Your bisexual Opinions Editor “straightens” out the definitions, and similarities, and differences between bisexuals and pansexuals

Illustration by Kayti Barkved
Illustration by Kayti Barkved

Glossary:

Cisgender: 1) A person whose gender identity is aligned to what they were designated at birth on the basis of their physical sex. 2) a non-trans* person.

Genderqueer: 1) An umbrella term for people whose gender identity is outside of, not included within, or beyond the binary of female and male. 2) Gender non-conformity through expression, behaviour, social roles, and/or identity. 3) People who identify as both transgender and queer who see gender identity and sexual orientation as overlapping and interconnected

Monosexual: a person attracted to people of no more than one gender, and who identifiy as such (includes heterosexuals, gays, and lesbians).

Tackling the ol’ nitpickery that is the English language

Yes, we’ve all been taught that ‘bi’ as a prefix in Latin means two, but ask any bisexual their personal definition of what two means, and you’ll find it’s extremely variable and flexible. For instance, it can mean attraction to one, your own gender, and two, to other genders. Similarly, the ‘pan’ in pansexuality does not mean that one has an attraction to pans, or is narrowly attracted to ‘all’ as the Latin infers.While pansexuality can be defined as attraction to any gender, it is preferably referred to attraction despite gender. Sometimes, pansexuality is even expressed as an attraction to personalities over gender expressions.

So what’s the difference here really?

Understandably, there is quite a bit of intersecting turf between the two terms, but the major differences rest in the histories of the communities. Bisexuality has been, historically, more political in nature. A year after the Stonewall Riots of 1969 (which bisexuals participated in), Brenda Howard, a bisexual activist, helped organize the one of the very first pride parades. Meanwhile, pansexuality is a newer term with a newer community, and is thus often thought to be the less political of the two. Pansexuality is often considered, by monosexuals, to have stemmed off of bisexuality. Bottom line, the distinction between the two identities, if one must be made (and many insist that there should be), is that bisexuals frequently believe gender to be a factor in their attraction to people, whilst pansexuals believe gender has nothing to do with attraction.

It is also of importance to note that another difference actually comes from within the LGBTQIAP* community’s regards to bisexuality. It has come about in more recent years that many trans and genderqueer individuals believe bisexuality to be an outdated mode of identifying one's sexuality, because of its essentialized gender binary history (bisexuality was initially defined in an 1892 translation of Psychopathia Sexualis as attraction to cisgender men and cisgender women). Consequently, the LGBTQIAP* community often reasons that in order to remain inclusive, pansexuality should be the chosen moniker. Nevertheless, bisexuals insist that gender expression, not an individual’s genitalia, is how they decide their attraction to people. Further, the community maintains, that as our understanding of the spectrum of gender identities has evolved and multiplied how we can present our genders, equally our interpretations of bisexuality have grown.

Bisexual and pansexual flag colours - photo by Kelsi Barkved
Bisexual and pansexual flag colours - photo by Kelsi Barkved

What the communities share

Erasure. Bisexual and pansexual folk don’t find much common ground with heterosexuals or with homosexuals, and this leads to sense of invisibility. Erasure happens frequently in our societies, when our identities are simplified or misrepresented, or reduced to a single faceted monosexuality. For instance, when a bisexual or pansexual person dates someone of the same gender, their peers will often attribute their bisexuality as a stepping-stone to becoming ‘fully’ gay. Whereas if a bisexual or pansexual person dates someone of an ‘opposing’ gender, their peers will insist that their bisexuality was just a phase before they turned straight.

Violence. The popularized belief between these two identities is that bisexual and pansexual people are greedy (to put it lightly), or sluts (to put it bluntly). These wrongful attitudes promote and perpetuate violence from monosexual partners. In a 2010 study, from the National Center for Injury Prevention and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it was discovered that bisexual women have a 61.1% and bisexual men have a 37.3% of experiencing intimate partner violence, the highest prevalence of intimate partner violence compared to their heterosexual, lesbian, and gay counterparts.

So, whether you know someone who is bi or pan, you identify as bi or pan, or you’re just reading about these sexual identities for the very first time, the most important thing to take away from this article is that yes: we are definitely here and we (usually) do identify strongly with either one of the two. We are two distinct parts of a community, which do share, at the very least, our attraction to (gasp!) more than one gender.

Definitions from transwellness.org and radicalbi.wordpress.com.

Statistics from CDC's 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey's published findings