So, I’m Pan!
Uh, no. Not the god. No, not like Peter Pan. Pansexual. No! That does not mean I like to have sex with pans!
Okay, good. Now that that’s over with.
I’ve been wanting to write this for a while, but I’ve struggled with starting it. Especially given the current political climate and the anxiety in large parts of the LGBTQ+ community concerning Trump and Pence in general I worried about coming from within the community and saying anything that wasn’t a message of love and self-acceptance. I’ll be writing those pieces too, and soon. But, for a long time, I have felt awkwardly out of place in LGBTQ+ spaces, or even identifying myself as Queer, and I want to talk about why that is. Even in a touchy political climate it is important to me to identify that we still have major things to overcome in these spaces, and why those challenges still matter even when bigger issues are on the horizon.
I do want to go over some basic definitions before I really dive in to things. If you are familiar with the LGBTQ+ community, it’s definitions, and the name controversy, feel free to skip this paragraph. I won’t be going over anything new. For anyone less familiar with these issues, or curious what needs defining, here you go. Pansexual means that I can be and am sexually/romantically attracted to people with any sex/gender combination. And definitely there are some people who use Bisexual the same way, and some people who use Bisexual to mean that they are attracted to multiple genders and sexes, but not necessarily all of them. Also, I am going to use LGBTQ+ when referring to the complex and varied group of people who do not identify as cis-gendered and heterosexual. (Cis-gender meaning that biological sex and assigned gender match). A more complete acronym for this group would be LGBTQIAA+, which includes intersex, asexual, and allies, but this acronym is both less recognizable and a bit unwieldy. I’d actually be an advocate for moving away from the acronym identifier to another group name for people who fit these identities and definitions because it offers greater inclusion to groups that aren’t recognized in even the expanded acronym (like pansexual-me!), and also because it would be less subjected to change as definitions change and identities are added or create their own cultural groupings.
People talk about bi-erasure a decent bit. I’ve been seeing more posts about it all month. After all, it is Pride month, and B is one of the Big Four that’s supposedly included in the discussion in our very name. But, even when bi was my identifier, I felt very lost in the traffic when it came to LGBT issues. I am neither a gay man nor a butch lesbian and the invisibility was real. Worse than driving down the LGBTQ+ highway without my headlights was the occasionally spotlight from the straight community. As a White bi woman with red (dyed) hair I often felt like my sexuality was a punchline in someone else’s joke. Someone that exists in porn and fantasy, but surely not in real life. The number of people who assume and assumed that I am up for casual three-ways because of this identity reinforced the feeling that I could not be taken seriously as a person if I embraced that aspect of who I was.
Paradoxically it got both worse and better as I explored new definitions and realized that Pan was a better identifier. Basically this happened while I was on a camping trip with a large group of people, all of them LGBTQ+, and had one woman explain that the distinction between Pan folk and Bi folk was that Pan folk were attracted to trans people as well as cis people. This is no longer the definition I use, see the above, but as I had a crush on a trans person at the time, and continue to be attracted to trans and non-binary folks of all stripes, it seemed a better fit. And suddenly, by embracing a new name, my invisibility went from being a dangerous joke to a superpower very much like Harry Potter’s cloak!
I was able to exist in LGBTQ+ spaces without being discussed or dismissed directly. I wasn’t hearing myself in punchlines anymore. No more mention of ‘hot bi girl porn’. Finally.
The problem came later, when I wanted to embrace myself as a Queer person more. I’d realized I was straight passing to a frustrating degree. The women I was interested in had no idea I liked them. Flirting was impossible! Do you understand how hard it is as a woman to give another woman a compliment and bedroom eyes and communicate your interest? Straight women give each other bedroom eye all the time. No impact.
I’d also realized in the meantime that Cis wasn’t quite the right identity for myself either. It wasn’t normal to have to look at how other women were behaving to suit your behavior to theirs. I gradually stopped modifying my body language to appear more feminine, and as I relaxed into body patterns that felt more natural to me (still a work in progress), I noticed I was also starting to feel dysphoric when I did make myself behave or dress in a way that didn’t feel natural. I certainly was still having days when girly clothing and body language fit and felt good, but I was also starting to have days when they didn’t. When having a feminine body shape was distressing. I began to long for a binder for the days when breasts were distracting, annoying, and uncomfortable, while simultaneously longing for girlier dresses and corsets for the days when being feminine seemed wonderful. I was, and still, experience gender on sliding scale that might be intensely feminine one day and intensely masculine on another. I still am unsure where I fit in the labels that describe these sorts of feelings, although Demi-girl, Genderfluid, and GenderQueer seem to come closest for me.
I started to seek out more time with my queer friends. I started trying to go to the LGBTQ+ resource center at my University, even tried going to the only LGBTQ+ club in my state. (although it identifies itself as a gay club, which it still the default in that industry). I wanted to learn more about myself and about the community as a whole. I started watching documentaries and reading up on the history of the Pride movement. Learning about moments of change and crisis like the Stonewall Riots and what happened to Matthew Sheppard. But queer spaces, my queer friends, I wasn’t really at home there. I was in-between everything, but not a part of any of it. Too straight to be queer, too queer to be straight, and not trans enough to be non-binary, but too non-binary to be cis.
And then a close friend of mine called me the “Unicorn of Queer identities”. They meant well. They were joking, and trying to acknowledge my difficulty in their own way. But all I heard was, “you’re a mythical beast that doesn’t really exist.” and, on a different level, “stop trying to be a unicorn you special snowflake.”
I know they didn’t mean it that way. I know that they were actually trying to be positive about my identities. But we haven’t really talked about it since.
I went to an LQBTQ+ leadership conference with my University the next year. It was a revelation to me how wonderful it could be to be embraced in my chosen identities. It was the first time I’d asked people to use they/them pronouns, so far the only time I have done so publicly, and it was incredible the difference it made to me to be recognized that way. As a person, with no gender suppositions involved. Many people, through the weekend, thanked me for being willing to speak up about my life and my lived experience, and I am grateful to them. But the whole time I was there I was nervous. I felt like if I discussed how I identify too specifically I would out myself as not-really-queer. A wannabe. And even after the conference I feel uncomfortable in LGBTQ+ spaces.
Fast forward two years and I have a non-binary partner. But I am cis-woman passing and they are cis-man passing. We do not use gender neutral pronouns because we are both scared to ask others to use them. I am pansexual and they are (going off biological sex) straight. We pass as a straight couple, and all I can think is that I’m back to being the butt of the bi-people-aren’t-welcome-here joke, because no one cares about the long-winded explanations and we look straight.
I stayed home this Pride. There are a lot of reasons why, and at the end of the day, this wasn’t even the biggest. But I don’t feel like I would be welcome in LGBTQ+ spaces with my partner. Or without them. Yet, there is also a vital and hurt part of my being that desperately wishes I did, because those are the only spaces with even a modicum of understanding and acceptance for those parts of who I am. And even though those identities can be quiet and potentially put me at less risk than other members of that community, they are real, they are there.
This Pride month I am at home. I am at home alternately feeling like there is something wrong with me for these identities, feeling like a wannabe for even claiming the identities when no one can see them written on my skin, and feeling like it would be easier to just reject those parts of myself and pretend to be someone else.
And–really, isn’t that the feeling we’re supposed to get away from coming out of the closet?