What’s The Difference Between Bisexual & Pansexual?



There has been some pressure between the bisexual and pansexual communities, rooted in misunderstandings about every label. Sexologist Carol Queen, Ph.D., believes among the pressure is generational, at the least partially, and stems from the emergence of the nonbinary neighborhood. She says there’s “an assumption built in that the term bisexual is automatically not appropriate for nonbinary folks.”

Since the prefix bi- means “two,” some folks assume the time period is referencing the gender binary and describes “the two genders,” i.e., women and men. Some folks thus imagine the time period bisexual is subsequently not inclusive sufficient, because it excludes nonbinary folks and probably trans folks by perpetuating a gender binary.

“It’s certainly true that if someone finds that language too binary, they shouldn’t necessarily embrace the term. But it’s a mistake to step past that and say that all bisexuals are only into binary gender notions,” Queen explains. “That’s just not the case for many—maybe even most—bisexuals, who may be attracted to some subset of women, men, and everybody else.”

She notes there’s even a more moderen, extra inclusive time period that some bisexual people use: bi+, which seeks to remind those who there are greater than two genders to like and need and that bisexual individuals are not perpetuating a gender binary.

“The worst part of all this is that the discussion provokes biphobia,” Queen provides. “Denying that it’s OK for one to ID as bi and should ID as pan equals bisexual invisibility, full stop. Even if it isn’t intended to diss bisexuals, it can hurt to hear this—just reinforcing the idea that bisexuals don’t have a lot of support even from other LGBTQ+ people, which historically has often been the case.”

On the opposite aspect of the coin, the push to name out any biphobia within the definition of pansexuality has led to some criticism of the pansexual neighborhood normally, with some folks arguing that pansexuality itself is biphobic as a result of the label was created on the biphobic assumption that bisexual individuals are exclusionary and binary-oriented.

Queen notes that the confusion between the 2 identities has contributed to extra folks switching to the extra normal time period “queer.” “This group may encompass all the folks who ID as bi or pan, TBH, because what attracts many to that term is how big-umbrella and overarching it is.”


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