“You know who didn’t get mentioned in that sermon?”
I met the eyes of the person beside me.
I was on a road trip. This was when I was just beginning to think seriously about how questions of sexuality fit into Christian theology and practice (that is to say, embarrassingly recently). Our car had just been listening to a college ministry podcast that summarized the basic “traditional” and “progressive” interpretations of those inescapable six passages. The speaker talked with a love and humility that I appreciated at the time and appreciate now. But he did leave out bisexual people.
This category of identity is a little different from the other two, of course. Dare I say—it’s not a choice. However, the words I apply to myself and the act of speaking at all are choices, and so that’s what I’m talking about here—not why I am pansexual, but why I say I am.
The problem I noticed on that road trip is one reason I am speaking now. All too often, bisexuality is erased from Christian conversations about sexuality. Even in Ken Wilson’s wonderful Letter to My Congregation, the sole nod toward the existence of bisexual people is a single use of the acronym “LGBT.”
There are a couple of reasons for this erasure. From some older standpoints on the “traditional” side, you often get the unstated assumption that everyone is bisexual—otherwise, how could sexual orientation be a choice? So those who identify as bisexual are just confused.
On the “progressive” side, bisexuality tends to be shunted to the side for the sake of the larger argument. That argument sometimes focuses on how, if gay and lesbian people have fixed and exclusive monosexual attractions, this ought to indicate the permissibility of their forming relationships with members of the same sex, rather than being alone for life. (Sometimes the word “accommodation” is used.) This is, of course, a true and powerful argument, but when it is presented as the only argument for LGBT inclusion, it implicitly turns bisexual people into anomalies whose existence seems to militate against the argument for their own inclusion.
Bisexual people aren’t the only queer group to be frequently overlooked, of course. Transgender people are, too, and there’s certainly call for last week’s Asexual Awareness Week.
More bisexual voices are needed, both in the church and in the conversation on sexuality taking place within the church. I want to be one such voice, one among many.
That’s one reason I came out.
A second reason that I say I am pansexual is also related to the larger conversation on faith and sexuality. The more I learned about the many problems with how LGBTQIA+ people have been treated in the church—and in our larger culture—the more horrified I became, and the more convinced that these were problems I should speak against.
I realized, though, that to take part in that conversation, I would have to be honest. How could I talk about other people’s sexuality and not talk about my own? How could I fully support LGBTQIA+ people if I wasn’t willing to admit that I was one?
That’s another reason I came out.
And finally, of course: Why do I say that I am pansexual? Because it’s the truth.
I was lucky, growing up. My ignorance protected me. That unspoken assumption that everyone is bisexual allowed me never to consider that there could be anything different, wrong, or broken about me, and so I was saved the inner torture that so many (less ignorant, more self-aware) have faced. I never had to consider that there might be something wrong with me until I had already reached the point where I knew that in fact, no—there is nothing wrong with me. I’m pansexual, and that’s not wrong, broken, or even extremely different.
In listening to other people’s accounts of themselves—especially gay and lesbian people who had wished and tried and failed to change their orientations—I slowly, reluctantly, began to believe that monosexuality exists. And I knew that if there are monosexual people, I’m not one of them. And so it wasn’t until relatively recently—very late in the day, I know—that I realized that I had anything to come out about at all. Once I did know, though, I also knew that staying quiet—making my sexuality a permanent secret and a fear—was not a healthy option for me. And I knew that I didn’t have to stay quiet.
And that’s why I came out.
Note: Though I came out because I want to help in promoting LGBTQIA+ causes and because I want to be publicly honest about myself, I want to reiterate that no one should ever feel pressured to make the same choice. If you are considering coming out, only do so if it is what you want to do, not because you feel forced into it by others telling you that you owe it to “the cause” or “the truth.” You don’t owe such a personal decision to anyone but yourself.
Also, one other point—you may have noticed that I’ve used “pansexual” and “bisexual” interchangeably here. There are (sometimes heated) debates over which is the preferable term. To me, though, they mean basically the same thing—non-monosexual. “Pansexual” is a term that is more deliberate in acknowledging the existence of intersex, genderqueer, or otherwise gender-nonconforming people. (Of course, this doesn’t mean that “bisexual” people exclude intersex or genderqueer people—not at all—it’s only a linguistic gesture, not a difference in nature or practice.) “Bisexual” is a term that is more widely known and easily recognized. I will sometimes use “pansexual” in speaking about myself individually and “bisexual” to reference non-monosexual people as a group. But I’m fine with “bisexual” for myself as an individual, too, and I’ll use it sometimes when I want to be more quickly understood.