Saturday, May 30, 2009

What Does It Mean To Be Pansexual?

Lately I've been struggling with that exact question. What does it mean to be pansexual? Ignoring the omnipresent stupid joke thrown in there ("Someone who likes to do it with pots and pans?"), the answers are usually very similar- something about liking many genders, more than the male/female duo covered by bisexuality. And I agree with that definition.

And yet, almost every time I read someone's description of pansexuality, I cringe, as my eyes end up alighting on the all-too-common phrase "gender-blind".

I'll come right out and say it- I take issue with the idea of pansexuality as a state of being gender-blind. If anything, as a pansexual, I feel that I am the complete opposite of blind when it comes to my consideration of the sexual attractiveness of an individual. Gender matters to me- I am completely and utterly passionate about it, and it's one of many things that I respond to in another person. I simply cannot say that I am apathetic about gender, that I don't care if my lover is male or female or trans or two-spirited or third-gender or genderqueer. Of course I care, and it gets me hot to know that he/she/ze is any of those things. I get hot over their bodies. I get hot about their gender identities and gender expression. And that is why I simply find it hard to align myself with the label of "pansexual" when people keep on tossing terms like "gender-blind" around. I always feel like I need to add these caveats in order to differentiate myself and to explain.

But it's more than just this personal dissonance. I feel slightly betrayed by what "gender-blind" really means, in a political sense. I dislike this concept of pansexuality because it completely erases the desirability of trans/intersex bodies- especially as a "normal" desirability that is not part of, say, the strong T-girl fetish of a trannychaser. This "gender-blind" definition removes the possibility that someone could simply find trans bodies to be sexy BECAUSE they are trans, and instead makes it out to be an exception to the rule, laden with words like "in spite of". Why, one definition reads thus: "The ones who fall in love with people, regardless of gender, even transsexuals.". Even transsexuals. The disgust/contempt for transpeople drips off of that statement (even though I believe its writer to actually have good intentions). It's such a pervasive attitude, that nobody in their right mind could ever see a trans body as hot. It's a cissexist (is that a real term? If not, I'm totally coining it!) stance that firmly puts transpeople "in their place" by othering them.

And all that in a sexual orientation that is supposed to remedy the marginalization of those outside the gender binary!

But of course it is easy to want to applaud for pansexuality. It plays to the old and well-worn script of the accepting lover, the one we all want for ourselves. On the revelation of his/her/hir trans status, the accepting lover decides he/she/ze can "handle it". The phrases "I still love you for you.", "I love you in spite of . . ." and "I love you regardless." are thrown about and everybody feels good and happy and warm. We like it because pansexuality is the ultimate comfort- that someone could love you in spite of your flaws, whether that flaw is the penis you were born with but want to get rid of, or the rolls of fat on your body, or the skin you always worry is too dark to be sexy. It feels good to have that reassurance, the consolation of unconditional love.

The only problem with this is that it completely buys into the status quo. It subverts nothing, and in fact reinforces these ideas that you can only be truly sexy if you are cisgender, thin, white, etc.. What it says is "You aren't sexy, but I love you anyways." And maybe it's just me, but I know that I'd be more than a little upset if someone told me they loved me "in spite of" something about me that wasn't negative. I'm waiting for a new script- the one where the robe drops and the response is "You are so fucking sexy."- not "I think I can learn to love you."

The idea that pansexuality is somehow better than other orientations is very telling in this regard. It reminds me of Stephen Colbert's eponymous character's bragging claim that he doesn't see race. I can even hear the conversation in my head now: "Oooh, pansexual. How wonderful for you- how amazing that you are able to be so egalitarian, so open-minded, to not even see gender!". (Or, as I read on a Deviant Art blog: "I so badly WANT to be a pansexual. It's all I believe in, all anybody espouses who's enlightened!"). But in order to be enlightened, you have to have overcome all those old preconceived ways of thinking. It sounds like a compliment. It even sounds like it's trans-friendly, but it's not. It describes a world where trans bodies can never be desirable naturally, but have to be the result of some sort of monumental mental gymnastics. Not to mention that it is highly offensive to accepted understandings of sexuality. Enlightenment implies choice, as if you simply work at it long and hard enough, you can get an erection for a transguy. For most of us, who feel our sexuality was not something chosen, the belief that pansexuality is superior is horrible- setting anybody not pansexual up for failure because they cannot "get over" their transphobia and start liking gender-variant bodies. In every way possible, the idea of pansexuality as gender-blind and enlightened purports to be trans-friendly while in reality being quite transphobic and upholding the status quo.

