I’ve been asked this on tumblr and thought I might cross post it here:
Hey, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but I’m curious…why do you personally choose to label yourself as bisexual rather than pansexual?
Awesome question. I think about it all the time.
Here’s my story:
I identify very strongly as bi, though for a few years I also used to identify as pan along with it. Throughout those years, I went through a long process with both those words, at the end of which I dropped “pansexual” and stuck only with “bisexual”.
I’ve identified as bi since I was 13. When I first encountered the word “pansexual” (age 22), I was very pleased with the way it sought to subvert gender binaries and to create more space for people of multiple genders and sexes. I was also really happy to use a word that would distance me from the mainstream American/Western bisexual movement(s) with its assimilationism, cissexism, “both sexes” bullshit. I was certain that pansexuality was inherently more subversive, more queer, and generally better than bisexuality.
And yet I never gave up on bisexuality as an identity. I felt as if it remained my word, but for some time I felt very apologetic about it, even to myself. The first thing that created a ‘crack’ in this way of thought was this post in Bi Furious (pointing out that “bi” isn’t necessarily about the gender binary). It made me feel like “Oh. So I can keep using it”. It made me feel like I was coming back home.
Once the binary issue started dissipating, it started being okay for me to ‘return’ to bisexuality and examine why I liked it so much. I love it because for me it means community, it means politics, it means language, it means struggle and liberation and love, it means rebellion, feminism, resistance to binaries and hierarchies, and much much more. And it carries a lot more weight for me than any other identity word.
I still kept “pansexual”, though, as I thought (and still do) that it’s a great way to get people to think about gender and challenge their cissexism. But the more I got into reading texts about pansexuality, about bisexuality and about the binary, I realized that bisexuality was being scapegoated for a lot of things in a way which I felt was biphobic. I felt increasingly uncomfortable when I heard people saying things like “I identify as pansexual because bi is binary” (more and more so the more I looked into the binary accusation and realized it was false). Eventually I got sick of how much biphobia was being channeled through many things spoken or written about/around pansexuality. My final break-up with the term must have been around this post that I wrote (and which seems to have now become a bit famous…)
Right now, the way I think about it is that I’m reclaiming bisexuality. I see a lot of value in it and I don’t want to leave it to the cissexists/assimilationists. For me, bisexuality is charged with loads of positive meanings and I generally try to share those meanings with other people and encourage them to reclaim the word as well. With strangers/monosexuals, I get past the presumed binarism pretty easily, when people ask me what does bisexuality mean, I say that it means I like people of many genders. Or when people say: “Does bi mean you like men and women?” I say “Other genders, too”.
My feelings about pansexuality remain ambivalent. I think that a lot of the pansexual discussion is biphobic and that makes me angry (even more so for having done the same myself in the past). On the other hand, I also understand why people would look at the American/Western bi movement(s) and feel like, “If this is what bisexuality means, then fuck it – I am not bisexual”. On the other-other hand, I know that there are many pansexuals who feel affiliated with bisexuality and the bisexual community alongside the criticism (just like I was even when I identified as pan), and I’d like to think that we can share the same movement, or maybe make a shiny new bi/pan movement that’s radical and transgender/genderqueer and everything else that needs to be.
Want to read more about this?