Jennifer Wilber is a writer, teacher, and bisexual rights activist from Ohio.
Coming to terms with your own sexual orientation can be a confusing and difficult experience. If you grew up in a place where the LGBT+ community isn’t accepted, you may be afraid to admit to yourself that you are not straight. Likewise, if you have always thought of yourself as gay or lesbian, it may be confusing for you if you suddenly find yourself attracted to a member of your non-preferred gender.
Bisexuality vs. Pansexuality
It can be confusing for some to distinguish between bi and pan. Here are some easy definitions.
What Does "Bisexual" Mean?
A person who identifies as bi is attracted to people who are the same gender as them, as well as people who are a different gender than them. A bi person may be attracted to different characteristics of different genders.
What Does "Pansexual" Mean?
Many people mistake pansexuality for bisexuality, but they are actually quite different. A person who identifies as pan doesn’t care about gender at all. They are interested in the person regardless of how they express themselves. Some people may use both terms—bi and pan—interchangeably to describe their sexual orientation.
10 Ways to Know If You Are Bisexual or Pansexual
Many people look at sexual orientation as a black and white, either/or identity, and assume most people must be either attracted to men or to women. However, human sexuality exists on a spectrum, so it is very likely that you are not 100% straight or 100% gay. Here are some ways to help you to figure out if you are actually bi, pan, or otherwise non-monosexual.
1. You Are Attracted to Guys and Girls
This is the most obvious sign that you are bi or pan. You probably are not mono-sexual if you sometimes find yourself staring a little too long at both genders. If you find yourself physically attracted to men and women, or even people who identify outside of the male/female gender binary, you are probably bi or pan. Perhaps you have developed crushes on friends and celebrities of the same or different genders.
2. Your Own Gender Makes You Nervous
You may find yourself pushing people of your own gender away if you are bi or pan, but haven’t come to terms with your identity yet. This may sound counterintuitive, but your own gender may make you feel uncomfortable if you aren’t ready to deal with your attractions. For example, straight women tend to be very comfortable hugging their female friends, but a closeted bi woman may feel uncomfortable hugging other women, subconsciously fearing that they inadvertently out themselves.
3. You Fantasize About Your Own Gender
You prefer to watch adult videos or read steamy stories featuring only your own gender, even if you sometimes also enjoy straight intimate content. If you find yourself fantasizing about being with someone of your own gender, chances are you, on some level, wish to experience it firsthand.
4. You Felt Relieved When You First Heard the Term “Bisexual”
When you first heard of bisexuality, you immediately felt less alone. Even if you weren’t yet ready to claim that label for yourself, it might have been a huge weight off your shoulders to find out there are other people out there who are attracted to multiple genders.
5. Your “Happily Ever After” Could Go Either Way
When you imagine your future, you're not sure if you see yourself with a man or with a woman. You would be just as happy if you end up with a husband as you would be if you end up with a wife or a non-binary spouse. At the end of the day, you just want to be in a happy relationship with someone you love.
6. You Can’t Make Up Your Mind
If you see a cute (male/female) couple, you may not be able to decide if you think the man or the woman is more attractive. Perhaps you want them both, even if you would never tell them that! You enjoy variety. Maybe you briefly consider whether you would like to try a polyamorous relationship, even if you know deep down that you prefer monogamy.
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7. Bisexual Stereotypes Offend You
You are probably also offended when you hear someone imply that all bisexuals are into threesomes, polyamory, or are promiscuous. Maybe you are afraid to call yourself bisexual because you know that these stereotypes do not apply to you.
8. You Feel at Home in LGBT+ Spaces
You feel more comfortable and at home with LGBT+ people, even if you have been in relationships that appear “straight” to the outside observer. Sometimes you just feel more at ease with people who have things in common with you, even if you aren’t ready to admit that about yourself yet.
9. You Are Attracted to Androgyny
You find yourself attracted to androgynous people, even if you don’t know their actual gender identity. Though not all bi and pan people will be attracted to the androgynous look, if you are attracted to someone despite not knowing how they identify, you are likely non-monosexual.
10. It Just Feels Right
The term “bi” or “pan” just feels right to you. Deep down, you know you aren’t straight or gay. Even if you aren’t ready to be out just yet, deep down you know that you are interested in different genders. Take your time exploring your identity, and just be you!
