Sexuality is a spectrum. And, recently, there's been more visibility for pansexual individuals — in part, thanks to pansexual celebrities using their stage to speak openly about their sexuality and share the microphone like Miley Cyrus, Janelle Monaé, Courtney Act and more.
So what exactly does pansexuality mean, how does it differ from other forms of sexuality (like bisexuality and polysexuality), and who are some pansexual examples? Let's dive in!
What is pansexuality?
Pansexuality refers to one's ability to be attracted to someone of any gender because their patterns of attraction don't tend to include gender. In other words, a pansexual individual might be attracted to someone of their own gender or someone of another gender, but that someone's gender is not a requirement or even determining factor of whether or not they're attracted to them.
Pansexual Cosmopolitan contributor, Lana Peswani, put it best:
"Pansexuals 'don't see gender.' This might be hard to wrap your head around but bear with me on this. I, personally, get drawn in by a person's 'vibes' and the 'feel' I get from them as a being. A person's energy when they walk into a room is the most important thing here, and I tend to fall in love with overall beauty (which I see in EVERYTHING.) Gender is just not a thing that comes into it at all for me as this overall 'picture' of the person is what creates the attraction. I believe that there are more than two genders and that gender works along a spectrum. My attraction spans the entire spectrum and my brain just does not divide people up into categories."
What is pansexuality vs. bisexuality?
Bisexuality refers to one's ability to be attracted to anyone of any gender identity. There's a common misconception that bisexuality reinforces the false notion that gender is binary, but bisexual people aren't necessarily only attracted two cis-gendered people; they may be attracted to anyone.
And while pansexuality is very similar in that regard, the difference lies in that pansexuality doesn't even consider gender as a determining factor in their attraction.
What is pansexuality vs. polysexuality?
While pansexuality, again, refers to the ability to be attracted to anyone regardless of gender, polysexuality refers to the ability to be attracted to people of multiple different genders, but not all genders.
Like bisexual and polysexual individuals, some pansexual individuals may also choose to identify as queer. Queer, in short, is an umbrella term for sexual orientations that are outside of the heterosexual "norm."
What are some examples of pansexuality in pop culture?
More and more celebrities are coming out as pansexual, leading to evermore awareness of the term and reinforcing the fact that sexuality is, indeed, a spectrum. Here are five famous faces who have come out as pansexual.
1. Miley Cyrus
In an interview with Variety, Miley Cyrus was asked when exactly she started to identify as pansexual. She said: "I think when I figured out what it was. I went to the LGBTQ centre here in L.A., and I started hearing these stories. I saw one human in particular who didn’t identify as male or female. Looking at them, they were both: beautiful and sexy and tough but vulnerable and feminine but masculine. And I related to that person more than I related to anyone in my life. Even though I may seem very different, people may not see me as neutral as I feel. But I feel very neutral. I think that was the first gender-neutral person I’d ever met. Once I understood my gender more, which was unassigned, then I understood my sexuality more. I was like, 'Oh — that’s why I don’t feel straight and I don’t feel gay. It’s because I’m not'."
2. Janelle Monaé
Janelle Monáe, a musician who is perhaps best known for her roles in both Moonlight and Hidden Figures, was interviewed by Rolling Stone in 2018. And, in the interview, she came out as pansexual, referring to herself as a "queer black woman in America" and "a free-ass mother-f*****" who has been in relationships with both men and women."
After initially identifying as bisexual, Janelle told the magazine: Later I read about pansexuality and was like, ‘Oh, these are things that I identify with too.' I'm open to learning more about who I am."
3. Courtney Act
Courtney Act is known for their roles on Ru Paul's Drag Race and Celebrity Big Brother is another publicly pansexual star. In an interview with the UK's leading gay magazine, Attitude, they said: "The reason I identify as pansexual is not because I wander around the street looking at women thinking I wanna bang 'em. It's because I've had sexual and emotional experiences with women, and I don't count that out as being a possibility... I had a threesome with two lesbians. I had an emotional connection with one of the girls. We just decided to give it a go. It doesn't invalidate the gay identity. It's important to acknowledge bisexual, pansexual. We have such a rigid idea of what heterosexuality is and that's problematic. We have such a rigid idea of what gay is and that's also problematic."
4. Jazz Jennings
Jazz Jennings is one of the youngest ever people ever to come out publicly as trans (when she was six years old!). She has since become a massive YouTube star and well-known LGBTQ+ activist. And, as a teenager, Jazz recently came out as pansexual to Dazed.
She said: "I’m still exploring. I think I’m physically attracted to guys but I know I could potentially be emotionally attracted to girls. I’m just attracted to people for who they are on the inside. That’s what it is to be pansexual, you know — loving people for who they are on the inside, no matter their label. Just loving someone. So I guess I am pansexual, but I don’t know because I haven’t fallen in love."
In 2010, Kesha spoke about her sexuality admitting that she liked "people" and insisting that she would label herself as neither gay nor straight. Then, in an interview with Seventeen in 2013 she said, "I don’t love just men. I love people. It’s not about a gender. It’s just about the spirit that exudes from that other person you’re with."
So, while Kesha never officially came out as "pansexual," per say, her words definitely resonate.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.