Bi+ & Pan, Attraction Beyond Gender, Consensual & Non Consensual personal language changes, LGBTQ+ community supporting each other, not bullying each other, and stuff like that.
So, I’ve seen lots of things around recently about Bisexuality and Pansexuality that have really, really gotten under my skin. I tried to brush them off at first as minor irritations or inclarities, but the fact is that they really, really trigger a lot of the awful feelings of displacement, being misunderstood, not being accepted, and not being respected, that I have experienced as a Bisexual person. They have triggered a lot of the anxiety that my experiences as a Bisexual person have quite rightfully created. Anxiety which, at its root, is about being shoe-horned out of existence, is about socially “not existing” because the majority of people misunderstand you, or do not accept or understand that you exist, and roughly how you exist, and do not respect or accept those even if they did understand.
So there’s a new word on the block for describing attraction beyond gender, and that word is “pan” or “pansexuality.” Both bisexuality and pansexuality mean experiencing the ability to feel attraction to people of multiple genders, and from a broad spectrum of genders, and sometimes regardless of gender. They both mean that the person using them is not limited to one gender in terms of who they can experience attraction to.
Beyond that, how individual people use the words will be as varied as there are humans around to use them. For example, using a different identity word to make my point, not all lesbians will have exactly the same experience of sexuality, but their experiences and preferences are similar enough to the general definition of the word that it feels like a comfortable (enough) fit.
So far so good, right? We have different words, which help different people exist socially, find others similar to them, call out discrimination, understand themselves, ask for rights and respect etc. All good. And whilst it might seem from where I’m sitting that Pan and Bi mean a very similar / roughly the same thing, that doesn’t mean that the word Pan isn’t needed. If some people who hadn’t been able to find a well-fitting word for themselves previously, find that this newer word fits (and all the good things that come with that) – then that’s wonderful, important, valid and great.
However, some Pan identifying people, have been partly defining pansexuality, by falsely redefining bisexuality as transphobic and/or averse to people of non binary genders. OUCH. This is hurtful and bad news and problematic on so many levels.
ONE – CONTEXT. Many Bisexual identifying people are also trans and/or Non Binary, or gender-queer in one way or another. Nobody has stated “I categorically am unattracted to anybody genderqueer or trans” as an accurate aspect of bisexuality. Anybody stating this is expressing transphobia or a cisnormative narrative, which has nothing to do with bisexuality or the ability to experience ‘attraction beyond gender’ (which is what bisexuality means). Transphobes, and people who do not accept gender queerness, come in all sorts of different contexts and identities, unfortunately. But transphobia and cisnormativity are most definitely not and have never been part of what is means to be Bisexual (eg, to experience attraction beyond gender). Transphobia / cisnormativity is not a sexual identity; it’s a prejudice.
TWO – CONSENT. When Pan identifying people add this false (and frankly insulting and very inaccurate and narrow) redefinition of bisexuality to what Pan means in contrast, they effectively redefine the existence of Bisexual people without their consent, and also shoe horn Bi people into using the word Pan instead, for fear of being misunderstood as transphobic or averse to NB or genderqueer folk. A really nasty way of going about introducing a new word to the flourishing LGBTQ+ vocabulary – by uprooting, discrediting and make a slur on the name of those who have fought for their very right to exist as folks who experience attraction beyond gender. Not cool, kids.
Whilst it is of course fine and sometimes essential and wonderful to look for and create new words to define oneself (as Pan identifying and other people have done recently – bravo), it is absolutely not okay to instruct others that the words they use (and have fought for existence with for years) have had their meanings rewritten (via social media articles and memes mainly), and that they now apparently mean something that’s basically about bigotry and exclusion – the opposite of what Bi+ people have been fighting for all these years.
If Pan folk were saying “it’s important people know I experience attraction beyond gender and that my identity is potentially inclusive of all genders, and here’s the word I feel comfortable with, please use it,” that would be fine. What is absolutely not fine, however, is Pan folk saying, “Bi+ people are not inclusive of trans, non binary or gender variant / genderqueer people. Bi+ people also have no say in this. We have decided.”
