As a non-binary bisexual person I have this conversation a lot, so let’s get this out of the way first: bisexuality is not transphobic. There are a few different definitions for bisexuality floating around but the most common ones from bi people ourselves are ‘attraction to multiple genders’, ‘attraction to two or more genders’, and ‘attraction to your own gender and other genders’.
Doesn’t ‘bi’ mean ‘two’?
It does! But like many words ‘bisexual’ isn’t that literal. Bisexual communities have a long history of recognising that gender is not binary. The 1990 Bi Manifesto says “Do not assume that bisexuality is binary or duogamous in nature: that we have “two” sides or that we must be involved simultaneously with both genders to be fulfilled human beings. In fact, don’t assume that there are only two genders.” Bi communities have been clear that bisexuality does not only mean “attraction to men and women” for a long time.
So what’s the difference between bisexual and pansexual?
It’s not that clear-cut! Bisexual and pansexual are both terms for those of us who are attracted to multiple genders. Depending on where you first hear those terms and what communities you’re part of you might know different connotations for each term, but those connotations aren’t consistent across communities.
Bi is an older term and some people like the connection to that history. Some people think that pansexual emphasises that they’re potentially interested in all genders, or that it implies that gender isn’t a factor in who they’re attracted to. Some people identify as both bi and pan and use the terms interchangeably.
When someone tells you that they’re bi or pan they’re telling you that they’re attracted to multiple genders and that’s really all that you know. It’s important not to make assumptions about people’s relationship, history, or the details of their sexuality based off one word- you’ll be wrong more often than you’re right.
Transphobia in bi and pan communities
There are transphobic bi people but they’re not transphobic because they’re bi. There are transphobic pan people but they’re not transphobic because the’re pan.
When pan communities use the phrase “hearts not parts” to define pansexuality they’re implying that other sexualities are based on body parts, and that’s a pretty transphobic idea. When bi communities use articles like this one as an excuse to not address the transphobia in bi communities they’re letting trans people down and hurting bi trans people most of all.
When anyone repeats the inaccurate idea that pansexuality means “attraction to men, women, and trans people” they’re being biphobic, panphobic, and transphobic. Lesbians are attracted to women, and that includes trans women. Gay men are attracted to men, and that includes trans men. Bi people are attracted to multiple genders, and that includes trans people of multiple genders. The idea that there’s only one sexuality that includes trans people doesn’t accurately reflect the reality in any queer communities.
Transphobia is a form of systemic oppression and that means that every community has to work at dismantling it. That’s not unique to bi and pan communities, and it’s definitely not an excuse to invalidate bisexuality.