First of all, Happy Belated Pansexual Pride Day!
Second of all, let’s stop touting pansexuality as a new-and-improved, more highly evolved version of bisexuality. That’s not what it is.
There exists an ugly myth that because the prefix “bi” means “two”, bisexuality reinforces the concept of a gender binary and only recognizes two genders — men and women. It is often assumed this also excludes trans men and women. In light of these myths, pansexuality is sometimes put forth as an enlightened, gender-inclusive alternative to bisexuality, because “pan” means “all”, and therefore subverts the gender binary.
Bisexuality is simply the attraction to more than one gender. Full stop.
Pansexuality is the attraction to all genders, or anyone regardless of gender.
Semantically, bisexuality encompasses pansexuality, but there is a point where we can distinguish between the two, and this is important to much of our community.
Bisexuality has never been defined - by actual bisexuals - as the attraction to only two genders. This misconception developed somewhere outside of our community, all-too-conveniently during a period of time when bisexuals were making a lot of headway organizing in partnership with the trans community, which inexplicably came to a screeching halt shortly thereafter...
Anyway, to illustrate this history, we can point to The 1990 Bisexual Manifesto, published in the Bay Area Bisexual Network’s literary magazine “Anything that Moves”, and as archived by BiNet USA:
“We are tired of being analyzed, defined and represented by people other than ourselves, or worse yet, not considered at all. We are frustrated by the imposed isolation and invisibility that comes from being told or expected to choose either a homosexual or heterosexual identity.
Monosexuality is a heterosexist dictate used to oppress homosexuals and to negate the validity of bisexuality.
Bisexuality is a whole, fluid identity. Do not assume that bisexuality is binary or duogamous in nature: that we have "two" sides or that we must be involved simultaneously with both genders to be fulfilled human beings. In fact, don’t assume that there are only two genders. Do not mistake our fluidity for confusion, irresponsibility, or an inability to commit. Do not equate promiscuity, infidelity, or unsafe sexual behavior with bisexuality. Those are human traits that cross all sexual orientations. Nothing should be assumed about anyone’s sexuality, including your own.
We are angered by those who refuse to accept our existence; our issues; our contributions; our alliances; our voice. It is time for the bisexual voice to be heard.”
This manifesto is a fundamental piece of bisexual history and culture. It explicitly denounces the idea that bisexuality means an attraction to only two genders, and the idea that there are only two genders. Yes, “bi” means “two”. The duality of the “bi” in “bisexual” refers to the combination of homosexual and heterosexual attractions - some people extend this to a definition of bisexuality as “attraction to genders similar to and different from one’s own”.
“Bisexual” is a relatively old term compared to much of our queer lexicon. It predates most of the gender-expansive language we have today. This doesn’t mean the word “bisexual” is incompatible with it. Some individuals who call themselves bisexual don’t have access to or knowledge of this language yet. There may also be bisexual individuals who are transphobic, but that’s their damage, and doesn’t reflect a problem with the word itself. For instance, there are also some transphobic gay and lesbian folks, but no one would infer that being gay or a lesbian is inherently transphobic.
Today, many individuals and organizations use “bi+” as an umbrella term for all of the identities and labels the non-monosexual (attracted to more than one gender) community uses. This includes, is not limited to; bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual, queer, fluid, and unlabeled. This term is awesome and useful because it recognizes bisexual as the oldest and still most widely used term, while also being inclusive of the many other terms our community uses to describe our identities and experiences. It is also very common for individuals to use multiple labels simultaneously, or change labels as they move through various life stages or community spaces.
Bisexual writer, activist, and educator Robyn Ochs has coined the ultimate definition of bisexuality:
“I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have 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, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”
This definition has resonated with much of the bi+ community, because it encompasses the entire range of bi+ experiences. No two people in the bi+ community experience attraction the same way. The space between and beyond homosexuality and heterosexuality is an immense and boundless sexuality galaxy. A handful of Greek and Latin prefixes falls painfully short of describing its entirety.
Furthermore, people of color are more likely to identify as bisexual than white people, particularly women of color. Youth of color identify as bisexual at higher proportions than white youth, and more white youth identify as pansexual than youth of color do. The bisexual identity is culturally significant in many communities of color. There is more tied to the bi/pan “label wars” than sexual orientation. What else are we implying by putting pansexuality on a pedestal above bisexuality?
Pansexual is a real, valid, and beautiful identity. So is bisexuality. They don’t conflict with one another. They can and do coexist, because language is imperfect, messy, and always changing. It will continue to change. Is there a difference between bi and pan? Well, yes and no. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. Bisexuals and pansexuals are part of the same community, and deal with the same issues and challenges surrounding our sexual orientations. If you are not part of this community, you don’t get to participate in conversations about our language and labels, or write shitty uninformed think pieces that nobody asked for.
