I'm Pansexual, and Here's What I Want You to Know
The first time I came out to my parents was in 2013. I was 15 at the time, but I still remember it clear as day. I wrote my mom and dad letters, put them each into an envelope, and handed them off. I knew I would be a mess of tears if I tried to come out to them face to face, so I figured I could gather all of my thoughts more concisely into a letter. I don't think either of them were quite shocked because I was always a little different, but nonetheless, they told me they were proud of me and wouldn't trade me for the world.
I'd always assumed I was a lesbian because I was attracted to women and had only ever dated a girl before. I was confused and felt the weight of society falling on my shoulders. I was 15 and liked women, but there was still this nagging feeling that maybe I wasn't "just" a lesbian.
I never knew that I could be anything other than a lesbian, so I continued to identify that way. It wasn't until a few years ago that I sparked a conversation with my roommate about sexual orientation. I was taking a queer studies class, and for the first time since 2013, I stopped and looked my sexuality dead in the face. And I was truly stumped. I knew I liked women, and I knew I'd had feelings for men, but I wasn't quite sure that I was bisexual. My feelings felt different than that.
It wasn't until I did some necessary internet searching that I came across a list of sexual orientations. I scrolled through terms I knew, and ones I'd never heard of, until I finally landed on pansexual. Something just seemed to fall into place. There was finally a word to explain how I'd been feeling.
So, what exactly is pansexuality?
This is a perfect starting point for something so complicated to explain. The thing is, you can look up a definition with the click of a button, but in the end, you'll find that pansexuality as a whole is very different from person to person. As Merriam-Webster puts it, "Pansexuality is of, relating to, or characterized by sexual desire or attraction that is not limited to people of a particular gender identity or sexual orientation," but what I really like to tell people is that pansexuality is fluid and encompasses any or all kinds of people, regardless of their gender identity.
One of the many things I love about being pansexual is that my love for human beings has no bounds. There are no restraints telling my heart that I can't love a person because of their gender identity. When it comes to attraction, I look for a connection as opposed to a gender, which really opens up a whole new world of relationships.
A common misconception people have about pansexuals is that since we are attracted to everyone, we must be having lots of sex, right? Well, that depends on the type of person you are. The great thing about sexuality is that it's not just about sex. Again, for me, I look for someone I can connect with as opposed to jumping into any type of physical relationship. What I'll never quite understand is why attraction becomes a reason to shame someone for their sexual experiences. If you find yourself in a situation where you're about to ask someone if they "get around," take a second to ask yourself, would I feel comfortable answering this?
OK, well, this seems very similar to bisexuality. How are they different?
I get asked this question a lot, as I'm sure do many others. Bisexuality describes the ability to be attracted to more than one gender. Leading advocate Robyn Ochs's definition is widely valued among the LBGTQ+ community: "the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree." A harmful misconception is that bisexuality reinforces the gender binary, but in reality, bisexuals throughout history have been attracted to, and also identified as, people whose genders are beyond the binary. Bi and pan people are part of the bisexual+ community, which is an encompassing term for anyone attracted to multiple genders, whether they identify as fluid, queer, or anything else. The differences between these identities' definitions may seem subtle, but they are all valid and vital parts of the bi+ community, which makes up the majority of the LGBTQ+ community as a whole.
For years, there have been disagreements within the bisexual and pansexual communities about whether bisexuality enforces the gender binary. Well, what is the gender binary? It's the social construct, or gender system, of sex and gender into two categories, masculine and feminine. So when a female is born, she is assumed to be feminine and follow the social codes that have been placed on women (i.e. body standards, sexuality, behavior, etc.).
Is bisexuality discrediting certain individuals who do not follow the gender norms? I don't think so. I think that bisexuality, like pansexuality and any identity, varies from person to person.
Is pansexuality just another label?
No, I really don't think so. In fact, I think it's important to put a name to the feeling. Previous to a few years ago, I didn't even know what pansexuality was. I struggled with my sexuality and felt out of place calling myself something I was not. It wasn't until college that I realized maybe I wasn't so alone. But I wondered, if I felt this way, how many other people have struggled to find their place in the LGBTQ+ community?
The word pansexual has been around for ages, but it was first widely used by Sigmund Freud to describe the sexual desires of humans; however, he never really coined the term as a sexual orientation. Understanding what it means to be pansexual grew at the end of the 20th century, leading into the 21st century. So why then do so few people know about it? And how can we make pansexuality a term that is readily available to younger generations?
If you or someone you know is questioning their sexuality, I think it is incredibly important to look into all sides of the LGBTQ+ community. There are so many orientations, genders, and identities that are not covered in schools or by acronyms that deserve to be discussed. Personally, I went to a high school that didn't do much to explain anything other than the heteronormative in health class. I think it will take time to implement more LGBTQ+-friendly curriculum into schools; however, clubs, events, and open discussions are a wonderful way to expand queer vocabulary. If words like demisexual, asexual, queer, intersex, nonbinary, etc. are talked about more frequently, it will allow those who are unsure a chance to interact with others who feel like them.
So what have my years as an out pansexual been like? Honestly, I feel like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. For me, pansexuality is much more than just my sexual orientation. It has helped me to put into perspective my behavior toward all people. Perhaps my heart is just a little too big, but I believe that every person I come across, regardless of gender, race, religion, sexuality, etc., is deserving of some type of connection, whether it be emotional, physical, or intellectual. Those connections are what made me who I am and I think what led me to pansexuality.
I don't think I could have done this without my incredible roommate, who has listened to my struggles for countless hours and encouraged me to explore my sexuality. I'm also incredibly grateful for my family, who are always asking questions and have gone above and beyond to research pansexuality and the LGBTQ+ community.
I'm not sure what's in store for me; however, I know now that I'm not alone or "confused." In fact, I'm the furthest thing from confused. I didn't need some big revelation to tell me that I was pansexual. All it really took was some reflection and a Google search.