To begin with, I have two important terms to define:
Heteronormativity: the belief or assumption that a heterosexual relationship is the norm. It is drenched in gender roles and in the assumption that only men and women belong together. While not always necessarily homophobic, it’s a dangerous privilege that is hurting queer people and hinders the progress in queer people becoming more than just a “minority”.
Bisexual erasure: “the tendency to ignore, remove, falsify, or reexplain evidence of bisexuality in history, academia, news media and other primary sources. In its most extreme form, bisexual erasure can include denying that bisexuality exists.”
I am pansexual. While similar to bisexuality, it is not the same thing but the above definition of erasure is spot on for both identities. Pansexuality means that I am romantically and sexually attracted to all genders: man, woman, transgender, non-binary, genderfluid and genderless. It’s often described as being gender-blind, however I do not identify with this definition. I see gender, I acknowledge it because to be blind to gender is to erase it. And I don’t want to erase anyone’s gender or identity; I just am attracted to people regardless of gender. Meaning while I pay attention to it, it’s not a factor in my attraction to people. It’s also super important to clarify: attraction is just attraction. It does not necessarily involve acting on anything, nor is it a guarantee. Just because I feel attraction towards something, it does not mean that I am getting involved in any way. So while I always have the potential to be attracted to all people, it doesn’t mean that a) I necessarily am (because attraction is a very personal thing and just because a straight girl is attracted to males, it doesn’t mean she’s attracted to every. single. male. she meets; attraction doesn’t work that way????) and b) it doesn’t mean that I’ll act on it (if I were straight and in a relationship, I could still find other people attractive but I’m obviously not going to act on that because attraction ≠ action????)
Personally, I have dated women. I have dated men. I am currently dating a man. I have not dated anyone who is outside of these two binaries (purely coincidental, I’ve not met too many people who identify outside of the two binaries) but this is irrelevant. If my boyfriend said to me today that he identified as genderless, genderfluid, or even transgender I would still be just as in love with him and would still want to be in a relationship with him. Yes, I am currently dating a cisgender man. But this does not erase the part of me that is attracted to people who are not male.
So, to get back to my main point here: my biggest struggle with being pansexual is that it’s really hard to feel “authentically” pan when I’m not single. When I’m single, everyone is fair game. I can date, see or sleep with whoever I want and generally no one tends to question my pansexual-ness (not a word, but I’m rolling with it). But now that I’m in a relationship, I feel that I automatically get placed into the “straight” box. This is because the new people I meet will assume that I’m straight – and that’s not their fault. Society conditions us to believe that a woman dating a man is straight, and that this is the norm. For me, it’s not my norm. My last relationship before Jamie was with a girl. I was struck with the same assumptions, only in reverse: most people I met just thought I was a lesbian.
In between these two relationships, when I was single, I casually dated both men and women. Pansexual. But dating a woman? Must be a lesbian. Dating a man? Undoubtedly straight. It’s frustrating to feel like I can’t be authentically pan when I’m in a relationship because some way or another, I’m met with the assumption that I’m one thing or the other. This, my friends, is known as pansexuality erasure. I’m not a lesbian. I’m not straight. There’s nothing wrong with either of those things, but it’s just not how I identify. And it’s really hard for me to come out to new people I meet because it seems so extra to mention my boyfriend, and then try to follow up with a, “oh but I’m also attracted to women and have dated them before, along with my attraction to other gender identities”. How awkward if it’s not context-appropriate?!?!
A lot of my feelings behind erasure stem from my own actions too, though. I find myself falling into a pattern of “rejecting” either part of my sexuality when I’m in a relationship – usually because I’m afraid of upsetting the person I’m with. When I was dating my ex-girlfriend, I felt weird consuming media that was heterosexually-based, in case my partner felt like I missed being with men or felt that I found hetero relationships cuter. So I’d try to consume only media that featured queer girls: Orange is the New Black, Faking It, Carmilla, Tegan and Sara, and many other TV shows, films, artists, etc. But, because of the heteronormative society we live in, it’s pretty hard to avoid hetero media. When I’m single, I tend to enjoy both queer girl and hetero media equally. Now that I’m dating a man, I feel weird watching anything that features queer girls, especially because queer media is so limited. You have to actively seek out most queer girl media, which makes me feel paranoid that I’ll upset my boyfriend, so I stick to hetero media – despite the fact that he really doesn’t care, is very supportive of everything I do and actually said that my being pan was a “plus” when we first met (along with the fact that I’m a vegetarian and a writer, hehe!). So it’s illogical, I know, but you’d be surprised at how insecure people can feel when they date someone who is pan or bi. And I know it can be kind of scary to date someone whose attraction isn’t limited to one gender but it’s so important to remember that pansexuality/bisexuality is not the same as polyamory. Sure, people can be both but I’m not. I’m only interested in monogamous relationships, so if I’m with ya, you can bet that I won’t stray.
I don’t quite know what the solution to erasure is, but I guess it just involves people being a little more open-minded to the idea that people aren’t always just one thing or another. I’m a little bit in between. I’m a shade in between two colours, and that’s totally fine by me. I tend to be in all other aspects of my life: mixed race, middle child, vegetarian. That’s okay. I suppose it all just comes down to the thing I try to remember the most about people: what you see is not always what you get. People are vastly complex and what is obvious about them – physical appearance, surface details – is not the only thing that they have to offer. I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder, yet you wouldn’t know it by just looking at me or meeting me once or twice. Just like how my being pan is not explicitly obvious, because I’m dating a man right now. Humans are all just lovely little onions with several layers that don’t usually peel back straight away, and that is such a beautiful, beautiful thing❤