Bisexuality – pansexuality – asexuality and sexual fluidity, do we really understand these terms?
Dr. Mimi Hoang, a nationally recognized psychologist, educator, author and activist specializing in LGBTQ+ and Asian Pacific communities, co-founded three organizations in Los Angeles, California dedicated to bisexual, pansexual, fluid and non-monosexual individuals. She spoke with me in my Smart Sex, Smart Love podcast about bisexuality, pansexuality, asexuality and sexual fluidity – the myths, the definitions, the disparities and ways to become more BI affirmative.
Here is an excerpt from my podcast:
So many people – including therapists – can be confused. So, let’s start with the meaning of monosexual.
Mimi Hoang (MH):
Monosexual means having an attraction to one gender only. Non-monosexual would be anyone who is not included in that group – those who are bisexual, pansexual, fluid and queer spectrum. We came up with the term to shift that paradigm: you can have monosexual or non-monosexual attraction.
What are the differences between bisexual and pansexual?
MH : There are a lot of similarities between the two terms, but some slight differences, too. I like to use the definition of Robin Oaks, a well-known activist speaker and author, who many people call our Oprah. Bisexual is the potential to be attracted sexually and romantically to people of more than one sex or gender – the biological sex that was assigned to you at birth – and gender meaning gender identity; not necessarily at the same time for these attractions, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.
Pansexual is attraction to all sexes and genders; it also is defined as attraction regardless of sex or gender; the person is attracted to some other kind of trait outside the gender category. For example, they could be attracted to artistic people or comic book lovers.
As our understanding of the gender spectrum has expanded, so has the definition of bisexual.
I like that it’s expanding. It’s not just static anymore. People are allowed and allowing themselves to really reflect on all of their sexual attractions. We only teach children to explore heterosexuality and being cisgender and that’s it. Everything else is unexamined.
MH: We live in a very heteronormative and very cisgender culture. I grew up in the eighties and nineties, and it wasn’t really ever talked about. A lot of us grew up in that kind of culture where we just weren’t even given that option or that idea. It was assumed you were going to be attracted to the other gender, get married, have kids, that kind of a thing. Nowadays, I think society is a lot more open to including all different types of attraction.
I’m still settling into what you said about being attracted to someone with a certain trait. I am a huge Diana Ross lover and I love to go to her concerts. There’s a whole Diana Ross fan club. Most of them are not my type, but I find myself attracted to them and possibly even could be sexual with them because we all have Diana Ross love in the air. And then I think, “what the hell is wrong with me?” These are not even people I’m attracted to. Would that be a bit of pansexuality?
MH: What you’re experiencing could be an emotional or intellectual attraction. I like to use the Fritz Klein sexual orientation model. It wasn’t just who you were having sex with, but it was who you were attracted to, who you are fantasizing about, what you were doing sexually in the bedroom, and who you were hanging out with socially. Sexuality has many dimensions that we don’t realize.
The terms you are using may not be the way people define them. I’m always teaching therapists that even if clients say they are lesbian, what does lesbian mean to you? The term lesbian doesn’t tell you anything about their sexual history or their current sexual behavior. Your client may have a whole different way of looking at that.
MH: If you talk with 10 people who call themselves bisexual, they might have very different ways of defining themselves.
We also have fluid and queer. Fluid is a very inclusive term. It gets away from the BI prefix, which I think really trips up people. They think they have to be as attracted to one gender as much as the other gender and that is not always the case. Fluid is more encapsulating, and it allows for a little bit of flux over time.
Then there is the queer label, and it comes with many definitions, too. It’s often used as the umbrella term for the LGBT community, but some people use it as an individual sexual identity, because for them, their own gender identity may not be male or female or CIS. Therefore, their sexual orientation doesn’t really fit in that box either. They may be gender queer as well as sexually queer. I also heard another way that queer was used, which is that it’s person specific attraction. For example, I met this person named Jane and I’m just head over heels for Jane. Their attraction isn’t about gender, it isn’t about some kind of trait. It’s about the person.
What do you think about the argument between people who are bisexual and people who are sexually fluid? There is a lot of infighting about what and how these terms are defined.
MH: Unfortunately, I think there are a lot of identity politics about how people are using different terms. All of a sudden, people are gravitating to, or changing their labels. There’s still a lot of stigma about being bisexual or being non-monosexual. For some reason it’s all kind of getting lumped into the word bisexual.
I really believe in reclaiming – to make it normal and okay; it doesn’t mean you’re promiscuous or unfaithful or confused. I think that’s what’s happening between the different sub communities; certain labels just have a little bit more stigma attached to them.
Many gay men do not believe in bisexuality. Do you see that as well?
MH: Absolutely. We experience prejudice from the street community but also from the gay community. It’s been a long time that BI folks feel accepted into the gay and lesbian community, which is just really unfortunate because we’re looking for community, we’re looking for sisterhood and brotherhood and kinship.
In addition, I think a lot of BI men experience a lot of doubts from gay men in the sense that there’s an assumption that you can’t be BI, you have to be straight or gay, you have to be one or the other.
Can you talk about polyamory?
MH: Polyamory is about how many relationships you want to have at the same time. It’s about your relationship style. It’s the opposite of monogamy. Polyamory is being ethical about it, so we’re not including cheating and that kind of thing. Oftentimes people assume that because you’re BI, that means you have to be dating more than one gender all of the time. That’s not the case. You may meet somebody at any given time and maybe they have a male partner or a female partner. That still makes them BI plus. So, polyamory is not specific to the BI plus community.
What about the confusion between being gray asexual and demisexual?
MH: That’s about your level of sexual desire for other people. We assume everybody has sexual attractions and desires in the same way. Some people don’t have sexual desire, while others need to have romantic chemistry and connection first and then they feel that sexual desire, which would be in that demisexual gray, sexual kind of arena. Some people may not discover their bisexuality until they get that romantic and emotional connection.
For young adults, they’re figuring themselves out, sometimes dating and having serious relationships for the first time. Some of them may have an opportunity to fall in love with a same sex person. They don’t discover their bisexuality until that happens. That’s where demisexuality and gray sexuality may add a different layer to discovering who they are. For those people who are allosexual, meaning you can experience sexual desire for people you just met or you know, you may discover who you are a lot earlier in life. That type of attraction is just more readily accessible.
To conclude, bisexuality is not pathological, and it is not unhealthy, and it’s so important because we’re still a binary world where it’s gay or straight.
Bisexuality – pansexuality – asexuality and sexual fluidity, do we really understand what these terms mean?
Hear this podcast in its entirety by clicking here
To learn more about Mimi Hoang, visit her website at DrMimiHoang.com. She also is on Facebook and Instagram.
To find Joe Kort, visit his website at JoeKort.com.