Love Yourself for Who You Are
Figuring out your identity can be difficult, especially for young people. Even older people may feel confused about who they are after a lifetime of denying that part of themselves. It is important to fully accept every aspect of yourself, even if you are afraid that other people might not. Today, society is much more accepting of diversity than it was throughout history, but we still have a way to go. If you don’t feel comfortable coming out of the closet in your current environment, it is okay if you want to wait until you are sure you will be supported and safe. The important thing is loving yourself for who you are.
Bisexual and Pansexual Celebrities
A large number of celebrities have come out as bi and pan. Here are just a few that you may know!
After dating Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson, Stewart got together with model Stella Maxwell. When asked about her bisexuality, Stewart replied, "I mean, it’s hard to talk about, I don’t want to seem presumptuous, because everyone has their own experience. The whole issue of sexuality is so grey. I'm just trying to acknowledge that fluidity, that greyness, which has always existed. But maybe only now are we allowed to start talking about it."
Shawkat, known for her role as Maeby in Arrested Development, came out as bi in 2017. In regards to her career, she has said, " . . . I think balancing my male and female energies has been a big part of me growing as an actor."
Cyrus announced her pansexuality during an interview with Variety in 2016. She said, "I think when I figured out what it was. I went to the LGBTQ centre here in LA, and I started hearing these stories. I saw one human in particular who didn’t identify as male or female. Looking at them, they were both: beautiful and sexy and tough but vulnerable and feminine but masculine. And I related to that person more than I related to anyone in my life."
The frontman of the band Panic at the Disco! came out in 2018. He announced his pansexuality during an interview with Paper Magazine; "I guess you could qualify me as pansexual because I really don't care. If a person is great, then a person is great . . . I guess this is me coming out as pansexual."
Bob The Drag Queen
Bob came out as pansexual and nonbinary on Twitter in 2019. The RuPaul's Drag Race winner also announced their pronoun preferences; "Oddly enough I prefer binary pronouns. he/him/his/she/her/hers."
Common Myths and Realities
Bi people have to deal with stereotypes all the time, and the same can be said for pan people. Read on to learn the reality of each of these common myths.
Myth: Bisexuality does not really exist. It's a phase—and they'll ultimately decide on a more "mainstream" label.
Reality: Some bi people start off by adopting a lesbian, gay, or heterosexual label. It can take time to find the label that really fits their identity. But just because they may be undecided at the moment doesn't mean that they'll ultimately feel at home with the bisexual label.
Myth: Bisexuals are untrustworthy and likely to cheat.
Reality: Just because a bisexual person likes both genders does not mean that they will cheat. Loyalty exists regardless of gender.
Myth: Pansexuals are only attracted to non-binary people.
Reality: For pansexuals, it doesn't matter what their partner identities as—whether it be on or off the binary.
Myth: Pansexuality is the same as polyamory and gender fluidity.
Reality: Pansexuality refers to who a person is attracted to. A pan person can date one person as a time, whereas someone who is polyamorous can date more than one. Gender fluidity is about gender identity, which has nothing to do with the sexual preferences of a pan person.
- Fausto-Sterling, Anne. Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. This book examines sexual identity in biology, society, and history. It answers the more complicated questions surrounding sexuality and gender.
- Esteban Muñoz, José. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. Learn more about queerness and how it must be reimagined for the community to evolve.
- Bi / Pan / Fluid 101
- 6 college students explain what being pansexual means to them
- 11 People Explain What Bi+ Visibility Means to Them
- LGBTQ Youth Resources | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health | CDC
Resources for LGBT youth as well as friends, family, and school administrators to support LGBT youth.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: Honestly I’m kind of confused about how to define my sexuality. I’m a girl and I know for sure I’ve been physically attracted to other women, but that’s as far as it goes. I could never see myself dating one. In my “happily ever after”, it just feels more...right to end up with a guy because I always feel like I have a deeper romantic connection with them. Am I still considered bi, even though my attraction to one gender is much more muted than the other?
Answer: If you feel like you are bi, you are bi. If you feel like a different label better fits you, that is okay too. Remember, you don't have to be equally attracted to each gender to consider yourself bi or pan. Do what feels right for you. Don't worry about labels if you don't want to.
Question: How do you choose between bi or pan? Also, how do you know it is safe to come out?
Answer: Bi and pan are very similar terms. Some non-monosexual people prefer one term over the other for various personal reasons. Some people may also use both terms interchangeably to describe their sexual orientation.
