Why I identify as bisexual and not pansexual

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?

37 thoughts on “Why I identify as bisexual and not pansexual

  1. Excellent post! ( as always). All that critic against bisexuality have I not seem against other sexual identities as you pointed out very eloquently here AND all those stupidities about bisexuality being binaric are also smashed in this post made by you.

    I hear often the accusation of bisexuality being binaric from queers. These persons in stead of respecting bisexual people to define the label we use, they come with all kinds of before handed KNOWLEDGE. So the “assume nothing” rule does not apply for bisexuals.

    Persons identified as gays or lesbians, or even as “radical gays or lesbians” as these people in Spain also tend to consider bisexuality as binaric. What I think they are doing is not questioning their own monosexuality, which they are projecting on us. Of course they see bisexuality as binaric because their ontological categories are binaric.

    Besides, I keep on telling it in many different texts I write and workshops I hold: The linguistic sign is divided in: signifier, signified and the image.

    The signifier is the sounds or the letters of a linguistic sign: b-i-s-e-x-u-a-l-i-t-y

    The signified is the meaning of that word: for example: bisexuality is the attraction to two or more genders regardless of biologic origin not necessarily at the same time, same degree or same way….or whatever.

    The meaning should be defined by the people that use the signifier as identity label.

    The image is: the physical or acoustical, tactile image…..

    Assuming a signified /meaning out of a signifier is completely irresponsible. With this kind of logic “salary” means a kilo of salt and a hippopotamous is a horse having a bath in a river. If we do gymnastics we should be naked (Gymnos in Greek means “naked”) and so on so forth.
    I do not care if people call themselves pansexuals, omnisexuals, bisexuals etc. Non-monosexual people should have the right to define themselves as they want without being victims of continuous persecution I think it is disgusting using pansexuality against bisexuality in order to create breaches amongst us. Especially monosexual people have proficiency in using that trick.
    For me “pansexual” and “bisexual” are synonymous ( different signifier, same signified). I am personally not attracted to genders; I think it is a big misunderstanding to say that sexual orientations have genders as goals. I am attracted to a certain body type, eye colour, height etc, not to genders. But I also think it is fine is some bisexual people believe in gender and are binaric and THAT turns them on. I am also tired of the apologetic approach I can see in many bi circles.

    I think that using the word bisexuality refers to a very concrete experience some persons have, and not least a very concrete oppression some persons experience: BIPHOBIA. As far as I know PANPHOBIA is not a word which is used. So there is a deliberate strategy to force us to use the word “Pansexual”, then we cannot speak up against oppression or when we speak up against oppression we use the words homophobia/transphobia( smart huh?)….

    Anyway Thanks for this post! And sorry for the confusing brainstorm-style-input! B-)

    1. Thanks Miguel ^_^

      I hear you about frustration with the “bi is binary” argument. I really hope that sometime soon people would realize how useless and frankly quite boring it’s become, and would drop it altogether…

      I also liked your point about the multidimensionality of desire. I often feel that whereas people’s genders do play a very large part in directing my desires (gender deviant people being my favourites), very often the *determining* factor for me isn’t gender but personality, intelligence, radical politics, sensitivity, etc. In fact, a defining moment in my attraction to many people has been the moment when I hear them speaking intelligently (especially about radical politics). So that was a point well-made :)

      As to panphobia not being used, I’ve heard it used before and have also used it myself. Pansexuals suffer both from biphobia, monosexism and panphobia – negative attitudes aimed specifically against pansexuals. Such attitudes can be, for example, the assumption that there’s no such thing as pansexuality (either because bisexuality “should be enough” or because “there really are only two genders/sexes”), that all pansexuals are automatically or inherently biphobic, that those who identify as pansexual are attracted to *all* people or to all things (including children and animals) – giving way to sexual harassment, etc. etc. I think that an important key in creating bi/pan solidarity is to acknowledge the fact that some people do choose to identify as pansexual, do so for good reasons and deserve our solidarity just like any other oppressed group – and especially since I’d like to see them as part of our own.

