Commentary

Pansexual people are real & valid. No matter how uncomfortable it makes you.

Edinburgh, Scotland - June 17 2017: Young person with coloured hair and pansexual pride flag around shoulders at Edinburgh Pride March
Young person with coloured hair and pansexual pride flag around shoulders at Edinburgh Pride March 2017Photo: Shutterstock

Pansexuality is a sexual orientation that thousands of people identify with, including several household names and recognizable people like JoJo Siwa, Jazz Jennings, Brandon Urie, and more. Definitions, of course, vary between who and what you ask, but Merriam-Webster defines it as “sexual or romantic attraction that is not limited to people of a particular gender identity or sexual orientation.”

Unfortunately, an organization that purports to represents bisexual people is intent on invalidating pansexual people’s existence and experiences, and have gone as far to claim their identity is somehow connected to the origin of conversion therapy.

Related: The Human Rights Campaign is imploding when it couldn’t be needed more

After American Institute of Bisexuality (AIB) Executive Director, Ian Lawrence-Tourinho, made that assertion, the AIB issued a lengthy statement to LGBTQ Nation given evidence they believe give credence to why Lawrence-Tourinho made that claim.

Pansexuality is often included in the bisexual “umbrella,” a group encompassing non-monosexual (as in, sexualities for attraction to more than one gender) identities and attractions. This generally includes bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual, fluid and polysexual people.

While pansexuality is similar to bisexuality, GLAAD explains the difference as: “being bisexual means being attracted to more than one gender,” while “being pansexual means being attracted to all gender identities, or attracted to people regardless of gender.”

Again, definitions will vary, and although people will undoubtedly roll their eyes and mock these “labels” and the ever-growing “alphabet” community, the important thing for everyone to understand their identity and find a way to authentically define themselves. As I have previously written, “Words are binary. Humanity just is not and won’t be.”

Unfortunately, the AIB is intent on trying to enforce such a binary on humans.

Last weekend, the social media accounts representing the organization’s website, Bi.org, shared an article about  David Rose, the fictional character from Schitt’s Creek played by the show’s co-creator and star, Dan Levy. They list David as a bisexual character and in an accompanying tweet, deemed him to be “one of our favorite bi characters.”

Several people online pointed out that the character is identified as pansexual, both in the show and by Levy himself on several occasions since the show’s premiere in 2015. Bi.org responded by removing any comments and blocking any commenters on their Twitter account that pointed this factual information out.

Bi.org’s Twitter account went on to claim that “Anybody whose attraction is not limited to one sex fits the scientific definition of bisexuality. It’s both anti-scientific and biphobic to say otherwise.”

This leads a reader to the conclusion that anyone who is pansexual is a bisexual person who’s politically emphasizing their identity, but also being “anti-scientific and biphobic” by not using the term bisexual. Understandably, pansexual people didn’t feel like that accurately represented their identity. Many pan (and non-pan) people pointed out that this — and they were also blocked or had their replies hidden.

Ian Lawrence-Tourinho — the Executive Director of AIB, which includes the publication Queer Majority and social networking group AmBi Social — not only reaffirmed these beliefs on his own Twitter account, but went further and suggested that David identifying as pansexual is supposed to be evidence of his and his family’s ‘eccentricity’.

“The whole point of the show is that the Rose family is eccentric & detached from reality,” Lawrence-Tourinho tweeted. “Bisexuality has meant the same thing since 1892 [and is] build on the framework invented by the 1st [LGBT] activists. Pansexuality gave us conversion therapy.”

LGBTQ Nation covered the initial furor over Lawrence-Tourinho’s comments on September 27, which community members referred to as “really shameful and counterproductive,” “bullshit” and “embarrassing.” “I was blocked by @BiDotOrg on Facebook years ago for calling out this rhetoric. It is not new,” one commenter said. One former Bi.org contributor has spoken out, saying, “I do not stand with bi dot org in these panphobic views or their SM behavior.”

