“He what?!” my 65-year-old and self-proclaimed traditionalist mother stammered.
I was visiting my family in North Carolina and she and I were standing in my brother’s kitchen. My brother Nick had just bought a townhouse a year ago, and his roommate who was renting from him had recently vacated. But that wasn’t the issue.
The issue was that one evening Nick’s gay buddy had made out with my brother’s roommate (who Nick had assumed was heterosexual). My brother didn’t care, but my mother sure did.
“So he’s gay,” she concluded with a confident nod.
“Bi, I think,” my brother said casually.
I was surprised, mainly because when I told him I was gay years ago, he allegedly burst into tears.
“So he likes women and men?”
Mom wasn’t vibing with that.
“I guess,” Nick responded.
“Well, that doesn’t make any sense.”
I chimed in. “You can like men and women, mom. What’s the big deal?”
“Oh, do you like women, too, now?”
Her lack of understanding the spectrum was causing all of us stress.
“What if I did?”
“Oh no. NO. Absolutely not. I just got used to you being gay!” she fumed.
I thought it was funny so I started laughing. That only exacerbated her tirade, which ended with her making some grand proclamation about “picking a side” and “staying there.”
She then took my beer and started chugging it.
“You’re driving me to drink!” she declared.
I rolled my eyes.
To me, bisexuality is no big deal. In fact, a YouGov study of young Americans revealed that 29 percent of people believe themselves to be not entirely straight or gay.
And that brings us into the world of pansexuality.
Some of you may be asking, “Well, what the hell is pansexuality?”
A pansexual person is someone that is sexually attracted to another person regardless of biological sex, gender, or gender identity. The term is reflective of those who feel they are sexually/emotionally/spiritually capable of falling in love with all genders.
One afternoon on Scruff, a popular gay dating app, a young man hit me up to come over to my place for a “good time.”
Bored, I said sure, but my roommate was home, so what about his place?
“Well, my girlfriend might come back in a bit.”
“It’s OK, we are poly [side note: poly relationships are a whole other beast that we’ll tackle in another post.] We just don’t usually hook up with others in our apartment out of respect.”
“Got it. So you’re poly and bi?”
“No, I’m pansexual and poly.”
Short story shorter, we didn’t end up hanging out. Not because I was weirded out, but maybe because Peter Pansexual just didn’t like my shoddy ass pic.
More importantly, I was suddenly overwhelmed. All his classifications started making me–a hopeless monogamous homosexual–feel very “unhip.” I’m only 28. I wasn’t supposed to start feeling uncool until I was 30-something.
Am I pan and don’t know it? Should I just be pan now? What about other people? Are they feeling the same way? Do I know any pansexual people and just had no idea? Maybe they don’t even know it?
For example, my best friend who identifies himself as both male and straight, recently matched with thee Laverne Cox on a high-end dating app (for those who don’t know, Cox is an transgender actress).
Regardless of whether or not she is the real life Laverne, he was excited to set up a date with her. As I loudly questioned his straightness (on his birthday no less) he protested the opposite.
A few weeks later, I brought the subject up with some strangers I met at a “scent event” that was previewing a new fragrance line.
Around the room, people were spraying different perfumes to test which scent they bonded with the most. I saddled up next to the pair of cute gay bartenders. I was three drinks in and 75 percent flirting, 25 percent asking a legitimate question.
“So doesn’t that make my friend pansexual?”
“I don’t think it’s really about him,” one said, seemingly annoyed that I was asking complicated questions while he was working.
“Isn’t it though?” I replied.
One of them mentioned something about capitalism, but I wasn’t really paying attention. I tossed a few bucks into their tip jar.
Does a one-off romance with a transgender woman make a man pansexual? According to these random bartenders, the answer is no.
Being the social scientist I am, I reached out in an existing group chat I had with some other friends. I asked them about pansexuality, and one friend responded saying that label was completely situational.
I needed more answers.
I sat on the phone with my friend in New York, Kathryn, explaining what I’d learned, but there seemed to be more questions than answers. So, in my eyes, there wasn’t a resolution on the matter.
“If anything,” she said, “this entire conversation has debunked the myth of the gender binary.”
And maybe it had.
If there is no gender really, then maybe we’re all pansexual. And if that’s the case, maybe I’m not as boring as I think I am.
But an important note to all of this is that many of these people I questioned felt compelled to share their dislike of labels, specifically regarding sexual identity.
I was even told we were close to living in a post-label society. And if eventually there are no labels, with everyone being their own individual, living their own truths and acting thoughtfully and lovingly to whomever they choose, then “pansexual” may be the goal of a paradisaical society.
I hope for that to be true one day.
It’s clear with recent hostile anti-LGBTQ legislation passed in my home state and others; we are not quite there yet (and, in my opinion, have quite a ways to go).
Until then, if you’re like me, living the mundane existence of a monogamous whatever, well, it’s chill.
Pansexual or not, we’re still all dealing with similar dating issues together, and there is some comfort in that.