The gray area of bisexuality and pansexuality

Not all people who identify as bisexual perfectly fit the label.


Sunday marked the start of Bisexual Awareness Week, a time to celebrate the bisexual community. The week spreads awareness about the bisexual community, promotes acceptance and provides a time for members to take pride in their identity. 

But what is bisexuality? Merriam-Webster defines it as an attraction to both men and women, as the prefix “bi” refers to only male and female.

The definition, however, also includes those attracted to “partners of more than one gender,” which blends with pansexuality or the attraction to others regardless of their gender identity or biological sex, according to the University of Massachusetts’s Stonewall Center. 

Bisexuality and pansexuality are sexual orientations that often overlap in discussions about sexuality within the LGBTQ community. 

Brad Windhauser, an associate professor in Temple University’s gender, sexuality, and women’s studies department, said thinking of sexuality in terms of the gender binary is becoming less commonplace.

“From a technical perspective, bisexuality refers to the attraction to both men and women,” Windhauser said. “Or, [the bisexual community can] respect a whole different spectrum, but they gravitate toward people who identify as either men or women.”

As society learns more about how people identify, these technical definitions can change. Non-binary concepts of bisexuality have been around since the 1990s, Refinery29 reported, and some students said that a person’s experiences tend to dictate what their definitions are of these labels. 

Bisexuality can mean one thing to one person, and something drastically different to someone else. 

“People within the [bisexual] community have a clear sense of who they are and have a sense of, in general, what it means to be gay, even though every one person’s experience is different.” Windhauser said.

Not all people who identify as bisexual perfectly fit the definition. Leigh Robertson, a junior environmental science major, identifies as gender non-binary but said she previously labeled herself bisexual and has since gravitated toward using the term “queer.”

“The whole controversy between pan and bi and [polysexual] is like, ‘Why?’” Robertson said. “People get aggressive about it. So I just use queer to circumvent that whole situation. 

Robertson added that people acknowledged gay and bisexual people before non-binary people, and in order to describe attraction to genders outside the binary, a new term had to be coined. 

Maya Tejada, a junior media studies and production major who identifies more strongly with pansexuality, views pan as “the umbrella” with bisexuality falling underneath it.   

“I view bisexuality as black and white, attracted to both males and females, [while] pan opens it up to a broader spectrum,” Tejada added. “However, I don’t think that means that people who identify as bi disagree with pansexuality. I view [the terms bisexual and pansexual] as interchangeable.”

Tejada added that she often labels herself as bi because it can be easier to explain to people, especially older people and relatives. 

But Tejada said she wishes people didn’t rely on labels. 

“Try to understand the person as an individual,” she said. 

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