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‘Truly comfortable with my sexuality’: Embracing pansexual visibility

Neen Chapman recently turned 50, and confesses it’s taken a long time to be themselves.

“Mostly because I had no support, words, or labels to describe who I am and how I see the world,” they explain.

Even with multi-gender-attracted people making up the majority of the LGBTQIA+ community, invisibility and erasure of pan identities can be big issues.

Pansexual Visibility Day

Last week’s Pansexual Visibility Day represents a time for awareness of a less-known type of orientation.

Bi+ Visibility Day has been recognised since 1999, so pan visibility has been on the back foot for over a decade, having had its own day only since 2015.

Visibility can be as simple as knowing the right words to describe how you feel.

The terms pansexual, pan, and pan+ can describe pansexual and panromantic identities, which can include panromantic asexuality.

For some, bisexual or bi+ covers all multi-gender attraction, including pansexual; others don’t want to stand under that umbrella.

A widely accepted definition of bisexual is attraction to your own and other genders, with pansexual meaning attraction regardless of gender.

Being bi+ is not transphobic and doesn’t exclude non-binary genders; likewise, being pan+ is not biphobic.

They’re both acceptable terms, and the best thing is you don’t have to choose – you can identify as both if that appeals to you.

‘I didn’t know the words to describe the way I felt’

Kikei, a photographer, writer, and artist, says they sit at the intersection of many different identities they are trying to weave together, like being Muslim and queer at the same time.

“It can be lonely and damaging, feeling like there is something wrong with you or that you’re different,” Kikei says.

They have only recently started identifying as panromantic.

Kikei explains that learning about different forms of attraction has been a relief, as they’re also asexual.

“I always had an attraction towards all genders, but didn’t know the words to describe the way I felt, especially as my attraction was more queerplatonic or romantic than sexual,” they say.

“I encountered the bisexual identity when I was a teenager and a friend came out, but I didn’t feel like it applied to me.”

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Mellie, a 35-year-old Indigenous woman from Western Australia, co-produces and co-hosts Rainbow KINection, a Noongar Radio show focusing on the Indigenous LGBTQIAP community.

“A lot of people haven’t heard the term pansexual, or have limited knowledge of what it is to be pan,” Mellie says.

“I’ve found that my pan identity opens up a conversation about gender identity.

“It’s important to me, being Aboriginal, because sexuality and identity aren’t often talked about.

“The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community still hold a little taboo in those who aren’t cisgender and straight.”

Simmi says they identified as bisexual until their 30s before feeling “more attracted to others for who they are”.

“I am not out to all my family,” they say.

“One of my daughters knows, and she is happy with who I am.

“My mother is very closed-minded when it comes to people’s sexuality.”

Simmi says it’s easier not to say anything “than to have her look at me differently”.

‘Some people embrace the real me’

Family and feeling connection are essential, and sometimes that needs to be with a family you choose.

“I’m out to everyone these days overall, but my original coming out was difficult, several times over,” Neen says.

“Some people embrace the real me, and others outright reject me.”

Marley does voluntary work within the LGBTQ+ community.

“I have made some wonderful friendships with others who identify in the same way,” she says.

“My eldest daughter has a good understanding of the LGBTQ+ community, and I love that.”

Marley also previously described herself as bi+ or bi-curious.

“I was having a conversation with my friend and I explained that I had felt an attraction to genders other than my own and she educated me about the term pan,” she says.

“I thought: Hey! I think that’s me!”

A relief and a burden

The idea that your sexual identity can be both a relief and a burden comes up in many different stories.

“I think being able to identify myself as panromantic has allowed me to love more, and be less apologetic about it,” Kikei says.

Marley admits she has had some challenges to overcome, but “wouldn’t pretend I was someone else for anyone else’s benefit”.

Neen says their own experiences have been “horrendous” and “violent” at times.

“They’ve caused great pain, but at 50, I’m stronger, clearer of mind, truly comfortable with my sexuality, and wouldn’t change anything,” they say.

Mellie says she has grown to love being an advocate and a voice for her people.

“I feel as though identifying as pan has helped me find my voice,” she says.

“Knowing who I am and standing proudly in that, I have occupied a space in the world.”

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