When I come out to most people as pansexual (or just pan for short), I've come to expect one of two reactions. The first is, as some of you may be experiencing now, confusion. "What's pan?" Images of a svelte, freshly-shaven twink in green tights or a horny satyr may come to mind.
While I would be delighted to make the acquaintance of either of these gentlemen, good guess but not quite. It's not a gag sexuality, nor is it a kink. For the uninitiated, a pansexual is defined as someone who can experience sexual attraction, emotional love, romantic relationships, etc with a person of any sex or gender identity.
Lauren Michelle Kinsey, who identifies as bisexual, defines the term as inclusive of ''...people who use labels such as 'bisexual,' 'non-monosexual,' 'persexual,' 'omnisexual,' 'ambisexual,' 'pansexual,' 'queer' or any other term that people use to identify themselves as individuals who are emotionally, romantically or physically attracted to people of more than one sex, gender or gender identity.''
I disagree with this assertion that pan is just a sub-flavor of bisexuality. Pansexuality is confused with but often differs significantly from bisexuality. Pansexual folks make explicit their attraction to people who do not fit into that gender or sexual binary. Intersex, trans* and gender non-conforming folks, who are excluded from that binary in many cases, are included under the pan umbrella.
As might be expected, pan and bi folks often get lumped in with each other. Certainly the second reaction is something bisexuals get plenty. The second most popular response when I come out as pan is an "Oh." Actually, this is two very different reactions that share the same syllable and say so much more than the curt utterance belies. "Oh" number one is accompanied by a kind of incredulous, side-eye look. Like, "Really now—is that so?" The second "Oh" comes with a raise of the brow, maybe a big smile, maybe a hungry look in their eyes. While "Oh" number one comes with a refreshing side of condescension, I think both reactions stem from the same bigoted and mistaken stereotype—that people who don't "choose" one or the other sexual orientation, if they are not just "confused, lost souls," are promiscuous, oversexed horndogs who will jump into bed with anyone.
People who identify as pan often face their sexuality being conflated with a polite way of saying "anyone will do." Some people go even further and mistake orientation with invitation. No, I'm sorry, but while we're all guilty of terrible pickup lines, coming out is not my preferred way to flirt. In fact, these assumptions are pretty insulting.
People need to stop equating can with will. While I have the ability to fall for someone of any sex or gender identity, that's not actually saying I have a wider dating pool than anyone else. There are so many factors that play into attraction—to say that one is limited solely by what a potential partner has in their pants is like saying the only factor that determines a good meal is the type of plate it's served on. Sure, it's true that some people have strong preferences. Some people absolutely cannot eat spicy foods, while some people pack a flask of tabasco sauce in their purse at all times. But like the factors that go into a good meal, a desired partner is so multifaceted, so divergent... even for people within sexualities defined by genitalia or gender. It's the same sort of argument straight people use to justify exclusion and hate. "I can't befriend/hire/room/work with a gay guy as a straight man—he'll definitely come on to me!"
In truth, I'm pretty picky about who I choose to bed and who I choose to love—pickier than many of my friends regardless of orientation. While sex and gender presentation are not one of them, many factors limit who I will find attractive. I have a thing for large lips and warm smiles. Usually I fall for people older than me. Femininity gets me hot. I want a lover who has a sense of humor, of purpose, of humility. I need someone who can match my wit blow for blow, who gets as teary as I do when confronted with the gorgeousness of reality. If you can't sit with me through a feminist deconstruction of a popular cartoon, you're not the one. Someone who is romantic and committed without ever forgetting the importance of individuality. Someone I could see in my life for years to come. Above all, someone who is open and understanding, who thinks before they act and who would never do anything with the intent to harm.
And you, person who thinks I'll fuck you just because I'm pan, do not fit those standards.
Image via Shutterstock. An earlier, unfinished and incomplete draft of this article was previously published prematurely. We regret the error.