Ahead, a millennial’s experience with pansexuality
I never came out as pansexual to my parents because I didn’t feel I needed to. Growing up, my household was “progressive.” My parents could gush about a celebrity of the same sex, and no one would bat a conservative eyelash.
Yet, despite a lenient and informed upbringing, coming to terms with my sexual orientation wasn’t an easy journey. I’d always been in relationships with the opposite sex, so I never thought I fit the pansexuality bill.
I know now that my dating history doesn’t dictate who I am. My attraction to people isn’t based on gender—this is how I knew.
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What is Pansexuality?
According to GLAAD, pansexuality describes a person attracted to all gender identities or attracted to people regardless of gender. In short, we’ll date anyone with the right energy. It doesn’t matter what you have (or don’t have) down there!
The Early Years: Nina Williams, Anti-Barbies and the Boys’ Section
Studies show that children begin to develop gender identities between three and five—I wasn’t an exception. Five-year-old me was what many older relatives described as a tomboy. Kindergarten-age me wouldn’t be caught dead in a skirt or with a Barbie, so my mother shopped exclusively in the boys’ section—for clothes, shoes, toys and what have you.
Still, not once did I hear that pants were not for little girls or that digging up bugs in the backyard wasn’t very ladylike. From my parents, there was never any resistance. As long as I adhered to my bedtime and learned to share, my five years of existence were headed in the right direction.
When I was old enough to discover video games and television shows, I gravitated toward strong female characters (Nina Williams on Tekken, Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Disney’s Mulan), not for the reasons you might think.
Sure, they were strong, independent female influences. But eight-year-old me wasn’t admiring their inner beauty if you catch my drift.
Late Adolescence: High School Flings and “Girl Crushes”
Teenhood offered me no clarity when it came to developing my sexual identity. Girls made out with girls all the time, straight or not.
Perhaps it was how these commonplace occurrences invalidated my experiences and abundance of girl crushes. Everyone was doing it—I was nothing special, and it was probably a phase.
Identity invalidation is nothing new, and teenage me had become a statistic. Ironically, bi and pansexuality were mostly considered performative despite my progressive learning environment.
Nobody was afraid to talk about sexual identity—but people loved to question it. It made my exploration feel like a myth. After all, my seemingly genderless attraction had to be a stepping stone. One day I would realize I was “fully gay” or “fully straight.” If I’d been with a woman, I “must’ve had one too many shots” or “hadn’t been with the right guy at the time.”
Bi-erasure was happening all around me. Developing a new relationship with the opposite sex came with a strange bout of disappointment. I was happy to be with this person, but now everyone would (again) assume I was straight.
In 2012, I graduated high school with good grades and a five-foot-tall identity crisis.
Adulthood: Bisexual or Pansexual and That One Girl
Despite my encounters with, and attraction to women, I identified as straight throughout my college career. Having only experienced heterosexual relationships, it didn’t seem that my attraction to women was “enough” to consider myself part of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.
Throw in the stigma of “you can’t be bisexual if you’ve never dated anyone of the same sex,” and I was a textbook recipe for confusion.
Until a fiery-haired, boot-wearing, Reds-smoking someone convinced me otherwise. Because I made most of my female friendships in college, we established an almost-overnight closeness and my first long-term bout of questioning.
She excited me, not because it was new, but because I never saw gender in my attraction—just the way she could read people like open books, her taste in music and how she never slept but still looked the way she did. When I thought “I could love her,” the concept of “binary” stopped existing.
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She could’ve been a cis man. Non-binary. Transgender. Genderfluid. None of it mattered. I became entirely gender-blind.
There is something cathartic about articulating your sexual identity. I never felt the need for a grandiose coming-out moment or red, yellow and blue social media announcement.
I am lucky that my journey was not a painful one. Some might describe it as anti-climactic. I think it was natural—not downplayed.
Nothing about discovering your sexual identity has to be earth-shaking. It can be as commonplace as going for ice cream on a whim and finding that you suddenly prefer chocolate over vanilla. It can be akin to realizing that perhaps the guitar isn’t for you—maybe you’d like to learn to play the drums.
Perhaps what is so daunting about declaring yourself a member of the LGBTQIA+ community isn’t so much about permeating stigmas—it’s that others focus so much on the whens, whys and hows of your self-discovery.
Whether you love men or women or don’t factor in gender entirely, it can simply result from knowing. The way you love answers to no one. After all, nobody knows who you are better than you do.
Words Zoë Isabela Alcazaren
Art Matthew Ian Fetlaver