What does it truly mean to identify as a pansexual? Is pansexuality same as bisexuality? How is it different from being queer?
This week FSOG exclusively asked Shom Tiwari, a 23 year old who identifies as a pansexual, to answer all these questions for us.
Shom is from North Carolina, USA and works in the Public Utilities department for their city government. This job basically involves environmental policy and administrative work, such as applying to grants for hurricane resiliency; and strategizing on how to improve walkability in the community. They also work part-time for the public library at the circulation desk.
According to you, what does the term ‘pansexuality’ truly mean?
Pansexual means that I feel attracted to people regardless of their gender. Although I sometimes think of a person’s gender as I get to know them, it isn’t a salient aspect of why or how I may feel attracted to them. I can be and have felt attracted to men, women, non-binary folks, cis people, and trans people. Generally, I feel more interested in a person and their character rather than their gender.
Labels like pansexual help me better understand myself and connect to others with a similar experience. But, I don’t think such labels wholly define me. There is still great variance within the pansexual community for how folks relate to their own sexuality. I wouldn’t say I have an even split in my degree of attraction to people of different genders. Yet, I know that gender does not limit my ability to connect with someone.
When did you realize that you’re a pansexual?
I realized I was pansexual as I learnt more about gender and sex. I came to understand that neither constructs use a universal or objective definition. So I thought more about how and why I linked them to defining my attractions.
While gender and sex undoubtedly shape our world, experiences, and opportunities, they do not ultimately influence whether I can feel attraction to a person. As I learnt more from celebrities, friends, or academics who described themselves as pansexual, I found connections to my own experience. So it felt right to start describing myself as pansexual too.
Was it ever confusing for you, when you liked people from both the genders?
No, I was not confused by my attraction to people of different genders. It just always felt right for me. But it was confusing to not hear others talk about similar experiences. So I kept that attraction to myself.
In elementary school, I had childish crushes on people of different genders but noticed that, generally, boys should like girls and girls should like boys. That was confusing to me—how others either didn’t feel what I was feeling or didn’t outwardly express what I was internally feeling.
So I kept my sexuality to myself until I was 18. Throughout that time, my confusion was more about how those around me ignored or antagonized anything beyond heterosexuality.
It’s common for pansexual people to think they’re bisexual, before they realise their identity. What helped you understand your true self?
I still feel that both bisexual and pansexual can describe my identity. For me, bisexuality means attraction to people from two or more genders. I think that pansexual falls under the umbrella of bisexuality and that both can exist on the spectrum of sexual fluidity.
Although I first learnt about bisexual, then pansexual, and then sexual fluidity, I think all three capture different elements of my true self.
Again, these labels are helpful for describing and connecting with others. But, my existence doesn’t wholly lie in one term or the other.
What was your family’s reaction when you came out as pansexual?
Parents of most cultures and backgrounds are generally known to be ‘not understanding’ of their LGBTQ kids. I think there are certain stigmas that are heightened in Desi culture; where for many, talking about sexuality even for cis straight people is already taboo. To my knowledge, I was the first openly LGBTQ person in the family. As I let my family know more about my sexual identity, I am thankful for their unconditional love and genuine curiosity to better understand my experience. Nevertheless, it has been a struggle to make up for my entire family’s lack of nuanced exposure or education around LGBTQ people and topics.
At times, this lack of exposure has led to hurtful comments or naive generalizations. But, as I continue to learn more about their experiences with LGBTQ folks before me and they learn more about my thoughts and feelings; we’re gradually able to move towards better understanding of one another.
One line that has stuck with me is that we may feel like we have to come out to people multiple times. Even if I verbalize that I am pansexual, it may take months or years for my family to understand what that means and even longer to relearn who I am. The fact that we are all willing to keep engaging in their conversations and moments of reflection feels incredibly affirming.
Did it ever bother you that you’re different? Or is it something that you barely notice?
I notice the difference in big and small ways. Very often, people around me will use cis-heteronormative language. I too am working to unlearn the assumptions I make when thinking and speaking. So hearing such words doesn’t always bother me; but I note when I hear it so I can pause to think about why and how people become conditioned to think in such ways.
Growing up, I heard from many people that I would “break a lot of girls hearts” when I got older. A lot to unpack here. But just reflecting on how I was actively heterosexualized since I was a toddler is disturbing; but understandable given how heteronormative society as a whole was back then. Today though, I think we have a duty to hold ourselves and one another to a higher standard to ask and listen to those around us so we can embrace differences. So yes, I notice the difference but it’s not the only way I view the world.
It’s quite difficult to explain ourselves to others, especially when there’s not much exposure on topics such as pansexuality. Was it hard for you as well?
It was even hard to explain myself to me, given the lack of exposure. I remember coming across books about gender and sexuality variance in India throughout history and grasping for any information I could find to assure myself that even if nobody ever talked about non-heterosexuality in India or Hinduism to me, it doesn’t it’s wrong or non-existent.
Instead, I found cases of gender and sexual fluidity that mirrored and were also different from my own experience. As I found these resources to rebuild a history that was hidden from me, it became easier to then contextualize who I was to others; who had even less exposure than me to pansexual people.
Did you ever face any difficulties because of who you are?
I have a lot of privilege in life overall which shields me from some of the heightened difficulties that other folks who are also pansexual may feel. At the same time, I don’t feel safe talking about relationships at work or with all my family as my cis-het counterparts do; I don’t have as straightforward of an answer to “do you want kids one day?” as many of cis-het counterparts do.
I didn’t have legal protection against being arbitrarily fired until the past year or so. Although don’t view this as a difficulty, but even within the LGBTQ community, multiple cis gay men have told me they wouldn’t date me because they look down upon pansexuality or bisexuality.
Famous myths that people tend to believe about pansexuals?
That we are all polyamorous. We are all too scared to admit we are gay/lesbian. That we are all inevitably going to cheat in a relationship.
A word for people who’re confused if they’re pansexual?
Keep in mind that sexuality is fluid and it’s okay to refine your understanding or description of yourself as you learn and grow. So you don’t need to feel pressure to lock in to one term for life.
What matters is that you are open to better understanding yourself and, if you want to, you can find the support and safety to communicate that with others. Specific terms like pansexual can help us connect to folks with similar experiences or outlooks. At the same time, we don’t need to adjust ourselves to fit an image or expectation for a specific term.