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Bisexuality and Pansexuality: Transphobia and Identity


By: Andy Kovaleski


Bisexuality and Pansexuality are similar identities which causes the labels to be used interchangeably fairly often. Very few people agree on the difference between the two and their definitions in relation to each other. Obviously, this is a sticky intersection, made even worse by claims that the label bisexual is transphobic, specifically to nonbinary people. This claim is followed closely by the claim that labeling/identifying as pansexual is the more inclusive option, and people should no longer use "bisexual". However, neither bisexuality nor pansexuality are transphobic. This article contains a discussion of why bisexuality as an identity is not transphobic and refutations of the arguments claiming it is. I want to be very clear that this article is an opinion piece; it contains only my opinion, however well researched it may be, and does not represent anything further, even the opinion of Necessary Behavior.

I would first like to define the terms I will be using. Bisexual refers to anyone who identifies themself as such. As does Pansexual. I define bisexuality specifically as an attraction to your own gender and others, usually with the attraction being gender specific or feeling different based on the gender (men/women/nonbinary/etc.) of a potential partner. On the other hand, I define pansexuality as the attraction to all genders, regardless of gender, usually with no difference in the feeling of attraction based on the gender of a potential partner.

The common argument that the label bisexual and bisexuality as a whole is transphobic is based in the prefix ‘bi’ as meaning two; like in bicycle or bipartisan. This claim proposes that the label pansexual and pansexuality is a better, more progressive label and word. Again, arguing that the prefix ‘pan’ means ‘all’ or ‘including all,’ like in panorama or pandemic.

While this claim is technically correct in its definitions of the prefixes used, it doesn’t take into consideration the possibility of ‘bi’ meaning not only two of anything, but also two distinct groups. When ‘bi’ is understood in this way, it is very reasonable to read bisexuality as an attraction to these two groups: 1. your own gender and 2. genders that are not your own. This different binary may seem arbitrary or overly semantic, but because queerness is defined by a divergence from the normative sexual and gender identity, understanding one’s sexuality according to similarities with others makes a lot more sense.

I feel that the shift in defining bisexuality from “liking both men and women” to “liking both your own and other genders” makes the term trans and nonbinary inclusive where previous interpretations may not have been. I also feel that differentiating between feeling attraction for all genders in the same way (pansexuality) and feeling attraction differently for different genders (bisexuality)  is not only valid, but important in describing experiences in the queer community. 

I feel that in this discourse it is the right and responsibility of those who identify with a label to define it and make sure it is not only accurate to their identity, but that it continues to be inclusive of all genders as our idea of gender broadens. I believe bisexuality is not only trans (and nonbinary) inclusive, but with this new definition it fills a niche in defining attraction that did not exist previously. Sexuality is experienced by everyone differently, and labels are no more or less than just that: labels. People can identify with the same label and experience sexuality differently and vice versa. These discussions are important, but they aren’t the end all be all of identity or labels.

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