In response to our coverage, Rio Veradonir, a Community Organizer at AIB, issued a statement to LGBTQ Nation.

AIB doesn’t directly address the rejection of pansexuality that their organization has continuously made, other than to state that people that identify as “pansexual, polysexual, omnisexual and fluid” simply have “no universally-agreed-upon definitions,” seemingly why they choose to refer to any and everyone explicitly using those labels as ‘bisexual,’ even if they reject such a term.

Instead they back up Lawrence-Tourinho’s tweet, providing the so-called “science” behind their definition of bisexual: “The current meaning of the word bisexual was coined in 1892 by a European psychiatrist. His work described sexual orientations, which it suggested are based on biology, including pre-natal development, supporting the concept of ‘born that way’ … Pioneers of the LGBT movement used that framework to advance the human rights and acceptance of LGBT people and continue to do so today.”

They then claim that biology-based “framework” was “derailed for decades by Sigmund Freud and his followers, who believed non-heterosexuality was a psychological problem or illness that could be treated and cured.” AIB states that “Freud believed that sexual instinct is all-pervasive and explains neuroses, a view that J. Victor Haberman in 1914 termed ‘pan-sexualism.'”

“Freud’s ‘pansexual’ theory changed the discourse,” they claim, “holding that non-heterosexuality was a mental illness or the result of trauma and could be treated and cured—effectively, by conversion therapy.”

AIB then acknowledges that “conversion therapy for religious reasons existed earlier” and that “The Freudian use of “pan-sexuality” is obviously not the way people who today identify as pansexual use or mean the word.” They even go on to point out that “Bisexuality does not imply a gender binary, or that bisexuals are somehow incapable of attraction to trans or nonbinary persons,” something that many bisexual advocates have said for years.

Yet, they continue to claim that because pansexuality wasn’t defined in that original biology-based “framework” from the 1800s, it must not ‘scientifically’ exist, and any identities outside of bisexual are just creations deriving from conversion therapy.

“It’s ironic that some people now believe ‘pansexuality’ is a solution to pathology they believe is implicit in terms like bisexuality,” AIB states. “…The history of these terms is often obscured and forgotten, even as people point explicitly to the past as the reason bisexuality is somehow outdated and should be replaced with other words and concepts.” (AIB’s full statement can be found in its entirety here.)

AIB essentially states their belief that the entire reason that people identify as pansexual is to “replace” bisexuality. Besides being ludicrous and downright embarrassing, it begs the immediate question: why do you include such “people” that believe such “pathology” that you claim is out to “replace” bisexuality?

Further, if AIB doesn’t believe pansexuality is its own, distinct identity, why would they include, and use, an explicitly pansexual character on their website and in promotion of it? Why claim someone suffering from such “pathology” that is in the same vein as conversion therapy as your “favorite”?

Beth Sherouse, a longtime LGBTQ activist,  said of AIB’s response on Twitter, “What a bullshit statement. ‘Gay’ used to mean happy too. Language changes. They just want an excuse for their discrimination.”

I couldn’t say it better. AIB thinks of pansexual people as nothing more as people with ‘political’ motivations or ‘detachment’ from reality, except when they find it beneficial to include them and others in the bi umbrella for content and promotion.

Bi.org’s own website shows that even though they don’t think there’s much difference between bisexuality and pansexuality, other people do. “If these terms all seem to mean the same thing, that is because they basically do!” their “Bi Umbrella” page reads, before they reiterate what they claim is the “scientific” definition. “Still, these words have value in that they allow people to describe their sexuality in ways that feel more comfortable or precise. They allow people to express their identity; how they see and understand themselves and want to be seen by others.”

So Bi.org claims to know the “value” in identifying as pansexual or otherwise, and knows that people use that term to express “how they see and understand themselves and want to be seen by others” — yet they still choose to ignore that and invalidate pansexual people.

