Bisexuals, pansexuals, acronyms, labels, and definitions, oh my!

This post has been swimming in my head for several weeks now. It started, quite simply, with a Facebook post on an LGBT rights page. I can’t remember which one. The post sought to explain the difference between bisexuality and pansexuality. It used definitions I’ve seen before – bi means two, as in two genders, so bisexuals are attracted to men and women; pan means all, as in any gender identity, so pansexuals are attracted to people of all genders.

Some people liked the distinction. Some people were very angry about it. I thought it was a prime example of how one person’s definition does not work for everyone. I’ve seen bisexual defined another way – that the “two” part of bi means the same as me and different from me, which would encompass all gender identities. I prefer that definition because I don’t subscribe to a gender binary but I still prefer the term bisexual to pansexual. There’s not a lot of logic in that. It’s just a preference.

I think that brings up an important point. We define ourselves by what feels the most comfortable for us. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the term “pansexual” and I think it’s perfect valid for those who prefer to use it, just as I think it’s perfectly valid to define myself as a bisexual.

Labels can feel confining at times, but that’s only because other people put restrictions on them. Labels can also be quite helpful. They can help you to find other people with whom you identify. They can help you find connections and form bonds and friendships. But it’s important to remember that there is much more to a person than his or her label, even a self-imposed one, and the only way to truly know a person is through open communication.

I read an article several months ago about the ever-growing list of acronyms for the LGBT community. Aside from the ones almost everyone knows, there’s Q for queer, P for pansexual, A for asexual, I for intersex, two Ts for transsexual and transgender, another Q for questioning, and I’ve seen one that included an A for ally. I think there were others, but this one would be LGBTQPAITQA. Or any combination thereof.

It can become a bit daunting, all of these acronyms and labels and individual definitions. I think it emphasizes the point I made earlier. We all have our preferred terms and labels, whether it’s related to gender identity and sexual orientation or anything else in our lives. I define myself as a mom, a friend, a writer, an activist, a volunteer, an animal lover, a liberal . . . and yes, as a bisexual . . . and if I thought about it more, I’m sure I could come up with at least a dozen other labels.

Those labels are important to me, but I’m fairly certain they don’t mean the same things to everyone. I don’t expect them to. The only way for someone to truly understand what they mean to me and how they define me is to ask me, talk to me about it, read my writing . . . get to know me.

I’m not angry with those who consider themselves pansexual because they think bisexual is too confining. That’s their choice. Only if they decide what bisexual means to me and that I fit neatly into their boxed up definition will I have a problem.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Wilhelmina Upton on September 23, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    You’re right, there are so many definitions and labels out there…it gets quite confusing. I prefer to call myself gay instead of lesbian. Dunno, I just think it sounds better but that’s different for everyone…as was your point. Ok, I’ll stop writing now.


  2. And you are a Toad! You forgot that label!
    I, myself, don’t really like labels at all. But, of course, I know many would apply to me. But for some reason I just hate them. So I really never think of myself in terms of them at all. Except I wouldn’t mind being a Toad at all! 🙂


    • Yes! How could I forget toad?!

      I do think labels can be important in certain aspects . . . It carries over from my special education days. We discussed how labels can be inhibiting for kids, but they can also help kids get the services they need. While other labels may not help in the same way, there are benefits . . . . for some people. I tend to be a very middle-of-the-road kind of person. I don’t think there are many absolutes in this world! But I do completely understand the aversion to labels in general. Our culture has used them negatively for a very long time and in so many different ways.


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