Pansexuality is defined as somewhere along the lines of “someone who can potentially like all people, regardless of sex or gender identity.” This differs from bisexuality, because bisexuals only like two genders or sexes.
But what does it actually mean to be a pansexual? Knowing a definition is great, but personal experience is better. Of course, I cannot speak on behalf of all pansexuals, but I can speak on behalf of myself. For me, pansexuality means falling in love with a person only for who they are and not what gender they are.
The first time I realized I was maybe not 100% straight was when a celebrity was going through a transition from male to female. She and her then-wife were getting divorced, and when I asked my mom why, she explained that the wife doesn’t like girls. That made absolutely no sense to me. If she loved her wife when she expressed herself as a male, why didn’t she love her when she expressed herself as a female, the person she truly was? My mom told me that life didn’t work that way. I was so confused as to why gender mattered that much if they were in love. Looking back, I now understand that gender does play an important role in love, just not for me, and that’s okay.
Fast forward a few months and suddenly I’m actively questioning my sexuality. I had been talking to this girl on and off for a while, but we’d never gotten very close. For some reason, on a fateful day in July, 2016, we got into a deep conversation about sexuality. She is a lesbian, and I was confused, so she helped me out. I decided I was definitely queer after that conversation. I had no idea what my specific label was, which was awesome for a while. You don’t need a label, but after some time, I really wanted one. I couldn’t really explain it, but just saying I was queer stopped working for me. I wanted a specific label, so I started doing some research. At first I settled for bisexuality since I knew I liked girls and knew I liked guys, but the thing that still bothered me was that there are other genders besides male and female. If I liked one of them, wouldn’t that make me something other than bisexual?
Yes, yes it would. I did some more research and discovered the term “pansexuality.” That’s when I felt like I hit… something. Not a pot of gold, per se, but something that made me feel good. See, labels can be very harmful if you aren’t careful, but I love the label of pansexuality because it gives me a sense of community, and having a flag and a term to use when answering to a person asking about sexuality made me feel as if I was a part of something.
So I have a term… now what? I wasn’t ready to come out to my parents, or my mom at least, because she had already expressed how she didn’t want me to “make my life harder by being different” when I said how cool it’d be to be bisexual. (That was my way of testing her to see what her response would be should I ever come out.) So I just went on my merry way, having this information about a huge part of myself that I wasn’t sure what to do with. My three closest friends already knew, since they were there for the entirety of my sexuality crisis, but there wasn’t much they could do for me other than be there when I cried about how much I loved a person (usually a fictional character, but still).
Eventually, the girl who originally helped me realize how not-straight I am asked me out, and we started dating. Unfortunately, I was not really in the correct mindset for a partner at that time, so I called it off, but not before freaking out to my stepdad. Well, one parent down, three to go, counting stepparents.
I decided that it was time to tell my mom. I knew she’d love me regardless, but I wasn’t quite sure how she’d react, so I didn’t know how to plan for it. I think that was the most terrifying part. I didn’t want to make a big deal about it, so I decided to slip how I’d broken up with my girlfriend into the conversation we were having. It took my mom a minute to realize what I’d said, and her only response was “you’re too young to date.” I wasn’t really sure how to take that. I was sixteen, so certainly not too young to date, and my mom had never set an age minimum on dating, so I was pretty sure she wasn’t totally okay with the “girl” part of the equation.
It wasn’t until a few days later that my mom finally brought up my actual sexuality. She knew I wasn’t a lesbian because the only people I’d ever expressed wanting to date were male, but I had mentioned dating a girl. So then came the conversation of “Oh, I’m pansexual.”
“What is that? Do you like pans or something?” My mom had responded.
Cue me trying to not lose my cool while explaining to her what pansexuality meant. Of course, she immediately launched into asking about different genders and what were genders that weren’t “male” and “female”? But other than a pan joke and a million questions, she seemed to be taking it fine… until a few months ago, nearly a year later, she asked if I was still pan. I was pretty crushed. I thought she’d been super accepting and everything, but as it turns out, she didn’t believe me. For an entire year of me saying things like “Yeah, I’m gay.”
I calmly explained that yes, I was still pan, and no, I don’t think I’ll ever be “not pan.” And then, it got worse. I’m not exactly sure what led to this point, because quite frankly I was pretty lightheaded and anxious about my mom not believing me, but somehow we got to the point where my sister blatantly refused to believe me. She told me how I was definitely not gay and that I couldn’t like girls. I was distraught. The only other thing I remember from that night was crying in my room.
My dad, however, was a different story. I honestly don’t even remember coming out to him. I think I did it in a similar way, and his response was to tell me that one of his ex-girlfriends broke up with him because she thought she might be gay. It was all sort of weird, but he’s never mentioned anything other than support, so I’ll call it a win. As for my stepmom, I’m not even sure I have come out to her yet. It just hasn’t come up.
I want to leave you with some advice: it is totally okay to not know what you are. It is totally okay to never label yourself. If you want to look for a label that best describes you, by all means, do. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that you are safe and respected for your choices on partners.