A woman whose enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction is to other women. Some lesbians may prefer to identify as gay or as gay women.
The adjective used to describe people whose enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attractions are to people of the same sex. Sometimes lesbian is the preferred term for women.
A person who has the capacity to form enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attractions to those of the same gender or to those of another gender. People may experience this attraction in differing ways and degrees over their lifetime. Bisexual people need not have had specific sexual experiences to be bisexual; in fact, they need not have had any sexual experience at all to identify as bisexual.
An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. People under the transgender umbrella may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms— including transgender.
Many transgender people are prescribed hormones by their doctors to bring their bodies into alignment with their gender identity. Some undergo surgery as well. But not all transgender people can or will take those steps, and a transgender identity is not dependent upon physical appearance or medical procedures.
Turning our Awareness into Action
Make a commitment to understanding what you’re getting right and what you’re getting wrong.
Give Holistic Attention
Center other people’s perspectives, how they are directly impacted by your decisions, language, and actions, and how it makes them feel.
Collaborate & Listen
Meet individuals at their intersections and be ready to respond with action.
Hold Yourself & Others Accountable
Check-in with yourself on how your actions impact others and if you are being an ally, and adjust as needed.
We all deserve to have our voices heard, our experiences understood, and our unique needs addressed through relevant policies and culture change. We can create deeply-felt inclusion through authentic connections in our personal relationships, workplace culture, and daily interactions with others—the work starts with each of us. Are you ready to take a step forward?
A sense of place
In my research, people often said they experienced the “community” part of the phrase as an actual physical space. This could be a particular geographical area such as Brighton or San Francisco, or could relate to places frequented by LGBT people – such as bars and clubs – often referred to as “the scene”.
People I spoke to also reported experiencing this community aspect as part of a virtual space – such as online, or even in an imagined sense – in that LGBT people were thought to share “something”.
People revealed how they often had fears or negative expectations of wider society. And that this is in part why they invest in the idea of an LGBT community – as somewhere where they could feel safe and understood.
But the term does not capture differences and complexities of experience. It can also wrongly suggest some form of shared experience, which for some people can be frustrating because it seems to ignore their experiences of inequality or discrimination within – or exclusion from – so-called “LGBT community”.
A group of people
It is clear then that community belonging is not a given just because people share a gender or sexual identity. And this is why the notion of “LGBT community” is problematic. As someone I interviewed argued:
The idea doesn’t exist, it’s a kind of big myth – a bit like saying there’s a brown-eyed community or a blonde community.
In this way, then, the use of the term “LGBT community” could alienate some people and even risks deterring LGBT (and other) people from engaging with services aimed specifically at them. As another participant said:
I find anyone who uses this language dubious and with doubtful intention.
This is not to say that we should abandon the phrase altogether, but often using “LGBT people” would be more accurate – and would not risk alienation felt by an already (at times) marginalised group of people.
Pansexuality is sexual, romantic, or emotional attraction towards people regardless of their sex or gender identity. Pansexual people may refer to themselves as gender-blind, asserting that gender and sex are not determining factors in their romantic or sexual attraction to others.
The prefix “bi,” as we’re all aware, means two. Because of this, many folks, perhaps even the majority of people, believe that a bisexual person is attracted to only two genders: cisgender men and cisgender women. Members of the queer community who believe this to be the definition of bisexual, believe that bisexuality perpetuates a gender binary. They don’t believe it’s inclusive of transgender people and gender nonconforming people.
Given that “bi” means two, that’s a reasonable belief.
However, many bisexual-identifying individuals, myself included, now use renowned bisexual activist Robyn Och’s definition of bisexuality, as stated on her website: “I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”
In this definition, the “bi” stands for two (or more) genders. Gabrielle Blonder, a board member of the Bisexual Resource Center, a nonprofit whose mission is “providing support to the bisexual community and raising public awareness about bisexuality and bisexual people,” explains, “I use it to mean ‘attracted to genders like mine and genders different from mine.'”
The majority of pansexual individuals don’t believe either of these definitions – and that’s precisely why they prefer the term pansexual.
When the word “bisexual” became popularized, starting with David Bowie when he claimed bisexuality in a Playboy interview in 1976, we didn’t have a nuanced understanding of gender like we do today. Now that we do have a better understanding, some bisexual people have updated the definition of bisexual to be inclusive of all genders, whereas others have favored abandoning it, for a new word, that frankly is less confusing, given that pan does indeed mean “all.”
