(Un)Seen: J’s Story

As part of an initiative to build bisexual and pansexual solidarity and visibility, I posted an ongoing call for contributions, asking for your stories of life in the middle of the sexuality spectrum. This story is from J.

I’m pansexual, and I’m frustrated. Let me explain.

“I don’t mean this to be disrespectful, but is that a thing? I mean, does the medical and psychological professional community recognize that as real?” That’s what my brother asked me when I told him I’m pansexual. It’s not surprising, really, because in my experience most people don’t know what pansexuality is, and my brother certainly didn’t as a conservative evangelical. (Yeah, ask me how the rest of that conversation went).

“Wow, that’s so cutting-edge, but I’m not surprised; you always were advanced.” I heard that from a friend when I outed myself to her. I didn’t know how to respond. Cutting-edge? Advanced? That implies others’ orientations are old-fashioned, and I’m pretty sure sexuality doesn’t become obsolete.

“That’s so utopian,” an acquaintance remarked after she googled pansexuality. Really? I don’t think pansexuality is the ideal sexual orientation. Because there’s not one. However an individual identifies is just fine. I definitely don’t want anyone to think I’m inferior, but I’m assuredly not superior either.

Then there’s the standard heteronormative remarks we all probably hear. After a recent snowstorm a colleague sympathized with my complaints about spending an hour shoveling out my car: “Yeah, you don’t have a husband to do it for you.” First of all, I’m quite capable of clearing snow by myself; I just don’t have to enjoy it. Second, I’m open to partnering with anyone regardless of gender, sex, or sexual orientation, so it is quite presumptive to mourn my lack of a husband. I’m confident a chic or a trans* person can handle a shovel just as well as a cisgender, straight male!

These types of responses and off-hand remarks remind me I have no place in heterosexual culture and demonstrate how little the general public, including those of a progressive persuasion, understand pansexuality. For many, they have never even heard the term. I am constantly explaining myself. Another friend observed that folks with uncommon medical conditions often find themselves explaining their diseases. But pansexuality–like all orientations on the spectrum–isn’t an illness. I’m not searching for a cure. I’m looking for a place to belong.

I don’t fit in the straight world, but is there a place at the table for me in the LGBTQ community? After all, there is no “P” in the acronym. A lot of the time, that’s ok because I’ll embrace the Q. Yet, when I see LGBT, I wonder where someone like me belongs. When events are advertised as a “lesbian group” or a “bisexual gathering,” I question if I would be welcomed. I suspect others who identify from a space within the middle of spectrum do too.

Even as I type this, I fear people’s responses. Who am I to critique the community when it has only been within the past few years that I’ve stepped out of the straight shadows and identified myself as a member? But it has also been within the past few years that I have found my voice, so it is important for me to use it. I’ll explain that too.

I’ve recently liberated myself from christian[1] fundamentalism. For most of my life, I sincerely believed the dogma that forced me to disown myself in order to embrace god. Not only did I have to repress my sexuality as a woman and especially as a queer woman, but I had to silence all other aspects of who I am. Until a few years ago. Painful events and a PhD program opened my eyes to reality. I realized I could not reconcile the misogyny of evangelicalism with feminism. I could not blend fundamentalism’s absolutism with the T(t)ruth of postmodernism. So I walked away from religion. Some might say I lost my faith, but I believe I found myself. And with that came the legitimacy of my sexuality.

Accepting my pansexuality wasn’t difficult. What I find challenging is wondering whether or not others will accept me. As a cisgender woman, I’ve experienced marginalization. What other types of oppression might I encounter as I embrace the social identity of an atheist, pansexual woman?

To heterosexual society, I appear as a lipstick wearing, high-heel walking, only-male-loving woman. I probably look the same to the LGBTQ community. How does my “P” fit in? Where is the nuance I represent? In both spheres, I’m invisible.


[1] I intentionally don’t capitalize christian because while I recognize that more progressive, liberal forms of christianity are more welcoming of the LBGTQ community, the bigoted sect I came from does not and to me does not deserve the respect of capitalization.


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