Administrative Assistant, Bisexual Organizing Project
6/20/2020 01:40:13 pm
An accurate and astute articulation of the differences between bisexuality and pansexuality without discrediting the validity of other sexualities. Brilliant resource, thank you!
6/25/2020 03:07:58 pm
Would that they could coexist, if it weren’t for the fact that pansexuals consistently and enthusiastically misrepresent and redefine bisexuality to others in order to look more inclusive and therefore more “woke”. Constantly putting us down in social media, and in real LGBT community spaces. Not only do they force incorrect definitions and harmful biphobic stereotypes on us, in the same breath they’ve stolen our historical definition and merely switched a few words to create a “new” label to distance themselves from bisexuals, as if we’re dirty and transphobic.They copied our flag for fuck sake! How are we supposed to be allies when they shit on us left and right? Pansexual is a pretentious and unnecessary label, made to make them feel superior to bisexuals, and it’s no surprise that privileged white kids prefer it, and that we PoC, who’ve predominantly built and fought for the LGBT community, do not.
6/30/2020 09:30:10 pm
I understand that you are angry and understandably so. Considering the things you were told by the loudest part of the group, there is nothing wrong with one feeling angered and mistreated. Yet again, it is the loudest part of the group and the pansexuals who don't look down on bisexuality (yet feel it doesn't describe them the best) don't want the biphobic ones to represent all of us. This article puts it way better than I ever could; especially the part about the messiness and fluidity of language. I personally identified with the label of pansexual because I was ignorant and recently figured out that I'm not fully gay. Bi prefix was described to me as two and pan as all, I identified more with pan but that didn't mean I thought something was wrong with bi. Just how I didn't think I was better than lesbians for having an attraction that wasn't a monosexual one. It just fit better considering the information I was told. By the time I learned about the manifesto, years went by and I got attached to the label. It felt like a part of my identity. Changing it felt wrong. Not because bisexuality feels wrong in itself but because it feels like it doesn't fit my identity. Hell, I'm not sure about pansexual either anymore, that's why I'm on this page. I'm still figuring things out. Sorry about the ramble and the personal info dump, it's just that your comment seemed to put all pansexuals in one box based on the behavior of some and that you believe the label was chosen because of a belief of superiority over bisexuals. Not trying to put words in your mouth, it's just what I got. The point is that while there are some biphobic pansexuals it's not a part of the label, yet ignorance within those individuals.
7/27/2020 08:20:03 pm
There is definitely no right for one sexual orientation to dictate how any other should identify. We all started off somewhere, and went through our own different journeys in figuring our selves out. Our stories are valid, our existences are valid, and we have a right to identify in a way that feels true to us. Otherwise, we are no different than those outside the community who seek to tell us how we SHOULD be or SHOULD identify. We are better than that, and are stronger together! There will always be those who seek to spread hate and divisiveness, but when we are open to those who seek unity? THEN we are unstoppable <3
7/30/2020 08:47:04 pm
Nice article and very objective. First of all, I consider myself bisexual, but i dont understand the panphobia increasing in twitter lately. So i was searching information of bisexual and pansexual history given the fact that those sexualities are heavily cuestioned by the community itself. I had the idea that bisexuality at the very beginning didn't "establish" to include non-binary people, until 90s with bi manifesto (i mean, they always included them but i guess at that time wasn't very clear idk). Meanwhile in 70s the concept of pansexuality "born" because it was their way to establish in a clear way the inclusion to non binary genders. I dont know how much accurate is this?? Sorry if I'm being disrespectful with someone, I really want to know what's going on (sorry for my english also)
12/17/2020 05:36:20 am
So as far as I know, pansexuality only started to get used as a sexuality in the 2000.
11/17/2020 02:39:19 am
I was bisexual before I knew about the wide spectrum of gender identities and lack thereof, and I was bisexual after I knew I had the potential to fall in love with all of them. I'm not omnisexual, not polysexual, and not pansexual. Bisexual always covered the ENTIRE spectrum of non-monosexual attractions. ALWAYS. All these other subsets is like insisting you're a Floridian but denying that you're an American. Call yourself what you will but accept your role in misinformation and erasure and straight up biphobia when pans say things like "let's replace the B with a P in the acronym" or go around getting the definition of bisexuality wrong and perpetuating inconsistencies.
11/23/2021 12:57:31 pm
The replacing the B nonsense was started by 4chan users trying to sew division within the queer community.
