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A lot of people seem to pit bisexual and pansexual people against each other. I don't understand why, as we both share a lot of similarities. We both are nonmonosexuals that can be rejected from both the straight and LGBTQ+ communities. We can both be told what our sexualities are based on our partners instead of our own attractions. And yet, despite this, these two identities seem to constantly be butting heads over what these labels seem to define. I want to dive into this debate a bit and explain why both of these labels, as well as others, are important to the community. But first, let's define both of these labels to get a good idea of their differences.
Let's start with bisexuality first, as I am more familiar with it and personally identify as bisexual. This identity has been around since at least the 60s, though longer more than likely.
The best way I have heard to define bisexuality is from bisexual activist Robyn Ochs:
"I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge in myself the potential to be attracted romantically and/or sexually to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, in the same way, or to the same degree."
It seems no one has been listening to actual bisexual people about how they define their own label. Bisexuality is honestly a very fluid identity. Attractions fluctuate, even on a day to day basis. This is what I would say defines the difference between bisexuality and other nonmonosexual identities. Too many people apply incorrect stereotypes to it, but that is a whole other conversation. Now, let's move to define what pansexuality is.
Pansexuality is a term that I have seen gaining more popularity in recent years. While the term is gaining more popularity today than it has in the past, it has been around since the late 60s at least. I can't speak from personal experience about this definition, but it is the general consensus of what I have seen online and how people in my life that identify as pan define their own sexuality.
Pansexuality means that one has the potential to be attracted to any gender. They aren't really attracted to someone for things about their gender. This doesn't mean they are attracted to every single person they meet, since gender is not really the deciding factor in who we are attracted to. Other things determine that, such as personality, style, etc. Those that identify as pan are less likely to have their attractions fluctuate or be fluid. They do tend to face a lot of similar stereotypes bisexual people face, but that is really the entire nonmonosexual community.
How these labels help each other
These labels aren't mutually exclusive. While not all bisexual people do this, some use bisexual and pansexual interchangeably. The same with any identity honestly. Sometimes one word isn't enough to describe the way you feel, so two or even three labels may fit. It is still important to note that is not how everyone feels.
Queer, polysexual, pansexual, and bisexual all fit under nonmonosexual identities, or as some people prefer, occupy a place on the multi-gender attraction spectrum. All of them have their own specific definitions and overlap a great deal. Some people don't care about their specifics. Others assert the differences because they matter significantly to them. No one person is right or wrong, as long as they are respecting others.
Labels help us describe our specific and personal experiences. Bisexual and pansexual are just two of the labels within the nonmonosexual community. Queer, polysexual, pansexual, and bisexual are all meant to help us feel like we have a community of others who understand being attracted to multiple genders and to recognize both the good and the challenges that come along with it. Labels are good intrinsically because of how relieved we personally feel after we find the right word for our experience.
So why does this matter?
I normally don't think labels need to be strongly defined by society. Everyone deserves to claim whatever label they feel describes their sexuality best. Even when someone decides on the label they feel defines them best, that label may mean something different to them than it does to other people. With these two labels, I feel like this has almost become a detriment when people discuss these labels.
Many accusations have been thrown at both sides from both sides. I have seen some articles claiming that pansexual isn't binary while bisexual is, basically calling bisexuality transphobic. However, I have also seen articles and bisexual people calling pansexuals biphobic. Some pansexual people say bisexuality needs to fall out of use and everyone should identify as pansexual. Bisexual people say pansexuality should fall out of use and everyone should just identify as bisexual. Insults get hurled from both sides and only serve to widen the divide between our community.
To clarify, both labels are completely valid. There is nothing wrong with identifying as either bisexual or pansexual. No label is better than the other. The only thing that would be wrong is if you put down other labels to make your label seem better.
Everyone should be free to identify as what describes their personal sexuality best. We shouldn't judge someone based solely on the label they use to identify themselves. It's unfair to assume stereotypes are right or claim they are being something they aren't.
I know my word won't be the final one is this debate. Divisive people are everywhere and gatekeepers will always exist. The most important thing to remember is that these divisions will only affect us if we let them affect us. Always be positive and welcome every identity to the community, so long as they are not being hurtful. We are stronger if we stand together.