When it comes to sexual orientation, there are myriad ways people can identify, whether that’s homosexual, bisexual, a sexual, demisexual – the list goes on.
For some people, the prospect of gender when forming a relationship or sexual attraction never comes into the equation. As a result, they may refer to themselves as being ‘pansexual’.
But what does the term ‘pansexual’ mean and how is it different to bisexuality?
What is pansexuality?
Queer advocacy organisation GLAAD broadly defines being pansexual as ‘being attracted to all gender identities, or attracted to people regardless of gender.
‘Being pansexual basically means to me that you are attracted to anyone, no matter their sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, everything,’ a description on the organisation’s website reads. ‘There’s no limits. I’ll date anyone. It’s more that I love someone for their soul.’
Jazz Jennings, trans advocate and star of American reality show I Am Jazz, previously told Cosmopolitan of how she describes living as a pansexual as: ‘Physically, I think I’m more attracted to boys but sometimes I’m attracted to girls too, so it’s weird.’
Is pansexuality a ‘new trend’?
The easy answer to this is ‘hell no’.
Though the term has come to the surface of popular culture in recent years, pansexuality has actually been around since the early 20th century. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘pansexual’ first appeared in 1914 as the word ‘pan-sexualism’ in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
A doctor named J. Victor Haberman unpacked psychologist Sigmund Freud’s theory which was that ‘the pan-sexualism of mental life which makes every trend revert finally to the sexual’.
In essence, Freud believed that sex is a motivator of all things, as opposed to the modern meaning of one’s sexual orientation.
Unfortunately, pansexuality was not previously widely understood, with reports of people in 1920s and 1930s who loved across ‘labels and boundaries’ in Harlem and Chicago’s South Side considered as if they suffered from a mental disorder. It wasn’t until pioneering American sex researcher Alfred Kinsey (inventor of the Kinsey scale) explained that sexuality operated on a continuum, that labels began to be introduced to describe sexual orientation.
The 1970s saw the first signs of ‘pansexual’ being used in roughly the same way as it is today.
Which celebrities identify as being pansexual?
Miley Cyrus first came out as pansexual in her cover interview with ELLE UK in 2015 duirng which she said: ‘I’m very open about it – I’m pansexual.’
Later that year, the singer explained her description of her sexual orientation in an interview with Paper magazine, adding: ‘I am literally open to every single thing that is consenting and doesn’t involve an animal and everyone is of age.
‘I don’t relate to being boy or girl, and I don’t have to have my partner relate to boy or girl.’
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, ‘pansexual’ became one of the most widely searched terms in 2018 after ‘PYNK’ singer Janelle Monáe told Rolling Stone magazine that she ‘read about pansexuality and was like, “Oh, these are things that I identify with too”.’
Most recently, actress Bella Thorne and model Tess Holliday have come out as pansexual in July 2019 – to ABC news and in an interview with NYLON magazine, respectively.
How do people identify as a pansexual?
For someone who is pansexual, gender doesn’t factor into the process of attraction. However, that’s also not to say that they solely fancy others based on their personality. If they did, then the individual might identify as being demisexual.
Lana Peswani, a volunteer at Stonewall who identifies as pansexual, told Cosmopolitan earlier this year: ‘I never look at someone and think, “I wonder what it’d be like to f*ck them? I wonder what their genitals look like. That thought doesn’t enter my head.’
During a 2013 interview with Fusion TV, agender rapper Angel Haze said: ‘To identify as pansexual, to me, means to just want love. To have a connection with anyone you can find it with.’
However, pansexuality is not to be confused with bisexuality.
What’s the difference between bisexuality and pansexuality?
While bisexuality and pansexuality have a lot of similarities, GLAAD defines bisexual as ‘being attracted to more than one gender’, whereas pansexuality as ‘all gender identities’.
Equally, that’s not to say that people who are bisexual aren’t attracted to anyone who is transgender or non-binary.
Such confusion was seen during the backlash following a recent Big Mouth episode on Netflix.
During the episode, the character Ali (voiced by Ali Wong) introduces herself to her classmates saying that she is pansexual, which she defines as attraction that’s not limited by gender identity.
Another character, named Nick Birch (voiced by co-creator Nick Kroll), subsequently asks if being pansexual is the same as being bisexual, the latter of which Ali rejects as ‘so binary’.
Fans of the show took umbrage with Wong’s character implying that bisexuals are not attracted to people unless they are cisgender, and that only ‘pan’ people are attracted to those who are trans.
Andrew Goldberg, Big Mouth co-creator, later addressed the backlash stating: ‘We missed the mark here with this definition of bisexuality vs. pansexuality, and my fellow creators and I sincerely apologise for making people feel misrepresented.’
Do pansexuals have their own Pride flag?
Yes, they do.
While the iconic rainbow flag that has represented Pride in the LGBTQ community for more than 40 years, since it’s creation in 1978 there has been a few alterations to include references to other underrepresented communities.
According to pride.com, the pansexual pride flag was created online in 2010 as a way for pansexual people to distinguish themselves from bisexual people. Similar to the bisexual flag (pink, purple and dark blue), the pink and blue stripes represent attraction to men and women, but the pansexual flag’s yellow stripe shows attraction to non-binary and gender-nonconforming people.
Is there a pansexual emoji?
On June 2019’s World Emoji Day, Apple and Google showed off some of the 230 new emojis coming this autumn and while there will be great strides in diversity for wheelchair users, those with hearing aids and prosthetic limbs, there is still a distinct lack of LGBTQ flags.
There are currently 268 country flag emojis, according to Emojipedia’s blog, along with a few ‘fun ones’ like a pirate flag, yet there is only one pride flag available: the rainbow flag.
The lack feels a tad absurd when you consider the other, arguably unnecessary, emojis that exist (think the banjo, pirate flag and a stick of butter with a little bit sliced off…) While you can download the trans flag on WhatsApp and Twitter desktop (there is a special code), Unicode. which creates emojis for iPhones, does not have one.