of ‘bisexual’. People who can be attracted to those groups of people in general (and I’ll speak more on the dangers of that definition shortly) would have to fall into the label of ‘pansexual’ if they were to choose the most accurate one. HOWEVER – I think it is a very big mistake to use that definition, because to say that you have the potential to be attracted to trans* people, asexuals, genderqueers, and/or intersexed people is causing people within those groups to view that in itself as some kind of a fetish – that you are attracted to their state of being as opposed to their ‘person’. And THAT is what I feel the true definition of a pansexual really should be, and the one that I use when I am forced to self-label: a person who is attracted to the ‘person’ inside, NO MATTER WHAT the orientation, label, gender identity happens to be. We do not pick partners or fall in love based on what they have or what ‘flavor’ they are – we fall in love with them regardless of what they have or what ‘flavor’ they are. Does that make sense? I view it as almost being ‘gender blind’ or ‘identity-blind’; that part just doesn’t matter to us.

    Again, I know that isn’t what you asked for, but I felt I wanted to share it, based on some other parts of what you said. I hope some of it is helpful.

    • All perspectives are helpful in some fashion; however, I do admit you posted things I was specifically hoping to avoid, as well as other things that I had already commented upon that I wanted to discuss in a more indirect manner.

      The first is that you said “for me bisexual is literally inaccurate” and then you flowed from that into a large paragraph which seems to state, to me, “I identify as pansexual because I don’t want to be targeted by the stereotypes and discrimination suffered by bisexual people.” I feel that if pansexual and bisexual are distinct, then one ought to be able to explain their orientation without the need to explain why one has excluded themselves from one or the other group. Otherwise, the message I read from such explanations is just “I prefer not to be considered part of the same group.”

      I think it is a very big mistake to use that definition, because to say that you have the potential to be attracted to trans* people, asexuals, genderqueers, and/or intersexed people is causing people within those groups to view that in itself as some kind of a fetish – that you are attracted to their state of being as opposed to their ‘person’.

      I definitely see where you’re coming from. I wasn’t sure how else to word my inquiry at the time, but now that I’ve had more time to reflect on it, a simpler question might be “Do you anticipate a time at which a person’s bodily configuration would exclude them from romantic or sexual attraction?”

      When I have asked people who identify as pansexual to explain how they define their orientation and how it differs from bisexuality, they have consistently given explanations which specifically included non-binary sex and gender categories and have either implied or stated that bisexuality is limited to gender-binary, which has never been the case in my experience. If there seems not to be such a thing as a bisexual person who rigidly conforms to gender-binary attractions, then I would suspect that differentiating between bisexual and pansexual would be superfluous.

      To be clear, if you haven’t read previous entries in this blog, I myself identify as gender fluid. I have a masculine body and most frequently identify as feminine (but not always female), but rarely have the freedom to present myself in a manner befitting my identification. Any references to non-binary gender people includes the author.

  2. *raises hand*

    Bi person here, identifies as such.

    I rather dislike the negative stereotypes of bisexuality from both het and queer sides of the spectrum, and my way of handling the matter is to refuse to change to “pan” out of some sense of label-positivity.

    Insofar as trans and intersex people are concerned? I honestly cannot say yes or no one way or the other – it really would depend on the person not their state of being, if it ever came down to me finding I am indeed attracted to someone.

  3. I’ve identified as bisexual most of my adult life, not because of attachment to the term but because of unthinking acceptance of the term–from a position of cis-privilege. Today, I have continued using the term because it seems the one most often used and understood to cover the spectrum of “sexual attraction not determined by the other person’s gender.” But I’ve recently become uncomfortable with that. It’s like continuing to use “he” as the default pronoun despite understanding how language shapes thought. But I’m not yet comfortable adopting terms like “pansexual” and “omnisexual” because 1. terms that aren’t in common usage, or that have more than one usage, tend to stop casual conversation for a big tangent on Here is What This Term Means To Me, which is uncomfortable (not the best of reasons, I know), and 2. I can’t help but think of “omnisexual” as a joke Russell T. Davies made about Captain Jack Harkness that went viral, and thus a silly term to apply to myself (also not the best of reasons).

    I guess I’m starting to drift more towards avoiding terms at all, preferring to say things like, “For me, sexual attraction isn’t determined by gender.” It’s similar to the way I’ve been less than perfectly comfortable with the term “polyamorous” to describe myself, preferring to say “We have an open marriage,” or, “We don’t require sexual exclusivity from each other.” Even mainstream terms carry a bunch of assumptions and baggage that i’m reluctant to encourage. I’m also shy of describing my sexuality at all, because I’m a little insecure about being seen as enjoying straight privilege (I’m a woman married to a man, who has only ever dated men) while claiming myself part of the LGBT community. (Again, not the best of reasons. I’m a mess of insecurities. It’s a wonder I post.)

