An updated version of this entry is found here. However, this version addresses some things that I don't discuss in the other post.
This is another post summarizing my conclusions from following discussions on FetLife.com. For this post, I am drawing from a discussion titled "Bisexual, Queer, identities. Is it fair to posit a group as bisexual if you want to include all people who are not "hetero" or "homo"?" from the group "Rethinking Trans" and a discussion titled "Umbrella Term for Non-Monosexual Identities" that I started in response to the former discussion in the group "Kinky gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered". I'm breaking this post into several parts, because I have a lot to say on the topic.
Bisexuality and the Erasure of Non-Binary Gender Identities
Many advocate for the use of "bisexual" as an umbrella term for non-monosexual identities, thus describing anyone attracted to more than one gender. However, this is problematic in that it erases non-binary individuals. Some have argued that "bisexual" does not actually erase non-binary individuals because it describes people who are attracted to both of the two sexes. However, such a justification is problematic on several fronts: (1) it denies the existence of bodies that do not conform to the constructed concepts of "male" and "female" either because of an intersex condition or medical intervention; (2) it denies the existence of people with a non-binary sex identity; and (3) it is cissexist because it promotes a focus on the appearance of someone's genitals, thus promoting biological essentialism. Others say that "bisexual" is not problematic as an umbrella term because it expresses an interest in men, women, and anyone in between. However, many non-binary individuals don't see themselves as on this continuum, and are thus erased by this definition. Clearly, "bisexual" is always problematic and gender-binarist when used as an umbrella term for non-monosexual identities.
One reason people may identify as "bisexual" is because it's the most convenient and/or the only available identity to use. For example, I am listed as "bisexual" on several social-networking websites, although I identify very strongly as "panromantic*", because I have no other option. Also, I occasionally tell people that I am "bi" (or, more often, it's something along the lines of "yeah, sorta" in response to their inquiry). I am not sure how I feel about those situations. On one hand, I don't feel comfortable talking about the details of my identity with people who are unlikely to understand anything beyond gay, straight, or bi; at times, I worry that the people I am speaking to may be (unintentionally) cissexist, and thus may misunderstand what I am saying about myself and my partners when I explain that I am attracted to people other than men and women without going into extended discussions (in particular, I worry that they may not understand the concept of identifying as a gender other than man and woman, and may instead misinterpret me as third-gendering binary trans individuals). On the other hand, it's completely a binary-gender privilege for me to casually identify as bisexual without it erasing my very own existence, and I fear that by telling others that I am "bisexual" rather than explaining the existence of non-binary genders, I am contributing to the erasure of people with non-binary genders in our society. Thus, I insist on identifying as panromantic* to people who I know will understand, even if it takes some additional explaining. It frustrates me when people identify as "bisexual" simply out of convenience, or when people continue to identify as "bisexual" even after being made aware of non-binary identities because they are unwilling to take the time to reconsider their identity.
I must clarify that "bisexual" is not inherently gender-binarist. Many people are, in reality, bisexual if they are attracted to binary-identified men and women, and not non-binary individuals. This is perfectly acceptable for those people that have thought it over and determined that this truly is their sexuality. There is nothing wrong with preferring binary to non-binary individuals (just as there is nothing wrong with preferring non-binary to binary individuals) as long as the existence and legitimacy of non-binary gender identities is not ignored or questioned by the bisexual person, and as long as this person does not discriminate against binary trans people as potential partners. Another reason someone may identify as "bisexual" is because they are unfamiliar with the existence of gender identities other than "man" and "woman". Although it's highly concerning that the existence of non-binary individuals is invisible in our society, it's impossible to criticize the bisexual individual in question, because they never had any reason to rethink their identity. "Bisexual" is only problematic when it is used as an umbrella term for non-monosexual identities, and when it's adopted by non-monosexual binary-identified people that are not actually bisexual.
Umbrella Term for Non-Monosexual Identities
In popular discourse, we seldom see past a trinary of sexualities - homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual. Although this is significantly better than a mononormative binary (the belief that all people are attracted to only one gender, and are thus either homosexual and heterosexual) and heteronormativity (the belief that all people are attracted only to people of the opposite gender), it's still highly problematic in that it erases non-monosexual people who are not bisexual.
There is a strong need for an umbrella term for non-monosexual identities. Bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual, anthrosexual, pomosexual, queer, fluid, etc. people often face similar forms of discrimination both from the mainstream heterosexual culture and from within the queer community. Monosexism is the belief that monosexual orientations are superior to non-monosexual identities. Monosexism promotes the view that people with non-monosexual identities are confused or undecided, that their identity is invalid or "just a trend", that non-monosexual orientations don't really exist, and that non-monosexual people are promiscuous, and it leads to the refusal or hesitance of gay and lesbian folk (or straight folk) from partnering with non-monosexual people. Many people call these forms of discrimination "biphobia". However, I feel like the term "biphobia" erases the existence of non-monosexual folk who are not bisexual and thus ignores the oppression and marginalization these people might face.
I must clarify that, just as bisexuality exists, so does biphobia. However, biphobia is a very specific form of discrimination faced by bisexual people (not other monosexual people). For example, someone recently told a friend of mine, who identifies very strongly as bisexual, "Don't you mean pansexual? Isn't that more politically correct?" This statement specifically discriminated against people who are bisexual, erasing the possibility that these people exist and putting into question the validity of their identity. It is also an example of subversivism. Another situation in which "biphobia" may be an appropriate term (or perhaps it's not, I am uncertain) is when non-monosexual people face discrimination from the greater society, which may be unaware of non-monosexual identities other than "bisexual", and thus the discrimination is based on misconceptions specifically about bisexuality.
