Even within the queer community, many sexualities are still marginalized, or not as recognized. While there is a lot of visibility for gays and lesbians, there is less awareness in the community about what being bisexual, pansexual, or even polysexual is like. This can lead to biphobia, marginalization, and even just plain confusion when some people talk about their sexuality. So this week, we’re going to talk about the various non-mainstream sexualities within the queer community!
Q: My friend recently came out to me as pansexual. I want to try to be supportive, but I don’t quite understand it. What’s the difference between being bisexual and pansexual? Are the two the same?
A: First of all, good on you for wanting to understand this better and support your friend! Now, let’s talk about pansexuality vs bisexuality. This is actually a very common question. Let’s start by defining bisexuality and pansexuality and then we’ll go over the differences between the two and some common myths and misconceptions about them.
Bisexuality is defined as experiencing sexual attraction to two or more genders. Pansexuality, on the other hand, is an attraction to all genders.
So are they the same? Not quite. They are related though. Pansexuality is a subset of bisexuality. What does this mean? All pansexuals are bisexual but not all bisexuals are pansexual. That can sound a little confusing, I know. It’ll help if you say it in your head a couple times. Also, my personal favorite analogy for this is: all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares. Basically, bisexuals are attracted to at least two genders, but pansexuals are attracted to all genders. So if bisexuality was a big circle, pansexuality would be a smaller circle within it. Better?
So, let’s talk a bit more about the differences within the two. When pansexuals say that they are attracted to all genders, what they usually mean is that gender is irrelevant. They may have preferences within each gender (like, butch women or tall non-binary people) but they don’t necessarily have preferences between different genders.
Think of it like going to a foodcourt. There are different stalls, and you have a favorite dish at each one. But, you don’t have a favorite stall. Sometimes you might be in the mood for a particular stall, but you like them all about the same amount. Bisexuality on the other hand would be a group of people who like more than one stall, but not necessarily all of them.
Now, let’s address some myths and misconceptions:
1. Bisexuality promotes the gender binary, so it’s not politically correct.
The bi movement does not end with the binary. This is a very common misconception that being bisexual means being attracted to “both” genders and ignoring the non-binary folx. This isn’t true, however, because the movement defines bisexuality as an attraction to two or more genders and it is indeed inclusive of all genders.
2. If you’re bisexual you’re into men and women both.
This is a very common myth that is usually related to the previous misconception. There are bisexuals who are attracted to say, women and genderqueer individuals, or men and genderfluid individuals. They are still valid as bisexuals because they are attracted to more than one gender. So, you don’t necessarily have to be attracted to men AND women to be bisexual.
3. Bisexuals (and pansexuals) are just greedy and more likely to cheat.
This is a myth that helps perpetuate the biphobia within the queer community. Many gays and lesbians refuse to date or accept bisexuals because of the myth that they are greedy and just can’t choose between different genders, so they are more likely to cheat. This is a very harmful myth that leads to more marginalization of bisexuals.
4. Pansexuals are attracted to pans and love the kitchen.
While this is not a “myth”, it is a pretty tired joke that people still bring up when someone talks about being pansexual. It gets old. You could try being a smidge more creative, like this tumblr user:
One last thing to remember in all of this is that sometimes people’s sexuality is different from their romantic orientation. Just because someone is pansexual doesn’t mean they are also panromantic (or experience romantic attraction to all genders).
And that’s all for this week! Send in your questions and I’ll keep answering them!