Whether you’re simply curious, or you’re questioning your own identity and you’re wondering what kind of label might fit, “pansexual” may be a term you’d like to know more about. Unlike the more familiar “heterosexual,” “homosexual” and “bisexual” terms, “pansexual” is newer in comparison and doesn’t readily describe what it is if you’re completely unfamiliar with the term. As it’s also not obviously visible in the LGBTQIA designation, this may cause more confusion. However, once you understand the term—and the need for the designation—you’ll find it’s less complicated than you might expect.
Just as the “bi” in “bisexual” refers to “two,” as in being attracted to two genders, “pan” means “all.” In other words, a “pansexual” is someone sexually attracted to people of all genders, just as a “panromantic” (a subset of asexuality) is someone potentially romantically attracted to people of all genders.
The Need for “Pan” in Light of “Bi”
Since “bisexual” is an older and better-known term, it’s represented by the “B” in LGBTQIA. To be sure, there are people who are completely bisexual by definition—attracted to only men and women—but the majority of bisexuals are actually pansexuals, especially if they’re open and supportive members of the LGBTQIA community. “Pansexual” recognizes the fact that there aren’t just two binary genders. First, it recognizes the “T” in LGBTQIA for transgender people, those born with bodies that don’t physically match their actual gender. “Bisexual” does cover attraction to transgender people, however, as they are typically either men or women and most bisexuals understand that. Where “pansexual” truly becomes inclusive is in its recognition of the “I” in LGBTQIA—the intersexual, non-binary, gender fluid and agender people.
Intersexuality and How It Relates to Pansexuality
There aren’t just two genders, and people aren’t either a man or a woman. There are people who identify as neither man nor woman who may call themselves “agender” or, less frequently, “androgynous”; the latter usually refers to a style of fashion and may not be related to one’s gender identity. There are people who identify as male at some points and female at others—sometimes within the same day or sometimes many days or even weeks or months apart. They may feel both male and female at the same time. This can be reflected in how they dress and style their hair from one moment to the next, or there may be no visible representation at all. They may call themselves “gender fluid” or perhaps “non-binary” or “enby” for short. Enbys can also be unsure whether they consider themselves men, women, both or neither—they just know they’re not always one gender or they may be questioning their identities and on their way to becoming openly transgender. Similarly, some transgender people may identify as non-binary even after originally coming out as transgender and later reflecting on how they currently feel.
There are also people born with intersex bodies, which may have both male and female genitalia or neither, who may still consider themselves definitively one gender or who may consider themselves enby or gender fluid. These are all gender identities of people who themselves may be straight, gay, pansexual or asexual in orientation. Pansexuals recognize that there are people of other genders besides “man” and “woman” and are attracted to all genders.
Panromanticism and Asexuality
“Pansexual” isn’t the only use of “pan” under the LGBTQIA umbrella. Asexuals—people who identify as feeling no or varying lesser degrees of sexual attraction—are sometimes, but not always, “romantic” in that they seek romantic connections with other people with limited or no sexual contact. A panromantic can fall in love with people who identify as any gender.
Bi or Pan?
Many people who actually consider themselves pansexual by definition still label themselves as “bisexual” instead. This is for a number of reasons, the most common of which is the more immediate familiarity society has with the term. They may also not be familiar with anyone who doesn’t identify as either man or woman and may have limited experience deciding if they’re attracted to people of other genders. It’s not wrong to label yourself “bisexual,” but it helps increase awareness of more comprehensive gender identities if you rely on the label “pansexual” instead.
In a nutshell, pansexuals can fall in love with and be attracted to people of any gender. It’s a sexual and/or romantic orientation completely separate from a person’s gender identity. If you’ve considered yourself bisexual or biromantic, it’s actually possible that “pansexual” or “panromantic” is a more accurate description of your preferences, but you shouldn’t feel any pressure to definitively label yourself anything.