Now, Carey-Mahoney identifies with both labels. “They both, now, fit me like a glove, and trust me, honey, I’m wearing them proudly.”
Interestingly, when Tortorella does wish to identify with sexual labels – as opposed to simply human – he actively changes his label depending on who he’s speaking to and what their intention is.
“If I’m talking to somebody who’s more conservative and doesn’t believe in a nonbinary gender, then it’s easier to use the word bisexual, but if I’m talking to someone who’s invested in gender, queer theory, and understands the spectrum, then I’m more comfortable using the word ‘pansexual’ or the word ‘fluid.'”
Fluid, in this case, meaning that sexual attractions have the capacity to change over time and can be dependent on different situations.Tortella does note, however, that there is a rich history to the word bisexual, and it would be nice to honor it.
“The B existed far longer than the P ever did in the acronym, and there’s something to be said about that,” he says. “There’s something to be said about standing up for the mothers and fathers of the community who fought for [our rights to embrace a queer identity].”
Tortella’s not alone in his reasoning. “I personally like the historical aspect of it,” says BRC’s Blonder. “It’s the label we’ve fought for recognition under for decades, and it’s the most widely-known label. Language isn’t a static entity, and words can change meaning over time. Much like October is no longer the eighth month of the year, I believe the term bisexual has morphed into a different meaning than it originally was.”
For others, it’s less about history and more about the arduous, personal journey it took to finally claim a sexual label, only to then be told that their label is wrong, obsolete, or transphobic – and by members of the same community who are supposed to be embracing them no less.
“I’m proud to be bisexual” says Daniel Saynt, founder of NSFW, a private club offering educational experiences in relationships, kink and intimacy. “It took me 30 years to get to that point and it sucks that now that I’m comfortable in my sexuality, I’m told I’m not accepting enough cause I don’t consider myself pansexual. Pansexuals shouldn’t be attacking bisexuals just cause there’s a new term that’s more inclusive. We don’t attack gays for not being attracted to women and we shouldn’t attack a bisexual [person] just because they may not find a trans person attractive.”
Saynt is one of the people for whom bisexuality does indeed mean exclusively attracted to cisgender men and women. He embodies what many bisexual activists and individuals are fighting against.
Why you should think twice before you talk about ‘the LGBT community’
What does the phrase “LGBT community” mean to you? Chances are if you don’t identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans yourself, you might think about what you’ve seen on TV – so Queer as Folk, Orange is the New Black, or The L Word , to name a few TV hits. It might also bring to mind images of brightly coloured rainbow flags or Pride parades.’
But just stop for a minute and think about how often you’ve heard someone talk about “the heterosexual community”? Rarely I imagine – but the term “LGBT community”, or sometimes “gay community”, is frequently used by pretty much everyone.’
This might not sound like a big deal – after all it’s just a phrase used to identify a large group of people, right? But herein lies the problem, because after carrying out my latest research, which involved over 600 LGBT participants from across the UK, I’m not sure that community is a very suitable word for such a diverse group of people.’
And as I explain in my new book, Exploring LGBT spaces and communities, the term “LGBT community” can be understood in many different ways, and can mean many different things to many different people.’
LGBT and beyond
Then there is also the issue of the acronym “LGBT” itself, as it excludes a lot of people – such as those who identify as queer or intersex. And it was clear in my research that some people feel less welcomed within this acronym. Even those who do feature within these four letters – notably bisexual and trans people – can often feel marginalised by lesbian and gay people, and like that they don’t really belong to such a “community”.
People also spoke about their quest to find this “community” – with many trying and failing to discover such a thing. The idea of an LGBT community suggests that people who identify in this way should feel part of something. If they don’t it can compound negative experiences.
Many participants in my research also talked about experiencing discrimination from other LGBT people relating to their age, body, disability, ethnicity, faith, HIV status, or perceived social class. So although the phrase implies that LGBT people somehow automatically belong to a ready made community – this is simply not the case.
When queer activist and Younger star Nico Tortorella is asked how he identified, he takes a big breath before replying, “Well that’s a loaded question.”
“In the [queer] movement right now, we have a tendency of getting hung on specific words rather than the person,” the 29-year-old actor tells Rolling Stone. “And in my fluidity, I’m really attracted to this idea that it doesn’t have to be one thing.”
