Last Thursday, I was lucky enough to attend the unveiling of Instagram and artist Josh McKenna’s Pride Wall with my husband at Facebook HQ. I mingled with incredibly accomplished people, ate delicious rainbow-coloured treats, and listened to moving speeches encouraging love, acceptance, and being proud of who you are. And it made me realise, I’m not fully being proud of who I am.
I’ve always justified rarely talking about my sexuality by saying it’s nobody’s business, and it isn’t. But that doesn’t fully encompass why I try to avoid speaking about it.
‘It’ being that I’m a pansexual woman.
Pansexual: the sexual, romantic, or emotional attraction towards people regardless of their sex or gender identity.
Formerly I considered myself bisexual, but upon learning about non-binary, intersex, and other forms of gender identity, I've found pansexual to be a more inclusive term than suggesting I'm only attracted to men and women. But why is it so hard for me to talk about? Well, to put it simply: social stigma.
When I was in high school I had my first sexual encounter with another female. My best friend at the time. One September night, we were hanging out in her bedroom before the school football game, as we normally did, only this night didn't turn out to be typical at all. Without any kind of warning, she just started kissing me, apparently acting on feelings she had been holding in for a while. My first reaction was fear and confusion, but I didn't push her away because, well, it felt right. I'd like to say that after that experience we realised our feelings for each other were deeper than friendship, and thus I entered into my first relationship with a girl, but I'd be lying. No, what actually happened was I avoided her for the next three years of high school because of the shame I felt about my sense of heterosexual normalcy falling apart.
I'd regularly hear friends and TV shows or movies make comments about how bisexuals were just people who hadn't fully accepted that they were gay yet. To admit that I was potentially bisexual to me meant eventually coming to terms with the fact I was a lesbian and that just didn't feel accurate. But that's the trouble with turning a type of person into a caricature of what they actually are; stereotypes form and people's perceptions of what that type of person is like becomes skewed.
Bisexuals and pansexuals, especially female presenting ones, are so hypersexualized that it's rare for us to even tell a potential partner we identify as one without then being asked, ‘So, we could have a threesome, then?’ Just because one has the capacity to be attracted to more than one gender doesn't mean they're some crazed sex predator eyeing every person they come across as a potential addition to their weekly orgy club. But the media perpetuates this myth that gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are über confident individuals who ooze perversion and exist only to aid heterosexuals in exploring their sexual liberation and fluidity. That stereotype could not be further from who I actually am. It took me 21 years to be bold enough to try sleeping with one person, let alone go around trying to seduce pure straight women.
Still, the possibility of being viewed as a lustful sex maniac by my partners was enough to keep me tight lipped about what I was feeling for years. Tight lipped with everyone in my life, actually. While many people find it freeing to be honest with their loved ones about their sexuality, particularly if they're gay or lesbian, the thought of explaining my pansexuality to my father feels awkward. And at this stage, it feels like there's no point in disclosing it since I'm married to a man and we have no plans of adding a third partner into our relationship.
But why haven't I even talked about it amongst most of my friends? Well, as stated above: stereotypes and social stigmas. Some straight people subscribe to this egotistical belief that if they have a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or pansexual friend then at some point the friend will try to make a move on them. It doesn't occur to them that like most people we also have types and, y’know, boundaries. So in an effort to not make them uncomfortable and to prevent any weirdness from seeping into our friendship, I've kept my leanings pretty hush-hush. But why do I feel the need to suppress a natural part of me for fear of people's ignorance?
I'm tired of constantly trying to minimise and downplay who I am in all facets of my life so that other people will be more comfortable around me. Or won't be rude to me. So they'll treat me with respect; like a human being. It's taken me 12 years to come to terms with it, but thanks to things like the worldwide Pride events and the inspiring people who make powerful speeches at them, I'm not ashamed of my sexuality anymore. It is with their guidance that I've been able to realise what I feel - and what I've always felt - is real, valid and normal. That my sexuality is more than a joke. More than a fetish. More than a stereotype. It is because of their bravery that I now feel proud to live my life boldly and unapologetically. Yet again, I've learned that when I stop investing time in worrying about what other's think, I lead a much happier, fuller life.
I'm a proud pansexual woman. I accept me, and that's all that matters.