This bulldozer kind of behaviour erases the current and past existence of Bi+ people who are not bigots, and unnecessarily puts people at odds with each other who should really be lifting each other up, not acting like insensitive bullies. By attempting to change the definition of Bi, without the consent of Bi people, Pan folk are doing quite an act of violence (and one which could potentially cause division in the LGBTQ+ community where there needs to be mutual support and mutual allyship). And in response to this violence against them, some Bi people are retaliating defensively by saying things like “Pan is unnecessary” or generally not accepting the existence of this new word in the LGBTQ+ vocabulary; and then we just have a spiral of (upsetting and unnecessary) online hate, because, humans and defensiveness and fear, when what we SHOULD have are people with similar experiences, listening to each other, and lifting each other up. Not folks speaking for each other and over each other in dismissive, inaccurate, unkind, cruel, reactive and erasing ways. We should be listening to each other, acting respectfully, and lifting each other up.
THREE – Further Context – Defining Pan by attacking Bi+ folk through attempting to rewrite what Bisexual means without the consent of Bisexual people, and by attaching bigotry to the meaning of Bisexual, utterly dismisses all the very, very hard work that Bi+ people have been doing for years, in support of all LGBTQ+ people and in support of their own existence as people who experience attraction beyond gender. And it is this work which, in part, allows Pan identifying people to have the social space in which to create this further language and be taken more seriously, and heard more widely.
By attempting to rewrite what Bi+ means, wrongly and without consent, Pan folk are erasing and insulting the existence, the experience and the hard work of lots of Bi+ people over many years. This is so massively not okay! I’ve been through hell and highwater fighting for a place to exist and to be understood and taken seriously and accepted, even within the LGBTQ+ community, because of being Bi+ (experiencing attraction beyond gender), and I’ve put my neck on the line plenty so that both I and others like me can be respected and accepted in queer communities, and elsewhere. Effectively shitting on the work I have done and the hardships I have faced by saying that actually I don’t exist after all unless I change the word I use, that I will be misunderstood as a bigot unless I change the word I use, is just so violent. It’s gotten really deep under my skin.
And there are others who’ve done far more than me – I started off “Bi+ Pride UK” with a wonderful colleague, and they and the team have now taken the organisation to charity status, and do fantastic work assisting those who experience attraction beyond gender (however they identify), to have better lives, to feel proud, and get that it’s okay to be Bi+ and/or to experience any of the spectrum of attraction beyond gender. See https://biprideuk.org/about/. They don’t deserve to have their work shat on by a few Pan folk trying to rewrite what Bi means as bad. They are there to serve everyone who experiences attraction beyond gender, and they deserve better. I deserve better. All Bi+ people deserve better. The Bi+ people in the riots that started off the entire Pride movement, and the Bi+ people working today, deserve better. And none of us want all this division and disrespect.
FOUR – Implied transphobia on the part of people redefining Pan, then projected onto Bi people. Yuck. To quote a friend on the internet who I was discussing this with: “Assuming someone who says they’re attracted to men and women only means cis men and cis women shows a lurking transphobia on the part of the person assuming that. Trans men ARE men. Trans women ARE women.” Yes, exactly so! At no point at all in my explorations of being Bi+ and of working with and for Bi+ people, at no point has anyone linked their ability to experience attraction beyond gender, with any sort of aversion to non binary or trans folk. Because there is no link. It’s a bizarre and problematic thing to push/project onto a whole group of people – especially a whole group of people who have been working for YOUR RIGHTS all this time anyway! Not to mention also, obviously, that plenty of Bi+ identifying people are also trans and/or Non Binary and/or gender variant / gender queer.
FIVE – It’s not okay to tell other people how to identify. In any context. It’s not okay to tell other people how to identify. Lots of people mean different things by similar words. And it’s never okay to tell someone else how to identify. They can mean something different by the same word and that’s okay. They can mean the same thing by a different word and that’s okay. What’s not okay is to undercut someone’s autonomy by telling them how to identify.
When Pan folk tell people who experience attraction beyond gender (and who are not bigoted towards trans/NB/gender queer people), that they are therefore not Bi but Pan, they take away / undermine the autonomy of the person they are instructing, as well as insulting all Bi+ identifying people. By redefining Bi in a negative and bigoted manner, and transferring the general meaning of Bi onto Pan instead, it’s a kind of emotional blackmail, whether intended to be or not, as some Bi people will feel forced to change the way they identify to make sure they are not mistaken for being anti-trans or anti gender-queer or anti-NonBinary.