    Thank you for hosting this discussion. I think it will be a good one.

  4. I’ve been identifying as bisexual for a long time — quite a bit before the term “pansexual” was anywhere close to common parlance, though also, to be fair, before awareness of trans folk was very widespread. When I think “pansexual”, my mind jumps immediately to Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who, whom we’ve seen hit on men, women, aliens, and even robots.

    While “bi” means “two”, and therefore saying “bisexual” could be seen as implying that you’re only attracted to two kinds of gender expression, that seems to me to be getting into unnecessary levels of hair-splitting. Language evolves, and I don’t see why the word “bisexual” can’t mean “attracted to many forms of gender expression”. “Comic books” aren’t always comical, are they?

    Personally, although I can appreciate trans bodies in an aesthetic way, I haven’t felt myself sexually attracted to many of them. However: 1. there are exceptions, 2. I’m incredibly fussy about who I find attractive, and 3. it’s hard to judge just from things like pictures on the internet, as presence counts for a lot.

    Last note: I try to avoid saying things like, “I’m attracted to people, not genitals”, because that implies that non-bi folk are attracted to genitals, not people. Just because bisexuals have to put up with a lot of stupid stereotypes doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be on guard against dishing out bullshit of our own.

  5. I can’t honestly answer the question because I don’t know any trans folks… but I also fail to see why the distinction has to be made in the first place. I am aware that there’s a school of thought that says that the gender binary is no longer applicable… and I think that’s just kinda silly (without offense to anyone) because at the end of the day – and no matter how you perceive your gender, you’re gonna either be male or female so, at least in my opinion, the term “bisexual” still applies so “pansexual” becomes redundant even though I know some folks like pansexual because it doesn’t sound as bad as bisexual does.

    I’m from the old school of being bisexual; I will say that I’m bi, that I like women and men, and there’s no need to nitpick this to include trans folks (in particular) because there’s just no way anyone can convince me that any change you make to yourself doesn’t make you either male or female physically or mentally – I don’t even bother with those folks who don’t believe they have a gender – that’s a mental aberration I just can’t get my head around (and I’ve tried).

    It’s been my opinion that some folks just over-think bisexuality because the literal definition just scares the living daylights out of them, like folks I know who behave like a bisexual but will swear to all that’s holy that they aren’t – the word “heteroflexible” just makes me insane! Still, even if you consider yourself to be female if you were born male and you’ve made the transition to make your body fit your perception of sex, duh, now you’re a woman… and that doesn’t mean that in this new form, you can’t be bisexual; is it just me or does no one else seem to understand how simple this is? And, yes – since bisexuality can go beyond just the mere physical and touch the emotional side, where’s the difference between bisexual and pansexual; if there is one, I don’t see it – and, again, I’ve tried ever since I first heard the word. What I do know is that I would never call myself pansexual for the reasons mentioned: It’s a difference that makes no difference. The way I’ve had pansexuality explained to me seems to be insulting, like, someone who’s trans was never a “real” person and has to be added on as an afterthought and now a new word is needed to include any attraction to them.

      • So am I and I’m sure it’s complicated and can cause headaches, too. But at the end of the day, does it really matter? Even if you care to identify as both, you can still be bisexual despite your unique make up just as easily as you can be so unique and be quite straight about everything. Pansexual just further complicates something that’s already overly complicated, in my opinion.

      • In retrospect, I really like this part:

        The way I’ve had pansexuality explained to me seems to be insulting, like, someone who’s trans was never a “real” person and has to be added on as an afterthought and now a new word is needed to include any attraction to them.

  6. When it comes to real people, I’m bisexual. I’m attracted to men and women. But when it comes to what actually, er, floats my boat, what I *want* as opposed to what I can actually have? Pansexual is a more accurate word because I’m attracted to monsters, aliens, Khajiit, Argonians, draenei, dragons, Turians, Protheans, elves, the occasional tentacle monster, etc.

  7. As someone who identifies as pansexual, I break it down pretty simply. I was always under the assumption that bisexual implied “two.” You like “two” types. And frankly, that doesn’t even just mean you like men and women. What if you like cisgender women and trans women? What if you like trans men and cisgender men? (I’m speaking in broad generalizations here, so I apologize if it seems I’m simplifying it too much.)

    I identify as pansexual because I like all of it. I’ve dated women. I’ve dated men. I’ve dated transgender. I have an attraction to qualities that make it irrelevant what’s going on in the person’s pants. Before I knew what pansexuality was (when I was, like, 14 and not so educated on terms), I leaned toward bisexual because I thought it was the only way to describe what I like even if it “left stuff out.”

    I don’t hold anything against bisexual people, and don’t shy away from the term because of some form of higher purpose or biphobia. The way I define bisexuality doesn’t fit my personal preferences.

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