Lorelei, aka Suggestive, answered a question that’s been on my mind over on her blog. To summarize, how are bisexual and pansexual different things? The questioner defined them thusly:

bisexual: sexually attracted to both men and women.

pansexual: not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity.

Lorelei’s reply was pretty spot-on, I think (“bisexual” is an older word from before the concept of a non-binary gender existence was common plus it might be better shorthand than “pansexual” before you get to know someone if all you really want to do is say you aren’t straight). You can go read the whole thing. It’s good.

The part that made me curious was this:

Pansexual opens up bisexuality to include transgender people, intersex people, and like you said – people that don’t necessarily gender themselves. In other words, someone who is pansexual is more or less bisexual, but someone who is bisexual is not necessarily pansexual.

I’ve thought a lot about this in the past (more or less the first time I found out Buck Angel was a kind of person in the world, whenever that was). When I say I’m bisexual, I might really mean I’m pansexual as it’s defined above because I’d very happily have sex with both trans men and trans woman. Either someone presenting very masculinely but with a pussy or someone presenting very femininely (and maybe with breasts) yet with a cock1. Sure. I’m game. I like all those things and I don’t really think changing up the how they’re combined would be a bad thing at all. In fact, I’m sure I could even hook up with a non-gendered person. Probably. Well…probably.

This snuggles up to something else I’ve been pondering since I found it the other day. A few months ago, someone posted to imgur a set of charts that supposedly breaks down active FetLife users. Three charts in particular caught my eye.

First, the sexual orientation reported by all the active users:

This is a graph of the Sexual Orientation distribution of all Active users - Imgur

Wow, I thought, look at all those bisexuals! Plus all the others I’d probably lump in with bisexuals (and then get scolded for doing so if they knew I was doing it). How awesome, I thought. My people!

Then I saw this. Sexual identity reported by just the men:

This is a graph of the Sexual Orientation distribution of MALES - Imgur

Fucking hell. Really, guys? Sixty-seven percent straight!? Can we believe this? Is it really true that out of all those thousands of kinky people (57% identified as male), so many of the guys are dead-on Kinsey zeros?

Of course, this is how people are choosing to identify. That’s not necessarily how they are. I suppose if you’re a guy and you’re married or in an LTR with a woman and you don’t have a lot of interest in men sexually and no ability to pursue any anyway, then you’re straight. I also think there are a lot of straight men who have fucked around with guys, especially in their youth. I know because I was one of the guys they fucked around with. More than a handful of current men who, when they were boys, seems to enjoy my naked company and seem to all the world as straight (and at least one I can think of off the top of my head who’s made borderline homophobic jokes on Facebook).

My personal opinion based on my own experiences with men who identify all over the place is that they actually are all over the spectrum. How we identify has less to do with how we are and more to do with how we want to be perceived. Men are not given bonus points in our culture for calling themselves anything outside “straight” and, it seems, will only do so for specific reasons. Same goes for men who call themselves gay. They might have a tiny or more consequential yet still minority part of them drawn to women, but they get no bonus points for ever letting that show.

Of course, I’m talking about men here because that’s what I know best. Women actually are somewhat rewarded for not identifying as totally straight in our culture. The men like it, for one, but it’s also more accepted. This is shown by how they break out on FetLife:

This is a graph of the Sexual Orientation distribution of FEMALES - ImgurJust look at them. Not even a third say they’re straight. More call themselves bisexual, not even counting all the related flavors.

Who knows. Maybe all those guys really are super-duper straight and I’m full of shit. Maybe women just are more fluid sexually. But it doesn’t feel that way to me. I think a lot of guys aren’t perfectly K-0 but say they are anyway. Perhaps they confuse what they are doing with what they are? “I’m with a woman so I’m straight.” That would help explain why bisexuals are often called “formerly” bisexual with they settle down with someone of either gender. Who we fuck isn’t what we are, right? But maybe it’s a more prevalent perspective with men.

It’s also possible this is a generational thing. People my age were pushed to go straight or gay and neither side seemed to think something in between was valid. That seems to be changing with younger people. They’re inventing all kinds of interesting variations on the theme. And good for them. Bi, pan, flex. To me, they’re all essentially the same. But what they aren’t is fitting into anyone else’s conception of what’s “normal.” I’ll count that as a good thing.