11/17/2020 03:13:58 am
All sexualities are inherently transgender and nonbinary inclusive. “Transgender” and “nonbinary” are merely umbrella terms that describe different relationships to one’s assigned sex. “Transgender” is not a gender a transgender wo/man is just as fe/male as a cisgender one and “nonbinary” is not just one gender. Anyone can date a nonbinary person. Just because some gay men say they’re only attracted to cisgender men doesn’t mean that gayness is “attraction only to cisgender people of the same gender.”
11/22/2020 08:41:29 am
See there is the thing...
12/17/2020 05:46:28 am
Sorry but I don't agree with this. So, I mean I get your point of saying that the name draws confusion into this debate, but "bi" could mean a lot of things. Me personally I've always understood bi as 2 dimensions, therefore somewhere between heterosexual and gay and now I've broaden that idea with more genders. And again, it is true that a name-change could help with this, but the main problem is that there are sexualities that put a label on bisexuality by reducing their history and meaning simply because the name has "bi" in it. And another thing, I'm mostly okay with bi+ cause at least it understands that bi doesn't exclude anyone. But I'm not okay with people saying that pan is a fully different sexuality from bi and they are not under the umbrella term of bisexuality. This is not only a name thing now, it is about people wanting to redefine my sexuality!
12/17/2020 12:53:04 pm
For my part (and I am talking about me), it is not about redefining YOUR sexuality. It is about you giving me a definition that does not go with the etymology of the word. It is confusing, even amongst bisexuals.
4/23/2021 10:56:24 am
Okay, so this is just bad etymology.
1/16/2021 06:58:18 pm
As a person who I identifies as omnisexual, I have been told time and time again that being omnisexual is biphoic because it implies that bi people are transphobic. I love how this article explains how being bisexual isn’t excluding trans people or enby people, and gives validation to subcategories and micro-labels of bisexuality like pansexual, omnisexual, polysexual, etc. Sexualities can’t discriminate against other sexualities.
4/5/2021 10:42:29 am
> This misconception developed somewhere outside of our community, all-too-conveniently during a period of time when bisexuals were making a lot of headway organizing in partnership with the trans community...
5/3/2021 10:35:00 am
You have cherry picked sources to create a feel-good narrative in which bisexual activists have always defined bisexuality as the attraction to more than one gender, and therefore one in which they were always aware and supportive of transgender issues.
Right now my only hero and bisexual activist is Kravitz M who has unraveled the history of bisexuality that was appropiated to create this other labels. I have experienced a lot of internalized biphobia due to this labels as if im not inclusive enough,as if im genital obsessed as if solely for being bisexual i cannot be nonbinary,i cannot value other people s personality or their heart. When we validate all these other definitions we are saying bisexuals are dirty, don t care about pdrsonality, don t care about acknowledging other s people gender identity In fact I am genderfluid , I care about personality and I acknowledge other people s gender identity and I Am STILL Bisexual the more pan and omnis try to separate themselves from bi s the more they prove its a pretentious label when I look at peoples definition to separate themselves from the Bisexual label they say " I care about personality more than looks " I unlike bisexuals would date a trans or intersex person " " I am all inclusive bisexuals are exclusive "
11/23/2021 01:01:22 pm
I would advise getting a new hero who can teach you about spelling, grammer, punctuation, capitilzation, and sentence structure, if you want anyone to take you seriously.
11/23/2021 12:54:16 pm
Finally! A good, even-handed take on this interminable disk horse.
10/4/2022 05:14:18 pm
For me the problem lies in a confusion between the terms "gender" and "sex". We use the terms "homosexual", "heterosexual" and "bisexual" to describe attraction to the same sex, opposite sex, or both sexes. This attraction is deep-seated, and cannot be chosen or changed. To be crude, you could describe it as being attracted to "cock", "pussy" or both.
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September 29 - October 1, 2023
St Paul, MN
We hope you will join us for the BECAUSE Conference as it's never been before: a hybrid event of in-person and online workshops, speakers, and social events. With Zoom producers and experienced programming staff, we are developing a new way of experiencing BECAUSE while keeping all the engagement, support, and community that has been at the core of the conference for the last 30 years.
Build, serve and advocate for an empowered bisexual, pansexual, fluid, queer, and unlabeled (bi+) community to promote social justice.
Within the next five years grow Bisexual Organizing Project (BOP) into a successfully-run Upper Midwest nonprofit organization with annual funding of $100,000 that provides community building, education, and advocacy for the bisexual, pansexual, fluid, queer, and unlabeled (bi+) community and our allies.