Some people accuse pansexuals of being lying bisexuals that just want to be special snowflakes, or insist that they are just faking it or wanting attention. In reality, these are just two sexualities with some similarities and some differences, and people identify with whatever they feel describes them the best.
What is Bisexuality?
Bisexuality is defined as romantic/sexual attractions to two sexes/genders (the root bi meaning two), male and female. However, this is not how bisexuals themselves describe it. Many bisexuals think that this definition is narrow and outdated because it excludes people outside the gender binary (agender, genderfluid, and transgender people) who they say they can also be attracted to.
Bisexuals often prefer the definition, "attraction to same and different genders." They describe the feeling of being attracted to a man as being different than attraction to, say, a woman or an agender person. While they can be attracted to any gender, the feeling is different with each one.
Are Pan/Bisexuals Even Real?
Bisexual psychiatrist Fritz Klein, founder of the American Institute of Bisexuality, has already funded 40 researchers in studies which have confirmed that bisexuality does indeed exist. However, bisexuals are far less likely to come out, and even though a 2013 Pew Research Survey suggested that more people are bisexual than gay, only about 28% of bisexuals are out of the closet.
This is due in part to stereotypes that foster "biphobia" in hetero and even homosexual people, leaving some bisexuals to feel ostracized from what should be an open and accepting community. Many monosexuals (people who are only attracted to one gender) avoid relationships with bisexuals because of the stereotype that they are unfaithful. They often fear that their bisexual partner will leave them for someone of a different gender, when in fact these fears are unfounded. Studies have shown that bisexuals in monogamous relationships are no more likely to cheat than monosexuals.
What is Pansexuality?
Pansexuality is defined as attraction to all sexes and genders (the root pan meaning all), even those who do not fit the traditional male-female binary, such as agender, genderfluid, or transgender people. Again, this is not how pansexuals describe it. One definition more accepted within the pansexual community is, "attraction regardless of gender or sex."
So what's the difference between these two definitions? Well, it may help to know the pansexual mantra, "hearts not parts." Pansexuals identify as being attracted more to personality, while gender doesn't really matter to them. Their attraction doesn't feel any different when it's directed toward different genders, it all just feels like attraction to them. Gender just isn't a factor.
Why are Labels Even Necessary?
While pansexual is a relatively new word, the word bisexual was coined in 1892 and has been in general use since the 1950s. This term may help those who identify with it feel a stronger connection to the struggles and history of people like them.
Even though myths like "gaydar" still pervade today's society, people who do not look stereotypically gay can have a hard time dating the same sex without a label. Concurrently, people who do look stereotypically gay can have a hard time dating the opposite sex. These are all issues for bi and pansexual people, who don't even have their own stereotypical look.
Words are what we use to describe and understand the world. Sometimes, people battle with feelings they don't understand and can feel alone and isolated. When a person believes that they are the only one with a particular pattern of attraction, they can feel out of place, as if no one understands what they are going through. Finding out what they are feeling has a name can bring clarity to their lives and show them that they are not alone, and other people feel this way as well.
Identifying with a certain label gives way to the opportunity to connect with others who identify with that same label. This in turn allows for the opportunity to connect with an even bigger community of people who have been through the questioning process as well. It can be very comforting to have a whole community of supportive people who understand what you are going though after feeling confused and alone, as a person questioning their sexuality may feel.
So What's the Difference?
What is the difference between pansexuality and bisexuality? Bisexuals experience attraction to the same and different genders, while pansexuals experience attraction regardless of gender. The way they date is nearly identical, the only difference between the two sexualities is in the way the person feels. They can both date all genders, and they can both fall in love with both genders, but the subtle nuances of their attraction are different, and you may only really understand them once you get to know a pansexual or bisexual person.
Whatever people choose to identify themselves as, they deserve respect. Saying that bi or pan people are "lying" or "looking for attention" trivializes their identity and their struggles. All people deserve respect regardless of their orientation.