Despite claiming they acknowledge people’s “pan identity,” other pan people that Bi.org labels as bisexual, but not pansexual — even when those people themselves have made clear their belief in a distinction — includes Janelle Monáe, Miley Cyrus, Cara Delevingne, and Alyson Stoner.

It’s unfortunate, especially right after Bi+ Visibility Week and a month of celebrating people in the bi umbrella, that a Bi organization would choose to denigrate people that are part of our own community. AIB is far from the only LGBTQ organization, or even bisexual organization, to face scrutiny from their own in response to questionable actions.

Their choice to continue excluding and attacking is also not unique — another bisexual org, the NY Area Bisexual+ Network, bemoaned that “the LGBTQIA+ Media is choosing to focus on two [orgs] that are… dysfunctional… [and] doing it [because] Scandal makes more clicks & money,” referring to our reporting and previous reporting on BiNet USA.

Lawrence-Tourinho (who is “currently on vacation,” AIB tells LGBTQ Nation) is not the first community leader or advocate to turn on the community they claim to represent, not unlike BiNet USA leader formerly known as Faith Cheltenham, who after leading a crusade to demand payment for any use of the Bisexual Pride flag, turned the organization’s social media and website into a pro-Trump group in tandem with Brandon Straka’s #WalkAway far-right campaign, which she’s continued to promote and amplify.

Yet, their decision to do so is not any less shameful. There are enough people and organizations dedicated to invalidating the experiences and identities of LGBTQ people, and even as they continue to fail doing so, they continue on, because they understand the effect it has on others.

It’s also unsettling to see people in control of a website seen by thousands across the internet so publicly commit to policing the LGBTQ community. The effort trying to arbitrate other people’s labels of their own identities could be used to listen to bi and pan people, provide valuable education and information about the bi umbrella, and analyze already-underrepresented parts of the LGBTQ community that could, down the line, lead to more research and ‘scientific’ conclusions about their identity.

Instead, AIB would much rather focus on silencing and restricting such voices to control who and what bisexuality visibly looks like.

I myself have previously written about this struggle when describing what it’s like being visibly bisexual for LGBTQ Nation. I wrote last year that, “Like anyone else, we aren’t linear beings. All people are made up of different classifications – that intersect to shape our identity…. Maybe, if all people interrogated why they are inclined to define bisexuality – or any identity – a certain way, they could figure out why that is.”

As I did then, I once again quote Kristen Stewart here about bisexuality: “You’re not confused if you’re bisexual. It’s not confusing at all. For me, it’s quite the opposite.”

Most pansexual people are similarly not confused, or motivated by something “political,” or trying to be “anti-science.” No matter how others feel about it, no amount of online posturing or mislabeling of fictional characters (especially one that infamously said, “I prefer the wine, not the label,”) or other forms of invalidation will change that. Just like invalidating bisexual people for years did not make them gay or straight, and centuries of invalidating gay and trans people did not make them heterosexual or cisgender.

Fortunately, there are other LGBTQ orgs and communities that are not intent on determining everyone else’s identity for them. The Bisexual Resource Center (BRC)’s President Belle Haggett Silverman said Lawrence-Tourinho’s words were “unproductive and harmful,” and further stated that her organization “Firmly believes that pansexual people are an integral and valued part of the bisexual+ umbrella. Regardless of the terms we use, the bisexual+ (or m-spec [multi-spectrum]) community is a home for every person who is attracted in some way to people of more than one gender.”

The BRC, BiVisibilityDay.com and the Bisexual Organizing Project are just a few others places that can be looked to for resources.

Longtime Bi+ advocates such as Robyn Ochs and Lauren Beach have shown true leadership values to make clear that exclusion is not indicative of all bisexual people, or the LGBTQ community as a whole.

No amount of attacking, blocking, or disparaging of people in the community will change that. Your identity is yours to understand, not for others to define.

Pansexual people are real and valid. No matter how uncomfortable it makes you, other people, society at large or an organization that claims to represent you.

Is Minneapolis ready for its first queer mayor? Because she’s ready for big change.

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