1 And let’s not get started on the fact that other cultures have archetypes of feminine men in them like the Japanese.

15 thoughts on “Bipanflexible

  1. Your posts are very provocative today. This is my second comment on your blog. I strongly disagree with the idea that “pansexual” implies interest in transgendered people. If someone is transgendered, they don’t belong to something notmale or notfemale. They are the gender they have selected. They picked their gender. I just got mine without being consulted.

    I think that pansexual has nothing to do with gender so much as it is about sexual expression. So, because I subscribe to enforced male chastity, I am one of the “pan’s” of pansexual. I think of it in terms of orientation, not gender. It’s not about your plumbing, but how you use it.

  2. The problem with labels is that they are labels. Words attached to packages in stark lettering that can only be deciphered through the lenses of each individual’s experience. Which sticker “fits” according to our own self view has little to do with others’ interpretations. How we interpret what’s inside another’s Self, based on the label they slap on themselves, varies far too greatly for labels to be unifying. After all, one person’s tuna surprise is another person’s cat food.

  3. Bi vs pan is kind of an ongoing debate. I personally use bisexual as an umbrella term for all sexualities that include interest in more than one gender. The definitions provided by every major bisexual organization are not trans-exclusive (typically “attraction to both my own and other gender(s)”. Obviously not going to tell anyone how they ought to self identify; pansexual and polysexual and omnisexual and the rest are all perfectly good terms, but let’s don’t keep pushing the “bisexual reinforces the binary” thing. It’s an overly narrow linguistic interpretation, like saying “the USA is a bicoastal nation so it doesn’t include the landlocked states.” I have heard a bunch of other nuanced differences in definition (e.g. bisexual is attraction to multiple genders, pansexual is attraction to people that is rooted in things other than gender) but no two non-monosexual people really seem to define their sexuality exactly the same.

    I do find it pretty exciting the way my generation and younger is increasingly willing to view sexuality and gender as many-faceted and multidimensional. It’s a willingness to create language that describes reality rather than trying to fit one’s experience into a possibly ill-fitting premade term. Takes a lot of introspection and no small amount of critical thinking, and I think it’s for the better.

  4. The whole “bisexual means male and female because bi means two” is an outdated argument (and can be considered biphobic).

    The most common definition by Robyn Ochs is “the potential to be attracted—romantically and/or sexually—to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”

    As a bisexual non-binary, bisexuality is definitely more than able to address attraction to people who don’t fit the tradition binary definition of male or female. I personally find that the subtle differences between bisexuals and pansexuals lies in how we’re attracted to those around us, not who we are attracted to.

    I also find it interesting the bisexuality is the only sexual orientation that consistently gets called out on its “transphobia” (I’m not saying you have in your article, btw) but no one ever accuses the monosexuals on transphobia for not including non-binary identities in their sexual orientation. That’s probably because one’s sexual orientation is very personal and defines how a person feels about themselves. For example, if a lesbian was in a relationship with someone who then went on a journey to exploring their own identity and transitioned FTM, person A wouldn’t suddenly stop being a lesbian because her girlfriend was now a boyfriend.

    Also, I just wanted to address the transgender/ transgendered thing relating to one of your other commenters. It’s transgender, not transgendered. There’s no past tense of transgender because it’s a noun, not something that happens to you.

  5. I’m intrigued by this for more than one reason. First, I stopped using bisexual to describe myself to others, and began using pansexual, when I realized that I had the potential to have chemistry and attraction toward anyone, regardless of gender expression or sexual orientation. It was a nice day. I had actually coined my own term, omnisexual, and used it in my head until friends told me that the word pansexual was in more comomn usage than words I was making up in my head. (lol)

    The second reason that I am intrigued by this discussion touches on recent experiences I had in a group play party environment. I have played several times now with a self-defined straight male sadist who has said that he really enjoys hurting me. As a pansexual masochist, I must say that I really enjoy the ways he hurts me. That being said, it was fascinating to experience our S/M interactions without any hint of sexual tension. He isn’t interested in me sexually, and as he is off the table, so to speak, I simply don’t see him as a sexual partner, even potentially. I expect that we will continue to play, without any sexual contact, for as long as we are enjoying our time together. This experience has been truly enlightening for me and I wanted to share it. Thanks!