An umbrella term would bring together all people who face monosexism. If such a term were to become more mainstream, it would help combat the erasure of non-binary gender identities. It's been suggested that the terms "queer" and/or "pansexual" be used as umbrella terms for non-monosexual identities. However, I find this problematic for several reasons. "Queer" has been used as a term to describe all individuals who are not straight, as well as to name the entire LGBTetc community. "'Queer" would thus be unsuccessful as an umbrella term for non-monosexual identities. "Pansexual" would be problematic because not all non-monosexual people are attracted to all or any genders, as is implied by the term "pansexual". Some are bisexual, and others may prefer a certain end of the spectrum (or ends of the spectra). Still other people who are attracted to all or any genders may distance themselves from the term "pansexual" for other reasons.
Some possible umbrella terms are multisexual and polysexual. From what I've heard (and I may be mistaken), polysexual had already been used by some communities for this very purpose. However, it was eventually rejected, because many confused this term with "polyamorous". Thus, I think "multisexual" is the best umbrella term for non-monosexual identities. I encourage all multisexual people to embrace this term: identify as "multisexual" to others, express solidarity with other multisexual folk by acknowledging that you're both multisexual, and use the term "multisexual" and "monosexism" in place of "bisexual" and "biphobia" (except in discussions pertaining specifically to bisexuality).
Misconceptions about Pansexuality and other Multisexual Identities
As a multisexual person, I am often frustrated with misconceptions about multisexual identities. Many of these misconceptions are a result of monosexism, and can be addressed by combating monosexism. Others include misconceptions about bisexuality (the belief that bisexuality is inherently gender-binarist and politically incorrect), which I already addressed at several points throughout this post. In this section, I will specifically focus on misconceptions about pansexuality because I did not address these misconceptions elsewhere in the post, and because, as a panromantic* person, these misconceptions are personally very important for me to address. Many multisexual people distance themselves from identities like "pansexual" and "omnisexual" for some or all of the reasons I will discuss below. I was once one of those people, but, for me, identifying as "panromantic*" is, in some ways, reclaiming the term. Although I am not passing judgment on the identities of other people, I do encourage all people interested in all genders to identify as "pansexual" (or "panromantic*"), because I feel it could be beneficial to unite people with a similar sexuality.
Pansexual and omnisexual people, as all multisexual people, are often accused of being promiscuous. I've heard this go a step further specifically with pan- and omni-sexuality, in which people are turned-off by the apparent implication that these people are sexually interested to all objects, not just people. This is obviously not the case, as this is a sexual orientation describing someone's interest in people of different genders, not inanimate objects.
Another problem I've noticed is that many people are turned off by what I like to call "the pansexual superiority complex". This happens when pan-, omni-, anthro-, and pomo-sexual people (perhaps among others) patronize people with more restrictive sexualities, constructing their apparent lack of sexuality and ability to not discriminate based on gender as superior to other people's preference. This is a ridiculous perspective, as people cannot choose their sexuality. Additionally, many pansexual people (including myself) feel that they don't lack a sexuality, but instead have a very specific orientation that includes an interest in all genders. While the "pansexual superiority complex" does exist, it's unfair to generalize this complex to all or most pan-, omni-, anthro-, and pomo-sexual people. This is the main reason I did not identify as panromantic* until recently.
Another concept that I think not always holds true is the idea that pan-, omni-, anthro-, and pomo-sexual people are, in some way "gender-blind" in their desire. When someone first explained pansexuality to me, I was still in high school, and unfamiliar with non-binary genders. I was told that the difference between pansexuality and bisexuality is that pansexual people don't see a difference between men and women, and instead only see what's in their head. This definition initially deterred me from this identity. Although it may be true for some people who identify as pan-, omni-, anthro-, and pomo-sexual, it is not true for many, including myself. I most definitely "see" and care about the gender of the people I am with, as I believe it's a huge and important part of their identity and who they are. Additionally, the reason I am attracted to someone may be different based on their gender. Although I don't restrict myself to people of a certain gender identity(ies) or presentation(s), I very much so am not blind to these.
There are a couple more conceptions about pansexuality that I disagree with, but I am uncertain whether they are actually misconceptions. The definition of pansexuality (like so many other definitions pertaining to gender identities and sexualities) is fluid, and may differ from person-to-person.
Does pansexuality (specifically) restrict people to a certain continuum? For me, pansexuality has always meant that I am interested to people of all and any genders, including man, woman, combinations of the two, genders somewhere between the two, genders off this spectrum entirely, neutrois and/or agender people, people with multiple genders, and people who's gender is fluid. Thus, I don't see pansexuality as restricting myself to any specific gender(s), but instead as acknowledging my interest in all genders. However, some people see pansexuality as more restrictive than other identities (for instance, pomosexuality).
Does pansexuality indicate a lack of preference? I identify as panromantic* although my sexuality is fluid, and, most of the time, I have a preference for a certain gender(s). I also have an overall preference, and lean in a certain direction more often than any other way. However, despite my fluidity, I never restrict myself to any gender(s); thus, I consider myself panromantic*, despite having a preference. However, some people see pansexuality as indicating a lack of preference for any particular gender(s), thus rejecting it as a self-identity for themselves.
*Note: In this post, several times, I switch between saying "pansexual" and "panromantic". I personally don't identify as "pansexual" because I lie on the asexual spectrum, and thus prefer to remove references to "sexuality" in my identity. However, my sexual and romantic orientations match in every way except that I experience sexual attraction less often than romantic attraction. Thus, I think my perspective as a panromantic is just as valid in discussing pansexuality as the perspective of someone who identifies as "pansexual".