Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Gender 101 Episode #5 Redux: "Bisexual" and "Pansexual" - what's the difference?

Today I ask our gender queer friend Lucy more about language. I heard some people use the term "pansexual" recently, and I wasn't exactly sure what it meant - and how (or if) - it was different from "bisexual."

And now Lucy explains the distinction between those attractions and sexual orientations for me, and for you!

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When it originally ran, this post got a lot of discussion going!

Here are those comments:

Tess said...
Thanks for the informative video series Lee! I'd really like to hear Lucy, or you, or anyone, explain why they think bisexuality isn't "taken seriously" among the GLBT community. I'm assuming that's not true across the board, but I'd be curious to know how common it is that someone who identifies as "bi" is looked down upon by a community they hoped would accept them?
May 4, 2011 at 4:37 AM

Pam Harris said...
Great interview! Thanks for clearing these two terms up for us. :)
May 4, 2011 at 6:20 AM

Lee Wind said...
Thanks, Pam and Tess, for your kind words!
And Tess, yes, it's a great idea, and I will think about how to best tackle the topic of bi-phobia within the GLBTQ community. Thanks for the suggestion!
May 4, 2011 at 6:55 AM

Lucy said...
Good question, Tess. For starters, here's a video explaining biphobia from the viewpoint of a bi person:
May 4, 2011 at 10:30 PM

Anonymous said...
OMG where did you find this hater and why are you giving it any play?

just because i’m bisexual doesn’t mean i’m binarist.

the “two” in “bisexual” refers to attraction to genders alike to our own (≈homosexuality) + attraction to genders different from our own (≈heterosexuality)

The Gender Identity Police DO NOT get to define us out of existence.
May 5, 2011 at 9:14 PM

Benji said...
To Anonymous,
My intention was not to misrepresent the bi community & apologize if you feel slighted. I used the term "tends to" to indicate the common & most visible usage, but followed up with a counterexample to help show that this trend is not comprehensive. If you were made to feel invisible by the fact that the first counterexample that came to mind did not encompass your experience, I apologize. I think in a later video I touch upon something similar over the struggle for transgender as an umbrella term and how common usage (example: media coverage over Thomas Beatty) is almost synonymous with transsexual. I would not argue that the battle over language is futile, or that certain words are so entrenched in their traditional ties that the fight to expand or change them is insurmountable, so thank you for bringing up a counter example of your own.
May 6, 2011 at 12:56 AM

NYABN said...
While always respecting everyone's right to self-identify as they see fit, we must ask that you please also give bisexual people the same courtesy to define ourselves. It is extremely inappropriate to invent new definitions of bisexual people that not only disparages an entire community but also invalidate and erase the lives of many of the founders and leaders of the modern bisexual movement just to keep up with some fad or fashion.

It is true that some people in some areas of popular culture use a kind of (inaccurate) short-hand to describe bisexual people in common cisgendered terms such as "people who have sex with men and women". But people also frequently use the same sort of careless short-hand to describe all sorts of things, such as describing the range and variation of humans as "red, yellow, black and white." However just as a quick check of a box of crayons will immediately show that this is just an inaccurate descriptor, the same goes for many of the erroneous statements made about bisexual people too.

Instead may we bring your attention to some more accurate self-descriptions such as the quite formal one from the San Francisco Human Rights Commission report on Bisexual Invisibility, "Bisexuality is the capacity for emotional, romantic, and/or physical attraction to more than one sex or gender. A bisexual orientation speaks to the potential for, but not requirement of, involvement with more than one sex/gender."

Or this longer if more informal definition:

Bisexuals are people with the (inborn/innate) capacity to form enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional/spiritual attractions to (1) those of the same gender/gender expression or to (2) those of some other genders/gender expression. There may be an individual attraction for one gender over others which can also be fluid and changeable over time.

Bisexuality is not synonymous with being polyamorous. Individual bisexual people may be celibate, monogamous or non-monogamous just as individual straight, lesbian or gay people can be.

No matter what the gender of the person they are partnered with, bisexual people remain bisexual. They do not suddenly switch orientation as if by magic when they enter into a serious relationship.

Q: How do I know if I am bisexual?
A: Think about all the people you have had a genuine attraction to over your lifetime. If they are of more than one gender/gender expression then Congratulations! You too are bisexual.

And for yet a third example (among many) of how bisexual people self-define there is also the UK's excellent website Bisexual Index. In particular the piece "What is Bisexuality?" that clearly addresses a great many myths might be useful and instructive before setting up any more straw-men to be knocked down.
May 6, 2011 at 5:45 PM

Lee Wind said...
So glad for this discussion - but now I'm curious - for anonymous May 5, 2011 9:14 PM and NYABN, if we define bisexual as attraction to the same AND attraction to those who are not the same (including the vast variety of gender expressions), then would the distinction between the terms bisexual and pansexual not really exist? Would they become synonyms?
May 6, 2011 at 6:31 PM

Tess said...
Thank you all so much for your comments! This has been a truly eye-opening (and affirming) discussion. (And thank you Lee for having such an awesome blog that has become a home for such discussions.)
May 11, 2011 at 5:05 AM


Vero said...

Bisexual and Pansexual have a lot of overlap. The more we speak to each other, we realize that we face very similar issues.

The problem with the bisexual label is that people assume, even in the LGBTQAIP+ community, that bi people are attracted to people strictly on the binary system, that they are trans phobic and erase other gender itdentity.

The problem with the pansexual label, is that people assume, even in the LGBTQAIP+ community,that pan people erase gender identity all together.

Both statement are false.

Otherwise we fight very similar issue: erasure, assumption that we are incapable of monogamy, faithfulness, or that we are greedy and cheaters. That we need to "pick a side". That we cease being pan/bi the moment we stay with a partner, we suddenly become straight/gay (which is also super erasing of other gender identities.)

The thing is, there isn't a lot of difference. One is a newer term, that feels fresh and the other is a wonderful term full of history. Both are valid.

Identifying as Pansexual as actually allowed me to learn more about bisexual folks and the community and I feel much closer to them then I used to. I chose Pansexual for personal reason, just like some people prefer the term gender fluid over gender queer. Those two term are similar but some people only identify whit one.

I'm sure this was no help! Sorry for the rambling!

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

that's really interesting - thanks for sharing your insights and perspective!