How Pansexual is Pansexual?

by Nina

So I’m not entirely sure where the best place to start this essay is. From the beginning, I suppose?

I began to identify as bisexual when I was fourteen years old. Before that, my subtle attraction to girls hadn’t ever been something I had paid much attention to, or even cared about. I went to an all-girls school, so I feel that some of the pressure to get into a (heterosexual) relationship was diminished because boys just weren’t there. I admired boys from afar and spent all my time with girls.

Then three things happened.
1.     One of my friends came out as a lesbian.
2.     Another one of my friends admitted to having a crush on me.
3.     I developed feelings for a girl I’d started talking to over the internet (on Bebo, of all places).

This was the first time that I really began to question my sexuality. Looking back, there had been moments throughout my life where I think my attraction to girls had been obvious, but had gone unnoticed because of this perception that children don’t know or understand their own identities. I think that if someone had properly explained sexuality to me at an earlier age, then I would have come to the conclusion that I was not heterosexual a lot earlier.

Anyway, I digress – basically, these three separate events occurred, and it became very obvious to me that I was attracted to both boys and girls. I came out to my family, my friends, my school, and there was actually a really positive reaction to it.  I’ve never faced direct objection or discrimination against me for my sexuality (I think people tend to see my skin colour first, which is another discussion entirely). My coming out was – luckily – the easiest it gets. I was able to joke with my little brother when we both had crushes on the same actress; I was able to tell all my friends openly about what I liked about girls; and when I developed a crush on someone in my school, the drama surrounding it was just the ordinary excitement of knowing two people like each other, rather than anything homophobic.

Coming out helped me to feel more comfortable in my own skin, and over the next few years, my confidence grew in terms of speaking openly to others about my sexuality. In a way, I think it helped some of my friends come out, as there was someone there who was confident and happy in their sexuality and was open to discussing anything they were thinking without judgement.

I also continued to learn about my sexuality too. I can’t remember when I first heard the term “pansexual” or when I first began to apply it to myself. I’m guessing it was when I was seventeen and was in college, as this is when one of my friends came out as transgender. I was very supportive of him and spent a lot of free periods on Google, searching up terms and explanations and groups we could join. For me, I had always interpreted bisexuality as liking both men and women – but when I began to research what being transgender meant, I began to realise that sexuality is a lot more flexible than just two binary opposites. This is when I began to learn about asexuality, grey-asexuality, gender fluidity, and the like. It was learning this that made me decide to start identifying as pansexual, as I wasn’t just attracted to two genders (whatever they may be): I was attracted to people in general, and wanted a term that was inclusive of all the ways people might identify their gender.

Now we’re going to fast-forward a few years, to university and the present day. I met my boyfriend in 2015, and from all the previous relationships I’ve had, this is the first and only one where I feel that I’m in love. Until this relationship, I had never been one hundred percent comfortable in a relationship or in my body. With him, I finally feel accepted and able to show my true self.

However (of course there was a however coming) upon becoming seriously committed to this relationship, I found that the way others perceived my sexuality changed. My sexuality was immediately accepted by my boyfriend – I don’t think he even blinked – but I found that others took my alignment a lot less seriously. Yes, I said I was pansexual, but all that people could see was that I, an apparent cisgender woman, was holding hands with a presumably cisgender man. Although I was out, I suddenly felt crammed back into this box of heteronormativity. I no longer felt able to go to Pride, as I wasn’t outwardly presenting as LGBTQ+. I felt like an imposter, a fraud. When I tried to explain to people about my pansexuality, I was often greeted with comments of “But you’re with a guy?”, as if my being with a member of the opposite sex meant I could only be attracted to cisgender men. Taking it further, people became even more confused when I explained that I actually tended to be more attracted to women than men. “But you’re with a guy?” was of course the response. People just couldn’t understand the concept that although I tend to be more attracted to women, I am still attracted to men, and that this man, my boyfriend, was the person who I happened to be the most attracted to, regardless of his gender.

It’s frustrating and it’s understandable. Sexuality can be a very complicated thing to understand, especially if you have been raised without really being told what it’s all about. We’ve been together for two years now, and I’ve spent these past two years coming to terms with how my sexuality is now perceived. Admittedly it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. I still haven’t gone back to Pride, and I’m not sure when I will, but I have regained the confidence to talk openly about my experiences of being pansexual. I am also a lot more patient when people don’t understand my sexuality or relationship. “But you’re with that guy?” Yep. I’m with that guy, and I am pansexual.

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