Bisexuality, pansexuality, sexually fluid, queer and simply “not doing labels” – all are different ways people identify to indicate that they are not exclusively attracted to either men or women. The truth is, however, there’s confusion even among members of the LGBTQ community as to what these words mean, particularly when it comes to bisexuality.
In fact, the bisexual community doesn’t even agree on what it means to be bisexual. The term pansexual was birthed out of the confusion, and to create a definitive and more inclusive label. This has led to in-fighting between members of the community, who are upset that their bisexual identity is being replaced by another label.
The meaning of pansexual is clear: someone who is attracted – either emotionally, physically or both – to all genders. This includes cisgender, transgender, agender and gender nonconforming individuals. The prefix was chosen because it comes from the Greek root “pan,” meaning “all.” But that’s obviously not the case.
Two months ago, when Janelle Monáe came out as queer and pansexual in a Rolling Stone cover story, searches for the word pansexual on Merriam Webster rose 11,000 percent, and the term became the most looked up word of the day.
Some pansexual folks even go a step further. “There’s the argument to be had that people use all the time, that bi is exclusionary. It feeds into the binary of gender,” says Tortella. “And I know that for me personally, that’s not the case. A lot of people say that bi is trans-exclusionary, but trans is not a gender itself, it’s a descriptor word for how people express their gender.”
That’s why Ethan Remillard, 22, who came out as bisexual in his early teens, said bluntly, “I identify as bisexual because I like fucking dudes and romancing girls. But I don’t claim pansexuality because trans[gender] girls and boys are the same as their cis[gender] counterparts.”
This is partly why people don’t like identifying with any sexual or gender identity label. Simply put, it’s confusing, and for many, the labels feels limiting. Also, inherent in your sexuality is an understanding of your own gender. If you’re not completely sure if you identify as male or female, then how can you accurately state your own sexuality?
This contributes to the growing popularity of the reclaimed word, “queer.”
“I use the term queer because I’m not sure of the specifics of my gender identity,” says Jill B., a 23 year-old artist. “So ‘queer’ feels like a good umbrella placeholder while I grow and learn and figure out all the details.”
People also have no qualms claiming multiple sexual identity labels. “Early on in my coming out, bisexual just fit … and queer felt disconnected from who I was, a bit academic and drudged in hate,” says Ryan Carey-Mahoney, 26, a LGBTQ activist.
“Then, as I grew into myself a bit more, I found queer to be none of those things. It was inclusive of many identities – bisexuality and others – and brought people together. It was uniting in a way that just saying ‘gay’ when describing the community can feel dividing.”
“I’ve definitely met attractive trans and non-conforming individuals, but the feelings I have [for them have] never been sexual in nature,” Saynt continues. “It’s more of an appreciation for who they are, what they represent, and just a desire for them to find happiness regardless of identity.”
The question then becomes, is it transphobic to not be attracted to transgender and gender non-conforming individuals? If so, then are members of the LGBTQ community clinging to a label that’s potentially harmful to other members of the LGBTQ community?
“For some time, I felt compelled to cling to the bisexual label in a pseudo-noble effort to protect the identity from a perceived diaspora of individuals turning to the term pansexual,” Jill B. says. “At first, it felt important to continue defending bisexuality, as I had always done when members of the straight or gay communities attempted to invalidate or exclude it. [I felt] like a captain going down with his ship. Over time, this came to be less important than accurately portraying the full spectrum of my sexuality.”
Nevertheless, everyone I spoke to said that there is room in the larger bi and pansexual communities for multiple labels to exist.
“I think there’s room for all of. We’re all here. And it’s our right to claim whichever label we want.” Tortorella said.
Bisexuality, to many, is also seen as an umbrella term, inclusive of sexually fluid labels like pansexual. There’s even been a push in the bisexual community to use the term bi+ to really emphasize that bisexuality is the larger encompassing term.
Jill B., even though they abandoned the bi label, still believes there is room in the queer community for the diversity of sexually fluid labels. “I’m hopeful that the spark in conversation regarding sexual fluidity will generally increase visibility for those who neither fully identify as straight or gay.”
Still, they’re not convinced if having all these labels will be beneficial to the community in the long run. As Jill B. notes, “I am not sure whether an increase in labels will prove to be unifying or divisive for us.”