Why, in this day and age, is the term "bisexual" still a bad word with negative connotations? Why do those who may have identified as bisexual in the past feel the need to find other terms for their sexuality today? It honestly may come down to ignorance, misinformation, and a general, overarching need for more education on the subject and the sexuality.
Just last week Texas State Representative Mary Gonzalez came out as pansexual, explaining that the term "bisexual" did not adequately describe her attraction to people all along the gender spectrum. This is likely because there remains a widespread assumption that "bisexual" relates to a gender "binary" -- in other words, the idea that gender is just male and female, men and women, one or the other of only two options. However, this is not the case.
Let me pause here to say that until fairly recently, I, too, was under the impression that if I identified as bisexual, I was negating the fact that I've dated individuals who identify as genderqueer and transgender, and the fact that I am attracted to individuals who do not fit into the "male" and "female" boxes where gender identity is concerned. For years, I identified as "bisexual" as well as "pansexual" in an effort to properly explain to others my sexual identity and desires.
It wasn't until a friend explained the following that I solidified my own bisexual identity: The most accurate definition of "bisexual" and "bisexuality" is "attraction to individuals who are the same as me and different from me," which is the way most bisexual people think of themselves. Think about "homo" meaning "same" and "hetero" meaning "different." In fact, in the Bisexual Manifesto, written in 1990 by members of the bisexual community, the following was stipulated: "Do not assume that bisexuality is binary or duogamous in nature: that we have "two" sides or that we must be involved simultaneously with both genders to be fulfilled human beings. In fact, don't assume that there are only two genders."
In many ways, the term "pansexuality" grew out of that very assumption and a need to make sure that greater society outside the LGBTQI+ community did not make such an assumption. A post on Radical bi puts it best:
The definition of pansexuality is often dependent on the definition of bisexuality (and, dare I say, the rejection thereof): If bisexuality is defined as desire towards people of more than one gender, pansexuality can be defined as desire towards people of more than two genders; if bisexuality is defined as desire towards people of many genders, pansexuality can be defined as desire towards people of all genders; if bisexuality is defined as desire towards people of genders similar + different than our own, pansexuality can be defined as desire regardless of gender. But: both bisexuality and pansexuality can -- and have -- been defined as any of these things.
In some ways, the term "pansexual" came out of biphobia and a need to stipulate that one was not transphobic. If you take the binary view of "bisexual," then a sexuality specific to an attraction to men and women could be seen as being noninclusive of transgender men and women. On the other hand, transgender men and women want to (and should) be seen as simply men and women, meaning that they would/should be included in that very binary; not including them tends to be much more phobic and noninclusive.
Then there is the thought that the binary view of bisexuality can be seen as phobic of anyone who identifies as genderqueer, or somewhere along the gender and sexuality spectrum, not identifying as male or female, man or woman. But, as I mentioned before, the true definition of "bisexual" is being attracted to those who are the same as me and those who are different from me, encompassing all genders and identities. The often-repeated argument that "bi means two" ignores a simple fact: "Same" and "different" are, indeed, two groups.
There certainly are people who identify as bisexual who are only attracted to the two zones on the gender spectrum that fit into neat little boxes. The reality of their attractions, and the validity of their self-assigned label, does not mean that all -- or even most -- bisexuals reject genders outside the man/woman or male/female binary any more than the existence of polyamorous bisexuals makes multiple partners part of the definition of bisexuality.
There remains an intolerance of bisexuals in the larger LGBT community, mostly from the lesbians and gay men. While individuals like Gonzalez may prefer to use the term "pansexual" and identify best with that term, there may be others who are choosing not to use "bisexual" in order to distance themselves from that prejudice; utilizing "pansexual" instead of "bisexual," in many instances, only serves to reinforce prejudce and perpetuate the invisibility so many of us deal with on a daily basis. Using other labels to escape biphobia and monosexism only further divides the LGBT community when we should be trying to unite against greater discrimination overall.
Don't get me wrong, I think everyone should be able to identify with whatever term or label suits them best and makes them the most comfortable. It is important, however, to make sure that those within and without the community have a proper knowledge of all identities within the spectrum of both sexuality and gender to counteract further discrimination and to encourage understanding and acceptance.
Activist and author Julia Serano had her finger on the pulse of this very issue when she wrote:
If the word does not resonate with you personally, then simply do not use it. But if you happen to forgo identifying with the word, don't dare say that it is because you believe that bisexual "reinforces the notion that there are only two genders," as that claim goes beyond personal statement, and enters the realm of accusation, as it insinuates that people who openly call themselves bisexual (e.g. me) are at best, naive about gender politics, and at worse, oppressing trans people.
Thanks to bisexual activist Patrick RichardsFink for his contributions to this post.