As a queer person who came to terms with their sexuality in the age of social media, I remember how daunting the process of labelling myself felt. Every LGBT movie I’d ever watched seemed to feature some kind of lightbulb moment: the confused character would suddenly comprehend their identity after deeply resonating with a label that perfectly represented them.
Sadly for me, this was not the case.
Instead of feeling a sense of clarity after researching the different established identities, I instead felt an impending sense of doom. There seemed to be no absolute definition of any of the terms I googled, meaning I began to feel terrified of mislabelling myself.
Nothing encapsulated this fear more than the confusion surrounding the difference between Bisexuality and Pansexuality. Whilst one website would articulate how Pansexual was the more inclusive term, the next would dub the entire identity pointless, an off-brand iteration of Bisexuality which served no purpose other than to mark the user as ‘more woke’.
As a thirteen-year-old who just wanted to know why she liked girls, these changing definitions were distinctly unhelpful.
In retrospect, the problem with the sources of information I was using was the inflammatory nature of their discussion. Most sought to pit the two identities against each other, as if only one was allowed to be used going forward. The argument that ‘Pansexuality cares about personality’ seemed to imply that Bi people were overtly sexual in their inclinations, and other aspects of the discourse relied on trans-exclusionary notions as a distinguisher.
Whilst the conversation surrounding this topic has evolved to become more accepting, I have found that a general consensus on the difference still hasn’t been reached in the minds of the general public. Even amongst the LGBT people I have spoken to, answers have varied between responders. One person I asked stated that they identified as Bi purely for the convenience of the label, considering that it is an identity that is almost universally understood.
This response struck a chord with me. As queer people, we spend so much of our time trying to explain ourselves to others that the position of educator can become tiring. This fatigue is so impactful that it can even shape how we subsequently identify.
Another response I received delved into how the experience of attraction can differ between genders. They stated that pansexuals experience attraction the same regardless of the gender of the recipient, whereas for Bisexuals there is a distinguishable difference in their feelings. However, it is equally possible for both identities to experience attraction to all genders; being Bi does not automatically exclude Non-Binary folks from the potential dating pool. This response was a far cry from the information I read as a confused thirteen-year-old, and yet the subjectivity remained. ‘This is just how I see it”, they clarified, “Other Bisexuals may experience things differently.”
Despite there being dictionary definitions for these labels, it is useful to be reminded that people shape sexual identities, not the other way around. The conversation surrounding Bisexuality and Pansexuality has evolved throughout my lifetime, and it will continue to do so as we learn and grow. As long as labels continue to ensure liberation as opposed to limitation, the subjectivity of their meanings does not need to be viewed in a negative light.
Featured Image – Katie Rainbow on Pexels