What is Pansexuality?


What is Pansexuality?

by Renee Zalles

My daughter says she’s pansexual? What does it mean?!?!?!
— Anonymous

These days, the fluidity of gender has it that terms and definitions are constantly evolving, so I did a little homework to make sure I’ve got everything right on this. One interesting tidbit I found was that the first known use of the word was in 1926 (1). That really wasn’t very long ago – so I think this is a great question to address; I bet a lot of people are wondering the same exact thing.

Over the past few years, you may have noticed an increase in gender fluidity in the media. That’s not to say it wasn’t always there. But, with the emergence and acceptance of trans actors like Laverne Cox, award-winning TV shows like Transparent, and women like Casey Legler modeling as male, gender fluidity is just beginning to enter into the collective conscious and, hence, the public discourse of our nation and the world. 

We have finally begun to wrap our minds around the idea that gender may not necessarily be defined solely by male and female labels, but can instead fall under a variety of identities. To name a few: male, female, transgender, intersex, agendered, genderqueer. As such, it follows that, in addition to the evolution of these individual identities, we need to adapt our language of attraction and love to be more inclusive. Similar to constraining gender stereotypes, the language with which we are accustomed to talking about gender needs revision.

Hence, the term at hand: pansexual. It sounds foreign, complicated, and possibly even scary, but describing one-self as pansexual is really quite simple. In identifying herself as pansexual, your daughter is expressing her attraction to any and all gender identities. 

You might say, “wait, wait, wait, isn’t that what bisexual means?” And that’s a totally fair association, but the difference between bisexual and pansexual is that bi is Greek for two, while pan is Greek for all. Often we think of bisexual people as having attractions--emotionally, physically, and/or romantically--to both males and females, within a gender binary. But in the context of greater gender fluidity, even that term has a variety of meanings held by individuals, so even though you are now armed with a dictionary definition of pansexuality, it is important to ask your daughter what her own identity truly means to her.

In a nutshell, congratulations! Your daughter is a very open and accepting person who I think will live her life full of love, rather than fear.

(1) Webster's Dictionary

Renee Zalles has a BA in English Lit, a MFA in Advertising, and a PhD in being gay.

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