As the LGBTQ+ community has grown, the increased popularity of relatively new labels and existing ones has unfortunately resulted in division. The most prominent example of this conflict is between the terms “bisexual” and “pansexual.” Biphobic and transphobic narratives are often presented in discussions regarding the terms’ accurate definitions. Admittedly, it is not an easy topic to comprehend. Being bisexual myself, it took me years to develop my own opinion on the relationship between these two labels. These are what I believe to be the true and false distinctions that have been made between bisexuality and pansexuality.
I define a bisexual person as having romantic and/or sexual attraction to people of two or more genders, and a pansexual person as having romantic and/or sexual attraction toward people without any preference of gender identity. The simplest distinction between the two is that being bisexual means that gender impacts attraction, while it does not for a pansexual person. Even in LGBTQ+ spaces, many harmful misconceptions about bisexuality are still prevalent. Pansexuality can be regarded as more inclusive than bisexuality; however, both labels are completely inclusive of transgender and non-binary individuals.
Information regarding sexuality is more accessible than ever, which has resulted in a dramatic rise in LGBTQ+ self-identification. In late February 2021, Gallup reported that about 5.6% of adults in the U.S. identify as LGBTQ+, including about one in six adults in Gen Z. However, despite sharing some common experiences and constituting a strong Democratic voting bloc, we are certainly not a unified hivemind.
The following passage is from “The Bisexual Manifesto,” a piece published in 1990 through the Bay Area Bi+ & Pan Network: “Do not assume that bisexuality is binary or duogamous in nature: that we have ‘two’ sides or that we must be involved simultaneously with both genders to be fulfilled human beings. In fact, don’t assume that there are only two genders.”
Additionally, the false idea that bisexuality excludes attraction to transgender people is rooted in transphobia. Transgender people do not fall on a different gender spectrum than anyone else, and so they are not excluded from any sexuality’s boundaries of attraction. Anyone who experiences romantic or sexual attraction and says that they would never be attracted to a transgender person under any circumstance is simply transphobic.
Evidently, the bisexual community has been fighting against these common stereotypes, and in favor of inclusion for all, for a long time. To be clear, parts of “The Bisexual Manifesto” can apply to any label in the bisexual umbrella. Individuals that identify with any such label are not more promiscuous than anyone else.
Similar but different labels such as omnisexual and polysexual are valid as well. Some argue that too many new terms have come into relevance, which has undermined the push towards acceptance by proposing too many identities to accept. This expansion of what falls under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, or broader terms like “queer,” may be confusing, but no less valid. Ultimately, the semantics of these labels are not as important as what the individual feels most comfortable identifying with. No one has any right to criticize how somebody chooses to define themselves because it is completely their decision to make, and no label is indicative of any negative traits.
I have done a lot of research to develop a deep understanding of the LGBTQ+ community that exists today. I do not expect anyone else to do the same, but it is each person’s responsibility to at least educate themselves at a basic level. If nothing else, understand that we are still people; however, we have a different sexuality and relationship to gender than most. Bias can be ingrained into everybody, and it takes a conscious effort to remove. We cannot reasonably expect everyone to understand the nuances of each label, but we can demand that each member of our community is respected.
Daniel Waters is an Opinion Intern for the 2022 winter quarter. He can be reached at email@example.com.