The main difference between bisexuality and pansexuality is simply semantics.
Bisexual people usually describe themselves as being attracted to both like and different genders. Bisexual people may find themselves attracted to different qualities in people of different genders. Some bisexual people may find that they are mostly attracted to femininity in women and masculinity in men. Others may only be attracted to feminine women, and more feminine men. Perhaps some are attracted to men emotionally, and women physically. There are many, many different ways to be bisexual. Some non-monosexual people also identify as bisexual because it is a more recognizable term than pansexual.
Pansexual people describe themselves as being attracted to people regardless of gender. These people tend to think of their attractions to people as having nothing to do with the person's gender. They can be attracted to people regardless of their gender expression.
You should identify as whichever you feel best describes your sexuality. It is okay if you use both interchangeably, or just one term. It is also okay if you start using one term, but then later realize that the other fits you better.
Regarding your other question, if your family seems supportive of the LGBT+ community, it is probably safe to come out to them. If you live in a more liberal city, it is also probably safer to come out than if you live in a more conservative city where people still have backward beliefs about LGBT+ people.
Is there a local LGBT+ organization at your school or in your community? If so, you could contact them to meet other LGBT+ people who can help to support you as you decide to come out to other people in your life. It is always a good idea to have a support system in place in case things go wrong when you come out to your family.
Question: I have been questioning my sexuality for four years now. I am scared of dating a girl because of the stereotypes, and also because when I came out to my mom, she said that she believes bisexuality is a phase and when one claims to be bi that in time they 'go gay or go straight.' How do I conquer my fear of coming out? And as of lately I have been more attracted to girls. Does this mean I'm a lesbian?
Answer: Many people still believe negative stereotypes about bisexual people, including that bisexuality is just a phase. While some people who initially identify as bisexual do eventually realize that they are actually gay or straight, the majority of bisexual people continue to identify as bisexual throughout their lives. Remember, over half of the LGBT+ community is bisexual. It may help to show your mom material written by older bisexuals, such as bi activist Robyn Ochs, to show her that bisexuality is not a phase one grows out of.
If you meet someone you like and want to date, try not to let other people's misconceptions prevent you from being with the person you want to be with. Your relationships are for you and for the person you are in a relationship with, not for anyone else. Don't worry about what other people will think. Your happiness is more important than their bigotry.
You can be bisexual and be more attracted to women than to men. You don't have to be equally attracted to men and women to consider yourself bisexual. Perhaps you are a lesbian, or perhaps you are bisexual with a preference for women. Only you can determine this. To figure this out, ask yourself if you still find yourself attracted to men at all, or if you are only interested in women.
Question: Would attraction to trans m/f and men and women be bi or pan?
Answer: You can consider yourself either bi or pan if you are attracted to both men and women, including trans men and trans women. You can claim whichever label you feel best describes you. Trans men are men and trans women are women, so you can be attracted to transgender people and still be bi.
Question: I am married to a man whom I love dearly, but I think some women are sexy. What should I do?
Answer: You don't have to do anything. It is okay if you are married to a man, but find yourself attracted to women. You might feel distressed because you love your husband, but you are having sexual thoughts about other people, especially women. It is okay to have these feelings. It doesn't mean that you are any less committed to your husband or that you love your husband any less.
Being bisexual does not mean that you don't love your husband or that you can't be in a committed monogamous relationship or marriage. It just means that you are capable of being attracted to your own gender and other genders. Many straight people and gay people find themselves attracted to people other than their spouse as well. As long as you don't do anything with someone else behind your spouse's back, enjoy your fantasies.
If you do wish to explore your sexuality, it is important to be open and honest with your husband. Perhaps your husband would be okay with you exploring your sexuality with other women, either with or without him involved. It is important to talk to him before doing anything, however, to reach an agreement that you are both comfortable with. Never coerce your husband into agreeing to an arrangement that he is clearly not okay with and never go behind his back to cheat on him with a woman. This would eventually destroy your relationship with him.
Question: I have never felt attracted to trans, gender fluid, etc but I would like to keep my options open. I like the term Bi better, but I wouldn't like to back myself into a corner if I find a non-binary, gender queer, etc attractive. I identify as pan, but Bi feels more right. Help?
Answer: If bi feels more right for you, you should identify as bi. Your sexual orientation is your own, and no one else can tell you how to identify.
© 2018 Jennifer Wilber