And don't get me wrong- I'm not trying to say that pansexuality is the sort of political identity people take on only in order to subvert the status quo. I'm wary of anybody who says that any sexual orientation has some ulterior goal/motivation other than sex and love, in fact. I am most certain that there are pansexuals out there who do feel that the gender-blind definition of pansexuality fits them perfectly. Certainly there are even bisexuals who feel that way (dealing solely with the two mainstream genders, of course). I'm not saying that the definition isn't true, but merely that it's limiting, and that its implications subtly influence our understanding of trans people and, as I'll explain below- of sex.

I'm tired of being told that pansexuals fall in love with personalities and with people, rather than fall in lust with bodies and genders. In no other definition of sexuality does the word "love" pop up so frequently. Homosexuality, heterosexuality, bisexuality, even asexuality, all rely on words like "attraction" when we define them, which implies a range of feelings (aesthetics, romance, etc.) but most importantly, sex. Pansexuality, however, has been whitewashed of its sex, often in a sex-negative way.

I can hear it yet again- that admiring voice saying "Oooh, pansexual- gender-blind, so that you fall in love with personalities and not bodies! How wonderfully enlightened! How incredible! To not be so focused on such a base thing like sex, but to truly love people for who they are!"

Except that I am sexual. Oooh boy, am I sexual. When I am lying in bed with one hand stuffed into my panties and a fantasy playing on the back of my eyelids, I am not watching a romance where I fall in love with a character "regardless of gender" and we finally consummate our love. No, my fantasies feature bodies, beautiful bodies doing dirty, sexual things. I often see individuals and I want to fuck them, simple as that. No needing to know them. But pansexuality does not offer me that option. Apparently casual sex for the pansexual is out of the question, because we fall in love with people, not anonymous bodies in heat like straight and gay and bisexual people sometimes do.

Why the hypocrisy? Why is it widely understood that gay people and straight people feel lust based on a whole complex combination of aspects, with sexual attraction as the primary one, but pansexuals aren't allowed the same? Does it all come creeping back to the aforementioned problem with trans bodies, that of course it cannot be primarily or evenly wholly sexual, because nobody would ever be able to feel attraction for a transperson without being perfect in every other way, to make up for their "deficiency"? And what's with the glowing discussions of pansexuality as enlightened for seeing personality before sex? I don't know . . . it scares me, as an intensely sexual being, to be told that I am less moral because I get the desire to fuck somebody based on the physical- regardless of whether I follow through with that or not. It makes me worry that we are only thinly veiling our real deep-seated issues with sex, our view that it is something dirty and perverse and wrong, only validated by love and "nobler intentions" than getting your rocks off.

I have brought this topic up in conversation before and have been shot down and dismissed as nitpicking, but I just don't think that's true. Every time somebody says that pansexuality is about loving people regardless of their gender, it whittles away at the concept that gender-variant/trans/intersex bodies can be sexually desirable. Every time pansexuality is declared to be about love first and sex later, it implies that we have made a choice to put sex aside in order to be more enlightened. Every time that pansexuality is lauded over other orientations, it sends out a sex-negative message that sexual desire is base, lewd, something dirty to be sneered at and looked down upon compared to "pure" romantic love.

And I'm not sure I want to be a part of these implicit messages. So what am I left with? How can I construe how I feel without having to direct everybody to my blog? I picked up "pansexual" as a label for myself years back when I first heard it and breathed a sigh of relief, that I could condense a paragraph of sexual attractions into one neat little word. But that has no longer become the case, and I wonder if I should be making myself a new label, or perhaps fighting for an expanded, more nuanced understanding of pansexuality. All I can say is that I'm utterly confused on where I stand, and tired of correcting people, tired of hearing the words "gender-blind" and "personality". My sexuality has never been easy, but lately it's gotten to the point where I can no longer stand by the "P" word. What's a girl who wants to fuck all genders to do?


