A Few Simple Realities of What It Really Means to Be Pansexual

A Few Simple Realities of What It Really Means to Be Pansexual
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

When Texas state Rep. Mary Gonzalez ran for office in 2012, she made headlines as the first lesbian state legislator. Soon after taking office she came out again, clarifying she's pansexual, in an interview with the Dallas Voice. "During the campaign if I had identified as pansexual, I would have overwhelmed everyone," she said. "Now that I'm out of the campaign, I'm completely much more able to define it."

Naturally she's not alone. The term pansexual has been around for decades. Its origins aren't quite clear — some attribute the term to Sigmund Freud at the turn of the 20th century. But the term has burst into the mainstream in recent years thanks in part to the high-profile stars like Miley Cyrus and rapper Angel Haze who use it publicly to describe their physical attractions. 

From left: Miley Cryus, Angel Haze and Mary Gonzalez.
Source: 
Images via Twitter/SNL

As gender fluidity and sexual fluidity become more widely accepted, pansexuality has emerged as one of several terms people use to express at least parts of their sexual identities. Even among those who identify as pansexual and talked with Mic, their interpretation of the word and its history differed widely.

1. Yes, it's an identity. One of many.

Miley Cyrys
Source: 
Getty Images

Put simply: Pansexuality exists on a scale of sexual fluidity, which also includes bisexuality. "Whether it be pansexual, omnisexual, polysexual, fluid, queer or any of the other 30-plus terms for expressing a scientifically bisexual orientation, it's clear there's a diverse community of people all quite excited to see their capacity for love validated," Faith Cheltenham, president of BiNet USA, wrote in an email to Mic. Cheltenham identifies as bisexual and pansexual, noting that the terms people use may vary based on race or region. 

"As a black woman, I understand people of color are more likely to utilize the term bisexual, rather than pansexual, perhaps because of the frequency of which white folks access higher education," where, she said, the term pansexual has proliferated and the term bisexual has been stigmatized and shunned to the point of erasure.

2. No, it's not "better" than being bisexual.

Texas State Rep. Mary Gonzalez
Source: 
Facebook

Tyler Avery, who used to identify as bisexual and now uses pansexual to describe her sexual preference, told Mic, "I used to exclusively identify as bisexual, but I eventually learned that I'm interested in more than just two genders."

Robyn Ochs, an editor of Bi Women Quarterly who speaks nationally about sexuality, said she is dismayed at how much misinformation exists, even among LGBTQ people, about those who occupy what she calls, "the various middle sexualities." To that end, Ochs offers a definition of bisexuality that is more nuanced than what's traditionally understood in mainstream media: "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.

"When I hear people say that bisexual is a term that reinforces the gender binary, I know they're not listening. I identify as bisexual, pansexual and queer and I don't see a conflict between those terms."

3. They're probably not that into you.

Angel Haze
Source: 
Joel Ryan/AP

Caitlin McCarthy came out as pansexual five years ago, and since then they've had to do a lot of explaining. "People assume that just because you can be attracted to anyone means that you automatically want everyone," they told Mic. "You can't determine someone's sex life by their sexuality." 

Ochs agrees. "Pansexuality involves acknowledging that one is attracted to a wide range of different identities," she said, "not necessarily to each and every person in those identities."

Correction: Oct. 28, 2015
An earlier version of this article used she/her pronouns for Caitlin McCarthy. McCarthy's preferred pronouns are they/them.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Jamilah King

Jamilah King is a senior staff writer at Mic. She was previously an editor at Colorlines.

MORE FROM

Women beer drinkers finally get the Beer for Her they never asked for

Why drink a rugged manly beer when you can have Aurosa's pink girly beer instead?!

Six months after the Women’s March on Washington, the Resistance Revival has a message for Trump

"Well I/ Went down to the White House and I/ Took back what they stole from me," the Resistance Revival Chorus sang in a Times Square flash mob last weekend.

20 attorneys general write letter urging Betsy DeVos to keep sexual assault protections

The attorneys general reminded DeVos that scrapping Title IX guidance will have a chilling effect on sexual assault and rape reporting rates.

New study suggests high workloads and aging doctor population means looming OB-GYN shortage

Obstetricians and gynecologists are overworked at nearing retirement age — without a younger contingent to replace them.

Why pro-life doctors want the First Amendment to protect their right to lie to patients

Crisis pregnancy centers believe they should be exempt from a law saying they should inform patients about all their medical options, including abortions.

‘Brown Girls’ wants to tell women of color’s stories in all their messy, complicated glory

Creators Fatimah Asghar and Sam Bailey want to let their characters break free of the neat identity categories people are wont to place them in.

Women beer drinkers finally get the Beer for Her they never asked for

Why drink a rugged manly beer when you can have Aurosa's pink girly beer instead?!

Six months after the Women’s March on Washington, the Resistance Revival has a message for Trump

"Well I/ Went down to the White House and I/ Took back what they stole from me," the Resistance Revival Chorus sang in a Times Square flash mob last weekend.

20 attorneys general write letter urging Betsy DeVos to keep sexual assault protections

The attorneys general reminded DeVos that scrapping Title IX guidance will have a chilling effect on sexual assault and rape reporting rates.

New study suggests high workloads and aging doctor population means looming OB-GYN shortage

Obstetricians and gynecologists are overworked at nearing retirement age — without a younger contingent to replace them.

Why pro-life doctors want the First Amendment to protect their right to lie to patients

Crisis pregnancy centers believe they should be exempt from a law saying they should inform patients about all their medical options, including abortions.

‘Brown Girls’ wants to tell women of color’s stories in all their messy, complicated glory

Creators Fatimah Asghar and Sam Bailey want to let their characters break free of the neat identity categories people are wont to place them in.