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Understanding the spectrum of “in-between” sexual orientations 

I have been attracted to women throughout my life, just as I have been attracted to men, so when I came out of the closet when I was 19, I thought that I was bisexual. However, something about identifying as bisexual didn’t seem to fit how I felt.

It wasn’t until I found definitions for different sexual orientations that I came across the term “pansexuality,” and I not only finally felt like my attraction to other people made sense, but I also felt validated because I had discovered that many other people felt the same.

The term “pansexuality” means: “not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity.” So when someone identifies as pansexual, they are saying that they can be attracted to any person of any gender identity, including those who are women, men, intersex, nonbinary, agender, genderfluid and genderqueer.

Although pansexuality is a relatively recent term within the LGBTQ community (it seems to have begun gaining ground in the mid to late ’90s), that doesn’t mean it’s just a trendy word that millennials are using these days. It’s a fundamental part of who someone is and their capacity to love anyone, free from the limitations of gender.

In fact, the number of people who identify as pansexual seems to be on the rise, especially amongst LGBTQ youth. According to Maegan Brundage, MSW, Youth Health Educator and Program Coordinator at Inside/Out Youth Services: Of the youth intakes done in 2017 for the local nonprofit, 27 percent of youth between 13-22 have self-identified as pansexual.

Kimberly Holcomb, local sociologist and co-editor of Oxford University Press’s Sex, Gender, and Sexuality: The New Basics, says: “Pansexuality or pansexuals tend to rebuke a binary system that the term ‘bisexuality’ implies. In my experience most pansexuals subscribe to a sexual, rational and/or affectional orientation that doesn’t regard the gender or gender expression of a person as of any particular importance.” In short, many who identify as pansexual prioritize the individual more than their body, how they dress, or how they identify.
In conversations regarding pansexuality, bisexuality and polysexuality must also be addressed. Bisexuality means having sexual attraction to both men and women, although this definition can vary from person to person, and doesn’t necessarily mean that someone who identifies as bisexual cannot ever be attracted to nonbinary gender identities as well. In contrast, being polysexual means being attracted to multiple genders, but not all genders, placing it between bisexuality and pansexuality when looking at sexual orientation as a spectrum.

Despite there being a slight difference in definitions, sometimes the terms pansexuality, polysexuality, and bisexuality overlap with one another, which is where labels and identities can get messy. This can create confusion when attempting to find a label that fits. In regard to these gray areas, Holcomb says: “These terms should always remain self-ascribed, particularly given the current climate.”

In the end, none of these terms is more correct than any other, and self-identification is an individual decision.

Since sexual orientation and gender identity exist on a spectrum and can be fluid, it’s important that we refrain from policing others in how they identify, how they express themselves, and whom they choose to love. This requires being informed, having conversations, and being willing to listen to and respect other people’s experiences.

There can be so much power in claiming an identity. Sometimes people will try to invalidate identities as a whole or try to police others for how they have chosen to identify, but these actions are microaggressions that attempt to take away the power that someone has claimed in labeling themselves, if they have chosen to do so.

Those who identify as pansexual not only find themselves defining their sexual orientation, but often find themselves trying to validate it, even to other LGBTQ individuals.

Especially within the LGBTQ community, we need to prioritize inclusivity of all gender expressions, sexual orientations, races, socioeconomic statuses, religions and statuses of disability. Progress will be unattainable if we are too busy focusing on all the ways in which we are different, or if we are too busy criticizing how other people feel about themselves and how they label their orientation.

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