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The Great Debate

Amy Leibowitz bisexuality LGBTQ pansexuality representation

No, I’m not talking about a political debate. I’m talking about the “Bi vs. Pan Wars” that are making a comeback after a lovely period of mild remission.

These arguments never completely went away, but we did have some respite for a while. Maybe people got bored during the pandemic lockdowns and felt the need to shake things up a bit; who knows? Whatever the reason, this ridiculous fight has come back full-force, and it’s affecting the writing community.

I’m not going to entertain any “but what about...” or “bi means two, it’s Latin!” or “words mean things” counterarguments to what I’m going to say here. My answers to all of those will forever be:

  • There is no “what about"
  • Prefixes aren’t a good argument
  • Words often mean multiple things depending on context

Now, a few definitions:

Bisexual—attraction to people of more than one gender, homosexual/heterosexual attraction, attraction to two or more genders, attraction to people of similar and different genders to one’s own

Pansexual—attraction to all genders or regardless of gender

There’s obviously overlap, and some people use both for themselves or use them interchangeably. Most people have a preference, often depending on a number of factors. This could be based on which word they heard first, their spirituality, their political views, whether sexuality or gender are the more important in their lives, their personal experiences, or even which flag they like better.

Neither identity is inherently transphobic or erasing of nonbinary people. Neither one is inherently antagonistic toward the other identity. Individual people can be that way, but the identities themselves are not, and neither are many of the people who claim them.

Pansexual is not a “more enlightened” form of bisexual. Bisexual is not the “correct” word for pansexual. Pansexual is not biphobic. Bisexual is not outdated. Neither term is better or worse than the other. They overlap but are distinct, both are completely valid, and, quite frankly, both are mostly dependent on the preference of the person.

In fact, it isn’t even necessarily bi and pan folks stirring the pot. This largely comes from people outside our community who dislike all non-monosexual people and would rather see us eat our own than have to deal with us (or their attitude toward our community). Sadly, some of us have latched on and spread the nastiness.

My point here is that this is a very silly argument. The terms we use to describe our identities shouldn’t be boxes to put ourselves in. They should be ways we can talk together about what love and sex and attraction mean to us.

So, what does this mean for books? Well, it means that first of all, anyone who isn’t identifying as bi or pan doesn’t get to define the terms. I’ve read so many books written by primarily heterosexual folks that stomp all over bi and pan people because the author simply did not ask us or understand. Do better research if you’re going to write about us, please.

Second, it means that bi and pan folks ourselves need to step back and ask ourselves how we want to be represented. We should remain open-minded and not take someone’s identity as some kind of personal attack on us. No one is being bi or pan “at” you, and a story should never be a weapon to wield against someone in our own community.

Finally, we should spend more time speaking in positive terms about how we identify. I see a lot of folks who try to define their sexuality in opposition to the other term, which is wholly unnecessary. Meanwhile, many of the conversations I’ve had were about how our sexuality meshes with other aspects of our lives. For example, I often say that being bi for me is about balance and harmony, fitting the halves of myself into an integrated whole. I’ve heard others describe being pan as being in concert with the natural world and a fullness of earth-joy. Not that those things couldn’t be swapped for other people, of course. But it’s so much fun to learn why a word resonates with someone. (Hey, I’m a word nerd, and this makes me happy.)

Leave the debate at the door, and come on in so we can be gladly non-monosexual together!

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