What does it mean to be pansexual?


With more celebrities publicly announcing their gender identity and transcending traditional binaries, here is a simple guide to understanding the LGBTQ community
Sara Snyder, USA TODAY

What does it mean to be pansexual?

Miley Cyrus spoke openly about coming out as pansexual earlier this week, but the concept remains unfamiliar for many.

Cryus, who described herself as attracted to people of any sex or gender, said she realized she was pansexual after becoming a part of the LGBT community in Los Angeles and meeting a gender-neutral person.

“Even though I may seem very different, people may not see me as neutral as I feel. But I feel very neutral,” she said in the Power of Women L.A. issue. I think that was the first gender-neutral person I’d ever met. Once I understood my gender more, which was unassigned, then I understood my sexuality more. I was like, ‘Oh — that’s why I don’t feel straight and I don’t feel gay. It’s because I’m not.'”

While celebrities may be bringing media attention to pansexuality, the concept is not new, according to GLAAD President & CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis.

Here’s a quick explainer: 

Q: What does pansexual mean? 

A pansexual is a person who is attracted to all gender identities, or attracted to people regardless of gender, according to GLAAD President & CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis.

That means a person who identifies as pansexual may be attracted to a transgender person, someone who goes by by the gender neutral terms of “ze” or “zir,” or someone who identifies as straight or gay.

Jazz Jennings, a transgender teenage woman, told Cosmo, that pansexual means you are “attracted to anyone, no matter their sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, everything.”

“There’s no limits,” she said. “I’ll date anyone. It’s more that I love someone for their soul. Physically, I think I’m more attracted to boys but sometimes I’m attracted to girls too, so it’s weird.”

Q: Is pansexual a new term? 

Pansexual isn’t a new term, but Ellis said we are hearing it more often because younger generations seem to be identifying as pansexuals more and more.

Ellis said upcoming GLAAD research on how Gen Z and millennials identify and see the world has shown that there is a growing trend toward gender fluidity.

Only 48% of Gen Z, or the generation born after millennials, identify exclusively as heterosexual, according to a recent report from J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group.

An upcoming GLAAD study reaffirms those findings, according to Ellis said.

Q: Is pansexuality different than bisexuality? 

Bisexuality and pansexuality are not interchangeable words, Ellis said, though pansexuality does fall under the so-called “bisexuality umbrella.”

“Pan is more about all-inclusive, and bi tends to be more than one,” she said, adding, “The golden rule, honestly, is to call someone by how the identify.”

A common conception of bisexuality is that bisexual people find themselves attracted to men or women, reinforcing a gender binary. But Ellis said that’s not the case.

“The reality is that bi means more than one,” she said. “The bi community feels very strongly that [bisexuality] is not being binary either.”

Follow @MaryBowerman on Twitter. 

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