This weekend I spent a few (dozen) hours working on the November issue of Buzzsaw magazine, Ithaca College's premier alternative publication. This month, for the Body & Soul Issue, we've been exploring the ways in which American society views, treats, and labels the human body, how Americans conceptualize the idea of "soul," and how these constructions of body and soul interact.
One of the articles I helped to edit was about pansexuality, often referred to as omnisexuality, or the sexuality that basically disregards gender and biological sex. A pansexual person - male, female, trans, intersex, or otherwise - may be sexually attracted to any other person - male, female, trans, intersex, or otherwise.
The topic fit into this issue because of the largely understood summary of pansexuality: that people are attracted to souls rather than to specific genders or sexes.
As we helped to flesh out the article by fact-checking, editing, and developing a graphic sidebar, we realized just how little discussion existed about pansexuality. As tolerance continues to evolve into acceptance for gays and lesbians, as understanding continues to develop for bisexuals, and as visibility continues to grow for trans people, pansexuals have remained at a stand-still.
There's no organization that focuses specifically on pansexual people, and very few of the national LGBT organizations specifically list pansexuals as a group of people the organization represents. Only a handful of blogs provide consistent coverage of pansexuals.
What's more, their cultural visibility is often misunderstood and misrepresented -- if it's even represented at all, of course.
It's not a scientific poll by any means, but to gauge general interest and conversation about the various letters in the LGBT acronym, plus pansexuality, we did a basic Google search of the terms. There were hundreds of millions of results for "gay" (218 million) and "lesbian" (429 million), and tens of millions of results for "bisexual" (86.9 million), "transsexual" (34 million) and "transgender" (28 million). But "pansexual" only returned just over 1 million -- though the number did spike to 17 million when switched to "omnisexual." These results demonstrated some semblance of the lifetime amplitude of the conversation surrounding each term.
Then we took at a look at the terms' presence in more recent conversations by doing the same searches, but in Google News instead of Google. The results were again similarly disproportionate: "Gay" received 15,300 results, "lesbian" received 5,500, "transgender" received 2,650, "bisexual" received 2,510, and "transsexual" received 362. "Pansexual" only returned 30 Google News results -- and "omnisexual" appeared even less frequently -- only six times.
The pansexual identity is perhaps a complex idea to communicate and a difficult idea to understand, even in the broader LGBT community. But does our societal failure or discomfort to talk about a genderless sexual attraction have deeper roots?
Are we too brainwashed into believing in the gender binary that we can't understand an identity that largely disregards gender? Is the potential of shattering the gender binary -- and the unequal system of cultural capital inheritance -- too integral to our society to be a viable option? Does pansexuality pose such a threat to our black-and-white world that we can't consider it?
Image by Jess Hock for Buzzsaw magazine