Why I Say I Am Pansexual

“You know who didn’t get mentioned in that sermon?”

I met the eyes of the person beside me.

“Bisexual people.”

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.

In the last two Sunday posts, I talked about why I say I am a Christian and why I say I am a feminist. Today, I’d promised to explain why I say I am pansexual.

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.

[Photo credit: rhoftonphoto via photopin cc (cropped and resized)]

8 comments:

  1. Marie, I always appreciate your thoughtful, careful writing and the depth and dexterity with which you can handle such big–and often scary–ideas in such a short space. Thank you for your honesty to who you know yourself to be, and for sharing yourself with us.

  2. Thank you for that insightful post. My experience was the opposite. It took me awhile to accept that bisexuality is a real way of experiencing attraction. I’d bought into a myth that everyone is monosexual and has complete control over who they feel attraction to. I thought I had to experience attraction to either one gender or the other. It was very freeing to learn the truth about how I’m wired. Keep up the great writing. I look forward to checking back here soon!

    1. There are so many different experiences (and so many damaging myths)! That’s one thing that I am coming to see more and more–there’s not just one universal experience (of sexual attraction, of gender identity, of orientation, of coming out, etc.)–and hearing about different experiences is important in creating a truer picture of that vast range of experiences and identities than the limited picture the myths have given us. Thanks for sharing, and for reading!

  3. Clear and cogent. Thank you. I salute your courage in voicing this aspect of your Self, for standing up and coming out. And thank you for the caveat for others considering coming out to do it for themselves, for their own reasons, not for allegiance to something solely outside themselves.

    1. Thanks, Bryn. I think that’s important to remember–it’s a personal decision, not one that should be forced by others. And not one that should be stolen, by outing someone against their will.

  4. I’m sorry you’ve been through so much turmoil and judgement from others and struggled with your sexuality for so long. Since you are both a pan-sexual and a professing Christian, I’m curious to know how you deal with Romans 1 – especially verses 18-32. How do you reconcile your feelings on sexuality to that passage? Gay, lesbian, transexual, bisexual, etc…at some point, if you seek to follow the way of Christ and work to emulate his heart, you have to deal with that passage. At some point you have to reconcile your feelings of identity with the very real truth there are boundaries between what is the character of Christ and what is sin (even as this passage states, sin brought on by the depravity of our human nature – sin God “gave them into”). In light of this passage, it’s clear to me that seeking the character of God and living under the curse of this depravity cannot coexist. Like oil and water, they are incapable of mingling without one depreciating the integrity of the other.

    1. Fred, thanks for reading (and sorry that your post was stuck in a spam box). I am sure that I will at some point get to posts on this blog on particular Bible passages that have often been read in connection with sexual orientation. If you are curious about LGBT-affirming Biblical interpretations, I recommend James Brownson’s Bible, Gender, Sexuality. His book focuses particularly on Romans 1.

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