Nicole said...

I feel exactly the same way :)

Haley said...

THANKYOU!!! THANKYOU!!! oh my god, you do not know how long i've been waiting to here that from someone! i feel EXACTLY THE SAME WAY!

i have a friend who is gay and she was explaining pansexuality to her friend chris. this is what she said,
"it's liking people regardless of gender, she can fall in love with anyone, she doesn't go around prowling for girls like i do"

and i thought to myself, "YES I DO, i do it all the time, to girls guys and both/trans

i too am tired of hearing genderblind and personality because I AM sexually attracted to all bodies, i'm not genderblind and i don't think i ever can be. seriously, what's wrong with liking trans bodies? bodies not considered "normal"?

i like the idea of falling in love with anyone but it makes me feel like an asexual(no harm to them) as if i don't really have any sexual attraction for anyone, but the problem is, i do, I HAVE A LOT OF IT, A LOT. lol

once again thankyou, you couldn't have said it better, you are brilliant writer by the way:)

Anonymous said...

Very true, I feel the same way. When a person says they're pansexual, what they mean to say is "I love the person with the skin, but also I find them sexually attractive and I want to fuck them so bad, also it intensifys my love for them" so none of this bullshit "I don't care about sex" OFCOURSE YOU DO! THAT'S WHY YOU FIND THEM 'SEXUALLY' ATTRACTIVE! Hats off to you pal.

Shayna said...

I want to thank you for writing this. I agree with nearly the entire thing in a nutshell, labels of sexuality are for preferences and means of SEXUALITY, not love.

That said, I find trans people to be quite attractive. Nuff said there, I suppose.

Chris said...

When I read this I thought "WOW, this is EXACTLY how I feel about gender"

I've known I was pan-sexual since I was 30 and have had to struggle with so-called 'friends' labelling me as 'gender blind'! I'm not, to me gender and gender expression is an integral part of any attraction I may feel towards a person.

Thank you for writing this blog, though there are some points I don't agree with. But if we all agreed with each other's POV, the worl would be boring :)

xoxoskeleton said...

Amazingly well said! Sexuality is so much more nuanced than any label. Even when we do choose a label, there are specifics to how we carry our labels that I wish people would consider. I've taken up "fluid" and have no idea if there are any politics around it yet.

Your post reminds me of people who've been saying certain sexualities are problematic and inherently cissexist--pansexuality or queer being the non-asshole options. I read an article that countered suggesting instead to remember that sexuality is complex and when you do become attracted to someone and then find out about their gender identity, are you still interested? Or does their identification turn you off?, in which case then that's def transphobic. And if you're still interested is it an exception or is it time to reexamine one's sexuality? Is there anything wrong with having or being an exception?

I really like your point that putting personalities first is not a pansexual thing. Plenty people can hold personality to be more important factor to attraction, but the purely sexual is also a reality to all orientations.

Hatespike said...

This is exactly why I've been using the term OMNISEXUAL. With the accompanying phrase of "Because pansexual lacks motivation."

Emma said...

For me, sometimes my attraction to someone is because of their personality. Sometimes, it's their body. Sometimes it's both. But in all honesty, I actually lack the capacity to see people as ugly. All bodies are beautiful-- but I don't have to be attracted to everyone because they're beautiful. I can be attracted by their mind too.

Flimmerdimdim said...

I just want to say that a lot of bisexuals are attracted to multiple genders. Just because there is a "bi" in bisexual does not mean we are only attracted to men and women!

Rohini said...

Thank you so much for this post. I have forever been feeling alienated due to definitions of pansexuality erasing the sexual aspect of it. I have been in constant confusion as to what exactly I identify as because of this very fact but seeing that there are other people put there that feels the same way really helps a lot. And, trust me as a seventeen year old struggling with sexuality in a society very firmly rooted in its cis+het ways, it really helps to have blogs such as yours to reassure myself that there is in fact nothing wrong with me.

Once again, thank you.

