Bisexual? Pansexual? The Non-Binary Caught In Between
People who have romantic relationships with both men and women are often the target of prejudice and discrimination — from all sides.
PARIS — Men, women, heterosexuals, gays, lesbians. Forget all of those "old" categories. Last month, the results of a national survey in France of biphobia and panphobia — discrimination faced by those who identify as bisexual or pansexual — turned some heads.
If the term "biphobia" is not yet widely accepted, it is because of a paradox. While those who identify as lesbian or gay live more and more openly, and those who identify as transgender have obtained the beginnings of acceptance, those who identify as bisexual – those who are attracted to people of more than one gender – remain largely invisible. The term "pansexual" has even less standing. Used by a few figures in the entertainment world, it is increasingly preferred by the younger generation instead of "bisexual" because it allows for more fluid identification. This is how Jacquie (everyone requested at least partial anonymity), a blue-haired 19-year-old, explained the difference: "The word ‘bisexual" no longer corresponds to the perception certain people have," Jacquie said. "To be pansexual is to say you could be attracted to someone no matter their gender."
Male, female or any of the other many options which have emerged to measure the evolution of the fluidity of identity and sexuality: transgender (when the gender with which someone identifies does not match the sex they were assigned at birth), intersex (someone born with sex chromosomes, genitalia, or reproductive systems not considered to be standard for male or female), or non-binary (someone who does not identify either as male or as female) are some of the most common.
"At the beginning of middle school, I had boyfriends and I also had very, very, very close friendships with girls," says Jacquie. "First, I identified as bisexual, then as pansexual which is more inclusive, then as queer, which is a generic term to say you're not in the binary, because I was tired of using ten different words!"
Today, we have the vocabulary.
Biphobia or panphobia, whichever term is used, Jacquie has experienced it. "We get told it's just a phase, that we're going to choose," Jacquie says. "And also, that we're going to be more unfaithful, because of a stupid reasoning that we could cheat on our partner with twice as many people. Even gays and lesbians say it."
This is also what Laura, 42, saw during her first relationship with a woman when she was 18. "She was very afraid that I was going to cheat on her at the same time with both men and women," Laura says, "even though there was no one more monogamous than me."
One-third of the 3,624 people who responded to the biphobia survey said that they had been rejected by a potential partner because of their sexual orientation. Ninety-three percent said they had already heard biphobic or panphobic remarks. For 66% of them, these remarks had influenced their visibility or made them speak more freely about their orientation.
In a sign that things are beginning to change, celebrities are beginning to identify as bisexual or pansexual in the United States and also in France — including Héloïse Letissier, the singer for Christine and The Queens.
"It's not bad for YouTubers to do this," Laura says. "The internet has changed many things. When I was young, the only bisexual person I could relate to was the heroine of Basic Instinct, a criminal!"
"People have said to me ‘pansexual, does that mean that you like animals too?"" says Morgane, an 18-year-old with blue eyes and short hair, who has identified as pansexual for two years. "I began to go out with a girl without asking myself any questions, it was enough evidence for me. But I am not a lesbian because I am still attracted to men."
Among her family and friends, her coming out has been well-received. "I have the impression that today people are more open-minded," Morgane says. "In high school people would come out as gay or lesbian from time to time, and there were also people who would come out as transgender."
Coming out is a neverending task when one is bisexual, says Alexandre, 25. "If you're with a person of the same gender, you're categorized as gay. But if their gender is different, then you're straight. You have to start over again each time."
He was in a relationship with a young woman when he met his first boyfriend, who was transgender. "So, for me it's not that important how my partner identifies." He needed to explain to his grandmother that no, he was not with two people at one time.
And is bisexuality more common today?
"Many people in the past were bisexual, but they didn't have a name for it," says Alexandre, who is working on a history PhD. "Today, we have the vocabulary to describe how we live."