This is my take on one aspect of the bi vs. pan debate. A lot of people on tumblr found this helpful, so I thought I might put this here as well. It’s important to remember that on tumblr, this debate is more like an ongoing flame war, so I’m responding based on a lot of prior discussion and knowledge. For a more basic (and comprehensive) post about the proverbial “bi is binary” debate, try this.
Bisexual and pansexual identities often look the same:
- Both bisexual and pansexual people might feel desire towards people of any amount of genders. People who feel desire towards people of more than one, more than two, many, multiple or all genders can identify as bisexual or as pansexual (or really anything else): The word people use to name their sexual identity does not predict or convey the number of genders they might desire.
- Both bisexual and pansexual people might be cisgender, transgender* or genderqueer*: Whether people identify as bi or pan does not predict or convey their gender identity.
- Both bisexual and pansexual people can support transgender* and genderqueer* liberation/rights: Whether people identify as bi or pan does not predict or convey their levels of such support or their levels of transphobia/cissexism.
- Both bisexual and pansexual people can support bisexual* liberation/rights: Whether people identify as bi or pan does not predict or convey their levels of such support or their levels of biphobia (and yes, people who identify as bi can be biphobic, too).
Bisexual identity and pansexual identity are not the same:
- Bisexuality comes from a type of political thought based on sexual identity, pansexuality comes from a type of political thought based on gender identity: Talk to a bi person about bisexuality, they’ll often talk about sexuality and desire, and focus on biphobia; talk to a pan person about pansexuality, they’ll often talk about transgender and genderqueer identities, and focus on transphobia.
- The definition of pansexuality is often dependent on the definition of bisexuality (and, dare I say, the rejection thereof): If bisexuality is defined as desire towards people of more than one gender, pansexuality can be defined as desire towards people of more than two genders; if bisexuality is defined as desire towards people of many genders, pansexuality can be defined as desire towards people of all genders; if bisexuality is defined as desire towards people of genders similar + different than our own, pansexuality can be defined as desire regardless of gender. But: both bisexuality and pansexuality can – and have – been defined as any of these things.
And herein lies the problem: many pansexuals feel the need to define bisexuality as attraction to no more than two genders (a definition which most outspoken bisexuals here on tumblr vehemently dispute) in order to constitute the difference as related to desire rather than as related to politics. This is where all the erasure and biphobia comes into play and where it gets fucked up, violent, silencing and oppressive.
Another problem here is that this kind of dependency on meaning and comparison erases pansexuality as an identity in its own right. I’d like to believe that pansexuality can stand quite well on its own [excuse my ableist language, I couldn’t find an alternative phrase] without being dependent on bisexuality like that.
My advice to everyone on this issue is to stop this focus on the desire-related differences between bisexuality and pansexuality: none can be defined in any way that can be agreed by everyone. Concurrently, I would also advise people to stop defining other people’s identities for them: they can do it perfectly well themselves. Since the pansexual side of the debate is usually the one doing these things, I urge pansexual people to consider the power relations here (obviously working against bisexuals), to take responsibility for themselves on the personal level, and to call each other out and encourage accountability on the community level.
To the bisexual side I would say… try not to assume that all pansexuals are necessarily biphobic or against us. Memes such as “police all the bisexuals” convey a lot of justified pain and anger, but they’re still in bad taste as they assume exactly that. Yes, many pansexuals really are biphobic, and yes we bisexuals have grown used to expecting a lot of bullshit coming from that direction… but then again, many are not, and we might find even more allies among them yet.
Really, my dream in that regard is to have an awesome shiny bi/pan movement to make an awesome shiny bi/pan revolution with.
Solidarity for all.
Want to read more about this?
- Words, binary and biphobia, or: why “bi” is binary but “FTM” is not
- Why I identify as bisexual and not pansexual
- Cissexism and transphobia in bisexual communities