Anonymous said...

You made me think about a point in the "I love you in spite of [flaw]."
I am unsure. I mean "gender-blind" I liked because it sort of fit. I can be attracted to anyone, and can't really find a common connection as to "why" beyond their personality and interests. I guess you could say, they "looked" fun.

And...I have a hard time explaining.

There are asexual panromantics - that would fit better the definition better for "love anyone without lust" concept...I think. I do not consider myself this because I am sexually attracted to people.

Anonymous said...

I found this very interesting reading. I have identified as bisexual all my life when asked my orientation, and never really understood (or cared, I hate labels) what pansexual meant.
I've always been attracted to Trans m2f people and am currently in a relationship with one. But since I'm not attracted to f2m Trans people, what does that make me?
Amber. I'm a chick who likes to fuck people I find sexy. And fall in love with people I find intoxicating.
Amber 4 Alyssa xxx

Anonymous said...

I absolutely loved reading this, but I only had one problem with it. Just as each person has their own perception of everything, I believe that each person experiences pansexuality differently. I am EXTREMELY passionate about how I describe my sexuality when people ask me. I give them my best description of pansexuality, and then I explain that along with that I am also gender-blind. I do not attach the two terms together. To me, being gender blind means that when it comes to selection a spouse, their biological gender means nothing to me, being as though that regardless if they have a penis, vagina or both, it wouldnt matter to me because I would enjoy it regardless. I also agree that the term is too often thrown around by individuals who do not even posses a complete understanding of the word, however that is not to say that you cannot be pansexual and gender-blind. I believe that a straight person can also be gender blind, and simply have a specific physical preference to specifically masculine or feminine features. Being said, while I loved this post, I disagree and believe that it is possible to be pansexual and gender-blind. It just depends on if the person is using the term in an educated manner, or if it simply being thrown around because they believe it is paired with pansexuality.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I understand I've been very confused about my sexuality how can I know what I'm called and why do I need any label or name. I'm very mixed up how do I understand? I'm here because I never heard of pans before I have a friend on tumblr that says she is is this me is this why we made a conception ? Would somebody please fucking help me

CartelSaide said...

Well I think your answer is in your own post, though this may be false speculation, I still feel the need to point it out for whatever it does for you and your journey on self-discovery c:

Pansexual and Gender-Blind mean two completely different things, things that don't resonate with you but may or may not resonate with others. So mayhaps you are a Pansexual person of whom is simply not gender-blind, and that those words do not describe you, and when someone else uses them to describe you you simply say "no" just the same as you would if someone said "Oh so you're just bi?"

On another note and in reply to my own thoughts on your post... I respect and admire your way of wording this, and have found it rather interesting and thought-provoking, but I still find that the words "gender blind" describe my pansexuality in the sense of, yes, I do look at bodies, and also gender IS important to me (I'm a transman; saying it's not would be a lie XD), but it is not important to my sexual desire - that my sexual desires are blind to gender in the sense that they do not have a preference about the particular way that is expressed, just that it is expressed. My sexual wants do not come with gender requirements, if you will, not to imply that sexual desires that do are lesser in any way. I can be aroused and sexually pleasured (in an enjoyable manner, not just by basis of biological function) by [the thought of] any person of any identity on equal standing. In slightly more crude terms, I find that gender does not decide whom I find the most interest in fucking, that everyone has an equal chance at me finding them sexually attractive.

I will agree with you, however, that the term is not synonymous with pansexual, and I do not agree with someone using them in that way. Gender-blind means that one is blind to gender in some way, shape, or form (ex. my sexual desires are gender blind), and pansexual means to be sexually attracted to all genders and gender identities, or lack thereof (this is a very broad and generalized terminology though; my definition is certainly incomplete). The two terms may or may not coincide, but they certainly aren't synonyms, considering the wide variety of variants to pansexuality that there are, and what sort of sexual preferences people may have.

Mere said...

Exactly. Bi was defined to mean 'attracted to two genders', but it evolved to 'being attracted to two OR MORE genders' a while ago. So now the confusion between bi and pan is even bigger lmao. Im still lookibg for a site to clear it up.