      1. i use the word “panphobia” quite regularly— being pan, i deal with panphobia fairly often. true, not many people use it, but i think that it’s an important word that refers to the specific realities of pansexuality.

        “I think that an important key in creating bi/pan solidarity is to acknowledge the fact that some people do choose to identify as pansexual, do so for good reasons and deserve our solidarity just like any other oppressed group – and especially since I’d like to see them as part of our own.”

        i’m with you! i’m sick of panphobic bisexuals and i’m sick of biphobic pansexuals. i mean, “come on people, be people now!”

        so, basically, you = awesome. rad post!

  2. Exactly how I feel. One of the reasons why I continue to identify as bisexual is because biphobia still goes on, and the issues underlying that biphobia are not necessarily addressed by changing labels. So almost precisely because of that unresolved biphobia, I find that saying I am bisexual is in its own way still a subversive and normative-challenging act.

    1. Thanks!

      I often feel the same way. The fact that “bisexual” is so often the least favoured/respected/celebrated of all the sexual identities I know, means that there are some heavy power structures and hierarchies at work which need to be addressed and resisted. I once had a friend who said that she always identifies with “the most oppressed group in the room” – and whereas I find the oppression competition a little distasteful, I still think it has a grain of truth in it: in that, I often feel exactly this way: that identifying as bisexual is a political statement against biphobia and monosexism.

  3. Someone told me this week that pansexual was a better term than bisexual (she was at least pan and not monosexual) and I wanted to link her to your blog. But I couldn’t, because it was real life. :(

    1. Thanks, I’m glad my thoughts resonated with you :)

      Thanks for the link, too, I think you raise a lot of good points about bisexual identity. In particular, I liked that way you spoke of bisexuality as a political identity. Good stuff ^_^

  4. Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been sitting on the fence between bisexual and pansexual for a while now, unable to decide which applies more to me – not because I can’t decide whether I’m attracted to all genders or not, but because my way of looking at bisexuality is broad: largely similar to me, largely different to me. I just couldn’t find one that sounded right for me: one day bi would be me, the next day pan sounds better. But, when reading this post, I identified with a lot of the things you said, and it has helped me so much.

    Reading the comments has been great too, especially those that talk about these labels as being more a political, social statement that a definition of attraction or desire. There are so many similarities between pan- and bisexuality, depending on your own individual definition, that, really, what you call yourself is a way of…sort of…announcing yourself and grounding yourself. That’s not really what I want to say, but I can’t find the proper words to express my opinion, y’know?

    Anyway, my rambling aside – thank you very much indeed, and thank you all the commenters, for helping me work this all out in my head.

  5. I am a 21 year old woman. I have been curious as to my sexuality for a few years. I am attracted to women, but have yet to be with one (as my family is VERY religious). I have thought about being with one, and considered it a lot over the years. I have newly come across the term “pansexual” and felt it fit partially. I have been attracted to a MTF transgender (well, he was mid-process). I do have a heterosexual preference, but I wondered if my sexual attractions are pansexual attractions or bisexual attractions. I have been with men that could be considered more effeminate and enjoyed it. I don’t know and would very much appreciate any input on my situation.

    1. Regarding your transgender crush – since you used the word “he” – don’t you mean a FTM transgender (or, more accurately, a trans man) rather than a MTF (a trans woman)? Transgender men usually use masculine pronouns, and transgender women usually use feminine pronouns, in correspondence with their gender identities (much as cis men usually prefer masculine pronouns and cis women feminine pronouns).

      Either way, here’s a really great list of sources about bisexuality and pansexuality, and here’s a really great link about pansexuality in particular. Hope that helps! :)

  6. I self-identified as bisexual in a queer and trans space and got just destroyed over it. Like attacked by packs of people. Purty soon there was nobody talking TO me at all and everyone was talking about me, to each other, because I was too oppressive to talk to.

    Anyway, I got pretty freaked out about Identifying as bisexual. But identifying as bisexual gives me a lot of warm fuzzy feelings that I don’t get from “pansexual.” And I’m not really pansexual– fer example I’m not very much into expressions of masculinity. “Multisexual” is just too fancy for me. I want to be bisexual! I’m nonbinary gendered myself, so I’m confused about how I could myself oppress other nonbinary people by identifying as bi.

