It isn't a "my queer is better than your queer" thing, and it isn't just semantics. It's a genuine appreciation of the way our world defies binary polarity. Bisexual, to me, suggests that you can like either men or women. Pansexuality, or omnisexuality, suggests that you can love all sorts of gender identities and expressions in all people, whether male, female, something in between, or something wholly outside of the conventions. For a while, I used the term "pansexual" because it was one I had heard used most frequently in the poly community, but lately I've been leaning a little more strongly toward omnisexual, simply because pansexual makes me think of the god, Pan, and that makes me giggle a little.
I was reading earlier tonight about sexual orientation, and came across the following:
Allison says: “When I say I’m pansexual/queer, I mean that I am attracted to much more than one type of person. It’s beyond bi, because, well, that would just be two broad categories, and mine goes beyond that. Not to mention that bi means you like boys and girls, but what about everyone else? … I trust the worldview of the people I know and love who experience the world as neither man nor woman. … I’m very queerly pansexual, which means most of my desire is focused in the queer direction. I do have a handful of ‘types’ I’m often attracted to — when we’re in a new city, for example, my best friend can always spot the ones I’m going to be hitting on. I do love gender expression, and I especially love gender extremes.”
This speaks to me. I am sometimes attracted to extremely girly girls, and sometimes to extremely effeminate men. I am sometimes attracted to very butch lesbians, and sometimes to traditionally masculine men. Frequently, I'm attracted to a whole lot of people in between. And I'm attracted to the idea of playing with gender, and to people who do it well. I, personally, can't wrap my head around polar sexual orientation, not because I don't believe it is possible, but because I have nothing in my own experiences to help me relate to it. That said, I have friends who consider themselves to be strongly gay or straight, and I respect their self-understanding, just as I respect the idea that each of us gets to determine our own inner experience and define it for others.
So, if you call me bi, that's cool. We won't get into a fight over it, because I think both men and women can be fabulous. But if I'm describing myself, it's going to be omni- or pansexual.
Other interesting reading on this:
From Not Your Mother's Playground: I'm Here, I'm...?:
Eventually it hit me that while at home I feel quite straight and married, out with her I can feel totally bi and with others there are various degrees of – let’s say – Kinseyness that I experience depending on the relationship. Outside of being a fan of people, genitals and connecting, my identity fluctuates with every relationship I take part in but they all fall under one, beautiful queer umbrella.
From The Scavenger: Bisexuality Does Not Reinforce the Gender Binary:
In the hetero-mainstream, when I am paired with a man, I am read as straight; when I am paired with a woman, I am read as queer. In queer settings, when I am paired with a woman, I am read as lesbian/dyke/queer and viewed as a legitimate member of the community.
But when I am paired with a man (especially when the man in question is cisgender), then I am not merely unaccepted and viewed as an outsider, but I may even be accused of buying into or reinforcing the hetero-patriarchy.
So in other words, the “bi” in bisexual does not merely refer to the types of people that I am sexual with, but to the fact that both the straight and queer worlds view me in two very different ways depending upon who I happen to be partnered with at any given moment.
This aspect of the bisexual experience is not captured by the word “pansexual,” nor by the more general word “queer.” In fact, I regularly call myself queer, and when I do, people often are surprised when I mention that I date men (as though in their minds, bisexuality does not truly fall under the queer umbrella).
Anyone who is familiar with the history of the bisexual movement can tell you that the reason why some queer people began outwardly identifying as bisexual rather than as gay or lesbian (the two predominant queer identities throughout the ’70s and ’80s) is precisely because of this insider/outsider issue.
So long as a bisexual woman was only sexual with women and called herself a lesbian, she was accepted. But as soon as she admitted to, or acted upon, her attraction to men, she would be ostracized and accused of being a part of the problem rather than the solution.
This is why the label bisexual came into prominence—as a way to gain visibility within the queer community and to fight against exclusion.
Click on the links to read more of those articles!