A. Rose Bi proudly identifies as a bisexual woman. She currently lives in New England with her cats who love to sleep on her lap while she spends most of her time watching TV and playing video games while her partner cooks amazing food. In addition to being an out bi woman, A. has a degree in Cognitive Science, has completed trainings for LGBTQIA+ and sexual assault survivor advocacy, and has experience answering calls for an anonymous LGBTQIA+ help line. She is passionate about feminism, the bi+ community, LGBTQIA+ and female representation in the media, and helping others. Her preferred pronouns are she/her or they/them.
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Dear A. Rose Bi,
I’ve seen a lot of talk on social media recently about the bisexual and pansexual labels. It seems like by calling myself bisexual, I’m transphobic or enforcing the gender binary—which I don’t want to do at all! I’ve just always used bisexual as my label since coming out a couple years ago and didn’t realize it was offensive.
I guess what I’m trying to ask is—should I start calling myself pansexual instead of bisexual to be more inclusive?
Bisexual or Pansexual
Dear Bisexual or Pansexual,
I think it’s safe to say that you are not the only person feeling this way right now. I feel like fairly recently this bisexuality vs. pansexuality debate has come to a head, especially on social media. To quote Bi Women Quarterly editor, Robyn Ochs, bisexuality is “. . . the potential to be romantically and/or sexually attracted to more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.” Bisexuality is not inherently transphobic or encouraging of the gender binary, however there can be transphobic people who identify as bisexual, just like any orientation.
Part of this debate comes from the idea that “bi-” means two and “pan-” means all, so bisexual must imply just men and women—only two genders. In reality, both terms mean attraction to more than one gender. In some definitions, bisexuality is defined as attraction to people of more than one gender, and pansexuality is defined as attraction regardless of gender. Some people identify strongly with one distinction or the other.
For example, a close friend of mine, who identifies as pansexual, and I were having this exact discussion recently. (I identify as bisexual.) For me, I’m attracted to people of all genders, but their gender is a part of my potential attraction to them. For my friend, her potential attraction to an individual has nothing to do with their gender. Maybe that’s a difference in the labels?
However, we also had a long conversation about why we chose the labels we did and the knee-jerk biases we had had against the other label. For her, a key part of her identity and coming out process was the kink community. She very much “grew up” in her queer identity as part of this particular community, a community that predominantly (to my understanding) uses pansexual over bisexual to refer to attraction to multiple genders. For me, I “grew up” in my queer identity on a college campus where bisexual was a more often used (and more palatable) term than pansexual. In hearing the other person explain what their label meant to them, we realized that for the most part, we could see ourselves identifying as that label, too. I could see that my orientation could be described as bisexuality or pansexuality, but bisexual was the label that I first tried on and felt like it fit, and that means a lot to me. To her, it was the same thing but pansexual was that for her.
I know cis people who identify as pansexual and have cis partners, I know nonbinary people who identify as bisexual, I know cis people who identify as bisexual and have trans or gender-nonconforming partners. Your label is what you choose— what fits right when you try it on. Maybe pansexual does feel better for you after learning more. Maybe bisexual is the right fit because you feel most comfortable with that label. Maybe both feel right, and you can wave a pink, yellow, and blue flag along with your pink, purple, and blue flag. No matter what you decide, know that choosing a label that feels good to you, including bisexual if that’s the case, is not transphobic or enforcing the gender binary. And if you’re worried enough to ask, I highly doubt any of your behaviors are either.
Lots of love,
A. Rose Bi