By RJ Johnson

While we, as a community, grow and learn about terms and identities that better describe us, there is often confusion about older terms and the newer language that we are using to define gender and sexual minorities. Over the past year Prism Press has noticed a debate over two terms that seem like they almost mean the same thing.

Bisexual noun.

A person who is sexually attracted not exclusively to people of one particular gender


Pansexual: adjective.

Not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity

For those that are pansexual, like Jimmy, 27, they describe the attraction as “hearts not parts”, meaning that their attraction comes from a place of mental and emotional attraction.

“I just feel like any other term would be limiting to me,” Jimmy says. “There are so many beautiful people in this world, and I would not limit my attraction based on the outside of a person.”

For Michael, 29, a local bisexual man, his attraction does tend to be about the outside, but he finds that a common misconception is that it is only in regard to men or women.

“I am attracted to women whether they are feminine or butch,” he says. “I am attracted to men whether they are feminine or butch.”

Whether or not they are transgender is irrelevant to Michael. He still views the person he sees in front of him as attractive, regardless of their gender identity. “Could someone call me pansexual without me being offended? Of course.”

For many, the confusion in the terms comes from a time when the word bisexual was used to describe people that are only attracted to men and women, but that also comes from a time when, as a community, we were only recognizing that there were two genders. As our understanding of the gender axis expands, so must our definition of the terms. Definition is something that Michael often thinks about.

“We spend time identifying ourselves by the term rather than letting the term describe us,” he said.

Jimmy agrees with this sentiment saying, “The entire point of my sexuality is that I do not become attracted to people based on specific identifiers. Those words that they use are not where my interest comes from.”

For some, the term pansexual has caused more of what is called bi-erasure, biphobia, or a general misunderstanding of the term itself. It is something that Michael experiences each day. “Bisexuality for me seems to be a hang-up for a lot of people, because it seems they think we are fence sitters, and they say, ‘Pick a camp already’, and that’s hypocritical of the community itself.” Jimmy agrees and says that even he sees the same attitudes and will jump to defend the bisexual community when he hears things like “Bisexuality is just a stop on the way to gay,” he said. “It’s just such an offensive thing to say, you know? Also, since when does the prefix bi even mean only two? It just means that they are attracted to their own gender, as well as other genders.

For Michael, it is a direct attack on the core of what the LGBTQIA community is fighting for.

“The biggest problem I have had with the queer community is that the movement came out as an insertion of a valid identity. Then it grew and transformed and blossomed into this complex world that it is now, which is wonderful. I think it’s important that we remember the spirit that spawned the movement, and brought it to a public life, and has integrated itself successfully into American society and is gaining strength across the world. It is the idea that the person is what is important. Their character is what’s important. Nothing else takes precedence over their character and their actions.”

Jimmy believes the same and says, “This is what we are fighting for. The freedom to love in a consensual manner, the people that we want to love. In the end it is all about love, so why do we spend so much time fighting with ourselves?”

As we move forward with the new terms and words that we use to describe us, maybe like we expect everyone else to do, we just need to keep asking questions.

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