by: Heather Stebbins
I have been trying for what feels like forever to write this. I’m not sure how to put it into words, but I’m going to give it my best shot in the hopes that it will be cathartic to “let it out,” or whatever it is I’m doing.
I am pansexual.
It’s been a long journey to get to this point, to type these words. I’m still having trouble assimilating my sexuality into how I view myself as a person. The label feels unfamiliar. It’s a part of me that’s separate; I keep it locked away and only take it out occasionally. For some reason I can’t seem to picture this queer girl as the girl I see in the mirror who is also a skeptic, a humanist, a tattoo enthusiast, an aspiring activist, an atheist. I’ve worn so many labels in my life, but none of them have been as uncomfortable as this.
I think I might be ashamed of my sexuality.
This feels like the most ridiculous problem in the world. I’ve never been homophobic, and I’ve always had gay friends. I’ve always supported the choices of those around me, straight or queer. And even when I was a conservative Christian, I never understood why being gay should be wrong. Why does it matter who someone’s interested in? If they’re lucky enough to find love in this world, who am I to take that away? And yet, I’m having trouble accepting this as something that’s part of me.
I think some of the problem is that so many of the people I know question how someone can be attracted to people of more than one gender. Even from those I consider intelligent, accepting and good friends, I’ve heard the question asked: “Why doesn’t [insert bisexual/pansexual friend here] just choose a side?” I don’t understand why this should bother me, because of course I have friends who are bisexual or pansexual and it has never even crossed my mind to demand to know why they won’t “choose a side.” But, in myself, I feel like it’s some kind of great shortcoming that I can’t just pick a gender. I mean, I guess I could technically limit myself to dating men or women and leave it at that. But I don’t want to. I feel like I would be losing something, somehow. It doesn’t feel honest to only say that I’m attracted to one group or the other. And what about people who aren’t just men or women? Should I discount them as partners just because they don’t follow a binary that makes people comfortable, even if I’m attracted to them? The obvious answer here is “of course not.” Even so, I feel like it’s my fault that I’m not making a choice.
I feel like the fact that I am not just a lesbian or a straight girl makes me look indecisive. Some of my friends have mentioned the possibility that I’m just “bi-curious” (a term I’m quickly learning to dislike). Maybe because of the stereotype that people “experiment in college,” I think some people would look at me and say this is a phase. I’m still insecure about calling myself pansexual because, honestly, I’m afraid those people will be right. What if I’m wrong and I’m not a “real” pansexual? What do I have to do in order to qualify to label myself in a particular way? I’ve never had a girlfriend, and I’ve only ever slept with one girl.
I’ve never dated someone who was outside of the gender binary. Does this make my claim to pansexuality illegitimate? How many girls or gender fluid people should I date/sleep with before I get to call myself not straight? It’s so easy to forget that I get to choose my labels. Regardless of my sexual and dating history, I identify with the label of pansexual, and that should be enough. But, somehow, I’m afraid that it isn’t.
I feel ridiculous because, honestly, I think I’m getting too old for this. It seems like everyone I know who isn’t straight figured it out at a young age. It seems so common to meet people who say “ever since I was a child, I knew I was different,” or “I started coming out to family/friends in high school.” I, on the other hand, am a 21 year old college senior who never even questioned my straightness until a few months ago. I do attribute some of this to my upbringing—I spent my middle- and high-school years in a Pentecostal Christian church.
For those of you who don’t know, this means I spent my adolescence in an environment where people spoke in tongues, believed that Barack Obama may actually be the antichrist, and preached that gay people are going to hell. As a teenager in a small Ohio suburb, it never even crossed my mind that I could be anything but straight. But still, I can’t help wondering, why now? How is it that I managed to put off this identity crisis, or whatever it is, for two decades? Everyone else seems to have this figured out by now—why don’t I?
Unfortunately, I don’t have a happy ending to close out my rant. I still haven’t explicitly come out to many of my friends (although if someone asks directly, I won’t lie). I don’t post about my sexuality on Facebook.
I have not come out to my family, and have no immediate plans to do so, although I guess that’ll eventually come up because someday I may want to bring a non-male person home to meet my parents. In the meantime, I’m just working on figuring out how to talk to my straight friends about my sexuality. I’m trying to learn how to assimilate “pansexual” into my identity. Most of all, I’m trying to remember that I get to choose how I label myself, and that’s all that matters.
Heather Stebbins is a fourth year undergraduate student living in Chicago. She is currently studying anthropology, but hopes to eventually do some sort of work in education reform. She spends most of her free time reading, planning road trips, and watching too much Law & Order: SVU.