      1. I used to rationalize that the sexual tension, or promise of pleasure, was the mechanism that allowed me to ‘enjoy’ the pain. I was skeptical that I would enjoy non-sexual S/M play. I was startled and surprised by how I respnded to him and to the situation. I learned a lot about myself that eveining, and have taken ownership of the fact that I am a masochist. A fact that I was afraid to fully admit or explore before this point.

    1. Of course, but they should be a good representation of people connected to their sexuality. I meant to say in the post it was odd to me to see so few gays and lesbians in the mix, but I guess they have other networks…

    2. No surveys were answered. This was a data scrape. Fetlife is designed with minimal security (none, arguably), and someone just got curious enough to grab the data on all users. That said, yes, of course only representative of kinky people in the US and maybe Britain.

  6. I am bisexual… but I understand that being attracted to “men and women” is more than what it appears to be since, duh, there are men who think they are women, women who think they are men, and people who think they are neither.

    What I’ve come to understand is that we’re born either male or female and a lot of us accept the role that comes with being born one way or the other. I kinda understand the attraction thing and to the extent that it’s not really so much about what attracts you but why it does – is it the person’s physical form or is it that something you cannot easily see with your eyes? Ultimately, we decide what’s attractive to us just as we “figure out” why we’re attracted.

    As a bisexual, “pansexual” doesn’t make a lot of sense to me since the pansexuals I know act just like any bisexual I know, including myself. I know it’s just me but the whole “gender” thing is irrelevant since despite what one might think – or how you change your body, um, everyone is still either male or female in form or function. So, yeah, you can be attracted to someone’s femininity even if they’re not physically a woman or you can be attracted simply by their physical form – this just doesn’t work the same way for everyone, I’ve learned.

    I know it’s just me but I choose to “simplify” my sexuality and just leave it at being attracted to men and women because this has become so arbitrary these days and overthinking it can cause headaches. I know that as a bisexual, I define the shape this takes; I love the hell out of women, not really attracted to men but I love having sex with them. I’ve been attracted to transgender physically or because of their personality. I don’t discriminate in any of this even though I don’t totally and completely understand a lot of this stuff but, for the way I’m bisexual, I don’t need to make all these distinctions because, again, no matter what you think, you’re still male or female in some way… and even if you think the gender roles don’t apply to you.

    A lot of people would disagree with my take on this and that’s fine and while the graphs you provided are great and informative, the data are only going to be as good as the sources provide it, like, I know quite a few “straight” men who like sex with men – but their id or ego maintains that they’re still straight – go figure, right?

    I understand the reason for the labels; what I don’t “understand” is why people object to them. We need the labels to identify things in our environment – we cannot get away from them unless, of course, the label is being inaccurately applied like I say I’m bisexual and someone wants to insist that I’m gay then it’s a problem that needs to be corrected. You know the saying, “If the shoe fits, wear it…”? It’s true… except when it comes to some labels, like bisexual, we don’t want it to fit because we don’t exactly fit the general description or, yeah, otherwise kid ourselves that we’re not what we’re doing. Perception can be a bitch, can’t it? My perception of being bisexual can be very different from the perception of another bisexual man, right? But thinking and doing are not the same things, are they? So a pansexual can think that they’re not bisexual even though they do, in fact, behave like one.

    It’s confusing, huh? Yep, we ‘need’ to accept that we are whatever we are; we need to acknowledge that for any reason, we change change our perception of what we are, like going from being straight to bisexual or even gay and that the hated labels are needed for us to ‘know’ where we are headed in this – but those labels don’t always accurately describe what we might do. They are pointers or waypoints along a particular path – a sign post saying, “Bisexual is this way!” but while we can walk this path, we don’t have to walk it in the same way others might… and we sure as hell don’t have to walk this path in the way that those people who are not like us think we should be doing.

    Is there a real difference between bisexual and pansexual? I don’t think there really is except our own perception of what we are and what others might be. Even though I know I can be attracted to anyone, I’m still bisexual, never pansexual because gender roles don’t make much of a difference from where I’m sitting – again, you’re either male or female in form or function and, at the end of the day, it’s all about what makes you attractive in my eyes and not how anyone else thinks I should be attracted.

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