bi vs. pan: i’m both and i’m not sorry

The year is 2003. The media is buzzing about an anticipated event that will occur at the MTV Video Music Awards: Britney Spears and Madonna are totally going to kiss on stage! Wow!! With a small amount of embarrassment, I admit that it’s something that I really want to see, if only because there is little in the TV of seeing two girls kissing. I don’t care if it’s for the ratings. I was 13, questioning my sexuality, and wanted to see a piece of me on the big screen.

So I watched the kiss happen live. It was refreshing.

The word “bisexual” was in my vocabulary, but at the time there was some push back from that label. Even then, I was aware that people would scathingly accuse bisexual folks of making it up for attention, especially girls. I self-identified as a girl then (completely unaware that it’s possible to be neither male nor female), and decided to wait until I was older before trying to come out. I waited only about two years. Fifteen. What a tender age.

You know the types that try to also say that “bisexual” is just the bridge label to use when you’re afraid to come out as gay? Oh, I fought against that. I was absolutely insistent that bisexual is rightfully it’s own sexuality, not a bridge label or a fashion statement, and I clung to this label right up until college. It’s true too: bisexual is it’s own sexuality. I was attracted to men and women, and nobody was going to invalidate how I felt! Then, I joined the LGBTQIA+ club at college as bisexual, and… slowly, things shifted.

I was becoming more aware. Different labels came into my life then: genderqueer, pansexual, genderf*ck, non-binary, it goes on. During a car ride on my way back from a showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show sometime in 2010, I admit to a friend that I’m pansexual instead and my inner 13 year old self screams.  How could I betray that younger version of myself by labeling my sexuality any differently?! Was I secretly a hypocrite all along?

Here’s a fact that would further piss off my younger self, and probably a large chunk of the audience who would read this: I use bisexual and pansexual interchangeably. Please hear me out.

The working definition that I’ve seen for bisexuality is “the attraction to two or more genders,” in comparison to pansexual’s “the attraction to all genders.” As I’ve stated before, I’m attracted to men and women, and as I’ve come to realize I’m also attracted to non-binary people. I can be attracted to anybody. Sometimes I’m not sure what a person’s gender is but in my head I’m going “Oh yes, this person is flawless.” My experience of attraction fits both the labels on the basis of my potential to be attracted to any gender. I don’t know every gender, but I’ve been attracted to many genders. I’m positive I would be attracted to someone regardless of their gender.

Also, there are situations where I’m among people who probably have never heard of pansexuality. At my day job, everybody knows I’m bisexual. At home or with friends, I’m known as pansexual. These experiences are the same to me. I’m not always in the mood to try to do the pansexual discussion with people who have yet to understand the gender spectrum, so “bisexual” is the clearest indicator for them to understand my orientation.

I’m attracted to two or more genders. I’m attracted to two and many, many more genders. This is not the same experience for everybody who would use bisexual or pansexual for their identities. I’m sure my younger self would come to understand the fluidity in identity.