This post originally appeared on my Tumblr in 2014. It has been updated and edited for clarity.
There are nearly as many ways to identify sexuality as there are people who actually spend the time to think about what to call their sexual feelings. Many of these terms are fraught with underlying meanings, based on historical, societal, geographical, and generational context.
I use labels in ways that many people would probably disagree with. To start this off, I, like most of the people in my generation that I’ve met, use the term “queer”. I like it for its inclusive language, without resorting to an acronym that can be 25 letters long and still leave someone out. However, sometimes when I talk to older members in “queer” spaces and the community, I will come across the people I offend just be using that term at all. Having grown up in a place in time and geography where same-sex marriage has been legal for over a decade (Canada!), to me it is language of reclamation. To some of the older generation, however, it is language that brings back memories of fear, hiding, fighting, and violence. To them, it’s the language of oppression. I would like to compare it to other civil rights movements and the reclamation of language, but I have limited personal knowledge of language reclamation in other movements. I am vaguely familiar with the reclamation of the word “bitch” during the Third Wave of feminism in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, but it is poorly recalled from my childhood and teenage years. I certainly didn’t give much thought at the time to what the word might mean in the grand scheme of a social movement. And since I am not a person of colour, I absolutely don’t think that commenting on any sort of language reclamation in those spaces would be in any way appropriate. The people who live those stories are very capable of telling them.
So I acknowledge that certain language and labels come packaged with politics in certain spaces and in some conversations. This truth has a role to play in why I choose to identify with the label “pansexual”.
The term Bisexual usually means an attraction to both men and women. By the very nature of the term’s prefix “bi-” it indicates that there are two genders. Since I believe there are more than strictly two genders, I choose to use the term “pansexual” which has the prefix “pan-“, meaning many. Depending on the situation I am in, I might argue against being mislabeled as bisexual. This usually isn’t much of an issue in most queer spaces, since most people there are familiar with the term and are more aware of the general lack of gender binary being a thing. When I am talking to a straight person – often in this case someone who has mislabeled me as either straight or gay (“…you hooked up with a woman/man? But I thought you were straight/gay?”) I will usually gently correct that I am pansexual and then explain what it means if they ask. They usually do, in my experience, because unless this person is a close ally or involved in the queer community/politics of social justice they probably have not heard the term before. In this instance, it can be likened to bisexuality while pointing out that gender can be a fluid thing and that the gender binary is a myth. Then it’s up to them if they want to ask more questions or start looking into the concepts presented a little deeper.
That isn’t to say that I use my identity as a PSA announcement, however. I may occasionally identify as a gender-blender or gender-fluid to some degree, but I am a cis-gendered femme woman, and I’m not about to tell any story that isn’t my own. I am pansexual because I tend to see a person’s gender presentation like their hair colour. I may have a preference in my tastes, but that preference can change, and if I am seriously into someone, if they changed their presentation, it wouldn’t bother me. Because it’s about the person, not the genitalia or other outward trappings of a societal construct.
Now I want to take a moment to address the two most frequently asked questions I hear when I tell people that I’m pansexual:
Q: You have sex with PANS?
A: Nope. You are thinking of object sexuality. I have sex with consenting, adult humans.
Q: So you’ll just fuck anyone then?
A: No. I have standards just like you! I have self-respect and lots of things I look for in sexual partners. Things like chemistry are important to me; whether or not they have any outward signs to avoid for STDs/STIs; whether they seem sane enough that I won’t have to worry about my physical safety or being stalked bad enough to move, etc. There are tons of factors at play when I choose to involved with someone. I’m just saying that gender is a very small part.
Image credit: Bacchanal by Auguste Léveque Bacchanalien, 1864- 1921