07 December 2018

What's in a Name: Bisexual vs. Pansexual

What’s in a Name: Bisexual vs. Pansexual
Rick Harmon (Golden Rabbit) for the CMA GLBTQ & Friends Society

I began identifying myself as bisexual about ten years ago.  It was not much of a revelation, since my mother was bisexual, and my sister had identified as bisexual many years before me.

I must admit, though, that I have not been especially vocal about being bisexual, having understood since my early adulthood that it was a dirty word, and I’ve heard it from both sides.  “Bisexuals are just guys who date each other when they can’t get dates with women.”  “All women are secretly bisexual.”  “Bisexuals are homosexuals who can hide behind heterosexual relationships.”  “Bi now, gay later.”

So I was not shocked to learn that “bisexual” is now considered politically incorrect, because it apparently excludes attraction to transgender people, and people of ambiguous gender.  This development is puzzling to myself, and other bisexual people I know, because it hadn’t occurred to us that there was anything exclusionary about the word.  In fact, “anything that moves” was a common pejorative phrase being directed at bisexuals not so long ago.

The preferred nomenclature is now “pansexual”, which, on the face of it, evokes that insult by tempting the inclusion of everything from ecosexuality to zoophilia.  Dictionary definitions are not necessarily helpful; the Apple dictionary superbly defines it as “not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity,” while Merriam-Webster defines it rather obliquely as “exhibiting or implying many forms of sexual expression”.

On the other hand ... Language evolves over time, as an artifact of cultural change.  We now find ourselves on the precipice of a major shift, namely, the mainstream acceptance of transgenderism.  While the time for mainstream acceptance of bisexuality may or may not ever arrive, it is a ‘trite and true’ cliché that a rising tide lifts all boats.  In this delicate time, transgendered people need to know who is on their team; accepting a change in vocabulary, even if somewhat dubious, is literally the least we can do to demonstrate solidarity.

I suppose that in the foreseeable future, I can simply use both terms to clear up any confusion, and if I find it awkward to identify myself as  “bisexual / pansexual”, I just need to remember that that label would still have one less syllable than “male-to-female pre-op transgender”.

- Rick Harmon

"There's nothing so destroys a man as ignorant dullness and conformity"
- Baron Munchausen