It’s a really nasty shoe horn kind of move, whether intended or not, and it really sucks for Bi+ identified people, and for the unity of LGBTQ+ people working together for a better world for us all. My hope is that people will come to accept Pan and Bi as words for similar types of identity, neither of which has anything to do with being averse to trans/genderqueer/NB folk, and both of which have to do with attraction beyond gender. My hope is that people can express what they personally mean by the intricacies of these identity-words, without cutting down other people. My hope is that Pan folk will stop destroying the work and existence of Bi folk, and that Bi folk will then feel safe to welcome Pan folk under the beautiful Bi+ Umbrella, where we can help keep each other safe from the storms, and generally do what we’re supposed to do – build each other up, not kick each other down.
SIX – Bi people experience erasure and biphobia from so many different angles. People telling them they are actually straight or actually gay or actually lesbian, people not listening to them, people denying them access to queer spaces if they are in a different-gender relationship, people projecting awful stereotypes onto them, people making assumptions, people telling them they don’t exist, people telling them they are too queer here and too straight there, plus you can look at all the statistics and see higher rates of various difficult things for Bi+ people.
This is already a huge amount to contend with, without the other non-monosexual people turning on them too, and telling them that the word they have found to cling to and come out with and ask for rights for amidst all the above difficulties, is having its meaning changed and erased, without consulting them, and that they now don’t exist again, or at least exist in a more conflicted way.
Just when Bi+ finally was starting to feel like a solid and accepted identity, some people, who should understand the struggles, have set it afloat again by falsely attaching bigotry to it and projecting false and narrow gender restrictions upon it. It – really – hurts. And it’s super challenging. And it shouldn’t be. This is not a situation we should have to be dealing with. We should not be trampling our various queer siblings in order to exist for ourselves – we should be walking side by side.
I fear that if this false redefinition of Bisexual catches on, it will make life even harder for those who experience attraction beyond gender, for those looking for the right words for themselves and for those who have already found them and now find them changed without their consent. I also fear it could normalise the transphobia and gender bigotry that many people – including many Bi+ people, and including this Bi+ person – are working hard to combat.
Please Pan folk, don’t cut Bi people down in order to build yourselves up. There is space for you in the rainbow, in the queer communities, there is room for everything you stand for – you don’t have to trample on others in order to claim that space.
SEVEN – Respect – if Pan folk had come in and said, “here’s another word for attraction beyond gender. I like it better. This is what I want you to use for me. I respect Bi+ people too and I want us to keep working together for visibility, equality, understanding and rights. Plus here are some extra things that I mean by the label Pan [which don’t include redefining Bi+ in a bad light], for clarification. Not everyone will mean exactly these but that’s what I mean. Keep loving who you love and being who you are! Pan Pride, Bi Pride, Big love to my Bi+ and Pan siblings!”
If Pan folk had come in saying something along those lines, then that would be fabulous and cause no problems. That would be how things should be. Instead, we’ve seen Pan folk disrespecting Bi+ folk and acting in an insensitive, unthoughtful, misinformed, bulldozery manner. We’ve seen Bi folk reacting defensively to that, and being less inclined to accept a new word for similar experiences because the way it’s being presented falsely changes their identity without their consent. And then we’ve seen an onslaught of people being nasty to each other online, who should be respecting each other, helping each other forward, listening to each other, acting accordingly when they listen, and ultimately lifting each other up!
It may be that there’s something else that Pan means that I have yet to understand – I acknowledge that, and I look forward to finding out more once the nastiness stops and the respectful behaviour increases.
But I also want it to be known that it is very bad form to non-consensually redefine others in a narrow and bigoted light in order to define yourself.
Just as two different experiences sitting next to each other do not need to pose a threat, so also, two very similar experiences sitting next to each other and using different words for their similar experiences, also do not need to threaten or erase each other, either.
There is room for us all, being who we are – so long as we don’t bulldoze other people in the process.
To quote my own song (sorry),
“Be who you are, just be who you are, your beauty is of the stars. Let it shine and be who you are!”
“You’ve a right to be here. You’ve a right to be you. And be celebrated too!”
“Be who you are, be who you are, let every moment unfold!”
“You don’t have to push yourself to be the same, they say that a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet!”
To quote the Bible,
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”
To quote what I’m thinking right now and have seen in many a pleasant meme:
“Be kind. You have no idea what someone else is going through.”