In recent years the term pansexual has been more visible and recognized as part of the sexual orientation spectrum. The widely accepted definition is attraction to any person regardless of their sex or gender identity. Some people define it for themselves as “hearts not parts", some separate it from their romantic orientation and declare that it simply means that they may be sexually attracted to anyone of any sex or gender but not necessarily interested in a romantic relationship with that person.
Historically attraction to one's own sex/gender has always existed. People other than male or female have always existed. Wider societal ideas of sex and gender have finally begun to shift away from the binary. In some cultures the idea of a person that embodies both masculine and feminine traits has always existed. Indigenous people referred to these individuals as Two Spirit. As human understanding of human psychology and brain physiology has expanded it has become apparent that people may also identify as both a man and a woman or as neither. Biological sex also blends male and female in the form of intersex people. In the case of pansexuality as a sexual orientation this means that that those who identify outside of the binary may find meaningful romantic/sexual relationships with people they are similarly attracted to regardless of where their own orientation falls on the spectrum.
I personally used to identify as bisexual myself until I became aware that there are more than men and women on the planet and that I found a lot of people who could be classified as neither attractive. Their biological sex and their gender was irrelevant to me. Attractive is attractive. I do separate my sexual orientation and romantic orientation because for me they do not match, hence my personal rejection of the “hearts not parts" description of pansexuality. As someone who dislikes the idea of labels and the preconceptions that all too often accompany them I most often tell people that I am a human being who is sexually attracted to other human beings. They can take from that what they will.
Debate often rages about the distinction between bisexual and pansexual. Ideally each person who identifies as either defines what the term means to them personally in regards to their sexual orientation. Some people choose not to define or label themselves and self identify as queer. There is further debate about whether this term can or should be deemed acceptable as it has been used in a derogatory manner in the past. Some members of the LGBTQ+ community have declared it as reclaiming and removing the power to use it as hurtful. Then there is further debate as to the exact meaning. When a slur it was generally aimed at homosexual men. The dictionary lists it as an adjective or verb to refer to anything unusual or outside the norm. Hence as a sexual orientation many use it for describing themselves as other than heterosexual. This can be helpful to non-binary individuals who would not identify as heterosexual or homosexual.
Overall the defined term of pansexual is relatively new to the English lexicon but the idea of being attracted to more than two genders has always existed. Even before more than two genders were officially recognized. Regardless anyone who identifies as other than heterosexual is part of the LGBTQ+ community and all sexual orientations are valid. One may go on a journey of identifying as one, then another or ever fluctuating.
Written by Jennifer Kehler
Jennifer Kehler is a 37 year old Aboriginal cis woman who lives in Canada and has had various stops along the way on her own orientation journey. She loves cats, sharks and advocating for the LGBTQ+ community. Her work in early childhood education often leads to having to teach children how to deconstruct gender stereotypes (any colour/toy can be for any gender, etc) in hopes of helping to change the world
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