    I’m sort of freaked-out exploring identifying as bi but it still scares me, as I’m not sure who’s going to blow a fuse over it. Like the OP I want to use this ID in part because I want to counter biphobia.

    1. Wow. So sorry to hear about your experience. I can definitely relate, since I’ve had similar experiences (though nothing so severe, I must admit)…

      Good luck with exploring these issues. I understand how it can be scary. You have my solidarity <3

      You might also want to read my other posts about this: Words, binary and biphobia, or: why “bi” is binary but “FTM” is not and Some differences and similarities between bisexuality and pansexuality

  7. I’ve enjoyed reading this article, and I would like to do the opposite of what you just did, to tell you of my personal views: I just wanted to explain why I choose pansexual over bisexual. I simply feel that pansexuality describes me better. I honestly hate it when people say I’m being biphobic for identifying as pansexual–why is it not considered panphobic to do the opposite? I am attracted to people of every gender identity, every sex, no sex, no gender, both genders, all genders, any other f*cking gender they decide they may be–it honestly does not matter to me. I’m attracted to people. Period.

    And please, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I am “gender-blind”; hell to the no. I am very sexually aware of your gender, thank you very much. Though I do take personality into consideration before gender and physical appearance, that is not to say that I don’t want to f*ck you because of your gender. I notice your body, trust me. And I am either attracted to it, or I’m not. It’s really not that hard.

    Bisexuality has never sounded right to me personally because I don’t feel it’s quite as all-encompassing as pansexual. But I will not argue with someone who feels the same way as I do about gender and sexual attraction who decides to call him/herself as bisexual. Whatever, it’s their choice. I have no problem with anyone else’s sexual identity; honestly, be what you want. Call yourself what you wish. If you think bisexual sounds right then f*cking go for it. Just let me do the same. Give me that courtesy and don’t call me biphobic or transphobic for it. I am neither of those things and I take those accusations very offensively.

    As for my own gender identity–I don’t know what I am. I have no problem identifying as male, or as female (as my body suggests I am). Both terms feel equally right to me. So, I dunno, I’m androgynous. It doesn’t matter to me, in all honesty. I will identify as what I want, and all I ask is to not get judged because of it. Whether bisexual or pansexual, the definition doesn’t matter–that is up to the individual to define. Stop trying to assign one rigid definition to the terms. Etymology really doesn’t matter at this point–words are fucked up anyway. So seriously, let’s not fight each other and just focus on fighting for our rights to be who we are. Because in the long run, isn’t that what’s more important? Argue semantics later.

    1. Thanks for responding, but something wasn’t clear to me: did you understand my post to mean that all pansexual people are biphobic?

      Either way, I think you might find that this post resonates with/replies to some of your views about this.

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  9. so i realize what your saying but in technical terms bisexual means you are binary that is why it has bi ,meaning two, in it. pan means many which is how that is pansexuality. im not saying bisexuals are to be stuck with just women and men im saying there just into two types no matter how they identify.
    this is a link to an example of how they are different. if you look it says exactly what i just did.

    1. No, it doesn’t, because rainbowgenderpunk isn’t biphobic.

      Please understand that if you don’t identify as bisexual, you have no business defining what bisexuality means – especially if what you say is in contrast to what a bi person has just told you. For more about this topic, and why you are So Very Wrong and also patronizing and biphobic, please check out the links at the bottom of this post.

  10. I find this pretty unclear and not so much educational. I see your emotional response to your reclaiming of your identity as bi, so understand I do not mean to attack that. I am not trying to argue with how you feel. However, what exactly has been biphobic in your experience? those using pan sexuality as a way to attack the word bisexual becomes biphobic in a linguistic way? seems not biphobic in a way that demeans your orientation as you state that you DO feel attraction to other genders than male and female. what is false about bi and it’s connection binary? how is bi AS inclusive as pan? I am asking genuinely here,
    for dialogue.

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