Growing up, I never gave much thought to my “sexual preference.” I liked who I liked and basically wanted everyone to like me back. They didn’t, or it never felt like the right ones did and I spent a lot more time worrying about how I would be single forever and never fall in love, rather than being concerned with gender. It wasn’t until I was poking around on the internet that I came across the term “pansexual.”
I’m likely more in the dark than most people on this; I didn’t even know the word pansexual existed until I was reading an article about County Clerk Kim Davis, who is currently refusing to give marriage certificates to gay couples because it violates her religious beliefs. In the article, a couple, that included a transgender man and a woman, had come out stating that Davis had issued a certificate to them (to make a point about how she had already technically violated her beliefs by supporting the LGBT community). The article showed a picture of the couple and below, described the man’s wife as pansexual. I immediately wanted to know what being pansexual entailed, as up until that point I had never felt comfortable identifying with any of the other labels offered.
I googled it. The definition of pansexual is “not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity.” OK, sure—I can vibe with that; close enough. My favorite part about the definition is that it says “not limited” as in “unlimited” as in I have UNLIMITED SEXUAL CHOICES, YEAH! More importantly though, it felt really uncomfortable and stupid for me to have to google a word to “appropriately” label my sexual preference. It made me realize that I’m more uncomfortable with trying to sum up my sexuality with one word than I ever was about my actual sexuality.
At times I’ve felt a lot of weird guilt around how I identify my sexuality. I’ve been with way more men than anyone else. Is there a quota I should have hit with different kinds of people before I’m allowed to call it more than “experimenting?” I went on dates with women I didn’t like because I didn’t feel like I had any place identifying as someone who also liked women if I didn’t “prove it” enough. What kind of twisted logic is that?
When I was in high school, I really liked a girl who, for the sake of this article, we will call “Veronica.” We made out and I was like, “FUCK, YEAH! THIS IS THE BEST.” She told me that she had a crazy ex-girlfriend, who actually ended up being her current girlfriend. I found this out when her girlfriend got a job at the diner I was working at and told everyone that I was bisexual and a terrible person. I honestly couldn’t have cared less that she was trying to out me and cause drama at an after-school job. What bothered me more was that she called me bisexual. There’s nothing wrong with people who are bisexual, but that word did not feel fitting. It was annoying. Like, if you’re going to try to ruin my reputation, at least pick a more accurate adjective.
For me, sexuality is not cut and dry. It truly is fluid. An attraction to a person, comes regardless of gender, gender identity, or really anything for that matter. It just shows up and feels awesome. Why do I have to label that?
I’ve talked to other people about my experience and some have a fear associated with dating someone who is bisexual or pansexual or whatever. “What if they leave me for someone of the opposite gender?” “What if they find out they aren’t as open as they thought?” Well then, they suck! Cheating on someone has nothing to do with their sexual orientation as much as it does to do with them being kind of a shitty person.
I realized that my guilt, or reluctance to identify my sexual orientation, comes from a place of worrying about how others see and define my sexuality. Any sort of issues I’ve had stem from trying to figure out how to meet the expectations of a pre-existing label and feeling inadequate or ashamed because I didn’t. (Which, by the way, is fucking stupid.) In the meantime, I just followed through with how I felt about people, avoiding using any sort of labeling. When I kissed Veronica it was because I liked her, the same way I felt about Brian in middle school or Jimmy in high school. I didn’t want to explain myself so I never had to “come out,” technically—there’s privilege there. I’m also lucky because my parents never asked me to explain who I was dating or who I liked outside of if they weren’t terrible people.
If you think about it, the idea of people in general having to “come out” is literally insane. Sexuality is such a private and intimate detail of someone’s life that is 100% up to their own discretion. Because as a society, we have created this unsafe place for people to be themselves, there is now this imaginary closet that people live inside of until they feel like they are ready to be on display. I can’t help but wonder how great would it be if we can get to a place where we accept someone’s gender, sexual identity, etc. from an early age as something as boring as if your kid told you they wanted to play soccer and not do ballet. How much more free would we all feel if we spent less time trying to decide “what” someone is and more time making an environment of overall acceptance?
I’m not diminishing or trying to take away from people who do come out and wear their label with pride. There’s community in that. There’s a lot of good there. I am currently in a long-term relationship with a man. Does this make any experience I’ve had with other genders null and void? I’m living this heteronormative lifestyle, so I’m out of the loop, right? I don’t believe that. I’ve found a loving relationship with someone that makes me happy. The same kind of happiness that I’d hope to have with someone of any gender. I’m not going to let some arbitrary label give me permission to love someone and be with them. I support whatever makes people feel good and most comfortable in their own skin and everyone is entitled to the dignity of their own experience. Sometimes that experience doesn’t fit into one word.