Monday, April 30, 2018

From “Bi” to “Pan”—Prefixes and Progress

I'm sorry her accent mark is missing!!!!!!!

 “(I) initially identified as bisexual, she clarifies, “but then 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.” – Janelle Monàe comes out in Rolling Stone, as quoted in this article.

Janelle Monàe’s new album is so good I can barely listen to it. Coming from her, the sentiment “I’m not crazy, I’m American” is enough to start me car-sobbing. Hearing The Way You Make Me Feel on the way home from work the other night, on the day she came out and what felt like the first day of spring, led me to an epiphany—it’s way past time to change my prefix.

When I came out as bi ( TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS AGO (!!!) (A whole Kurt Cobain lifetime ago!), it felt like such a freeing relief to my sixteen-year-old self. I couldn’t make heads or tails of men (Sorry, sixteen-year-old me, that hasn’t changed AT ALL.) and it made the world seem open and easier now that I had what I thought at the time was one other gender option.

One of the things that gives me the most hope for progress is the difference between my coming out in 1992 and the coming out of my present-day favorite pansexual middle-schooler, an honorary niece. The fact that her adolescence offers a spectrum of options, a vast catalog of identities, and a deeper (but by no means perfect) freedom from assigned gender roles fills me with joy. I think I’m ready to claim some of that freedom, both for my current self and for my sixteen-year-old self who is always still with me and always ready for more hope.

Technically, I could still be bi—by the current definition, it just means you’re attracted to more than one gender. I’ll still attend Bi Visibility Day, (Last year, the mayor came! Reason a million why Philly is the best!) I’ll still do my part to combat bi-erasure ( in whatever ways I can, I’ll still be mad at Dan Savage for that time he said we’re the only sexual orientation he hates. (That’s when I’m not being mad at him for the hostile work environment he created for Lindy West… ) (Or being grateful for the beautifulness he created with It Gets Better, which seems to want to be a running theme here…)

ANYWAY, the “bi” prefix hasn’t been sitting right with me. Even though the word doesn’t want to, “bisexual” still sounds like “two” to me, and it’s been a long time since I A. Thought there were two genders or B. Was only attracted to two genders. About ten years ago, a crush on a handsome New York performance poet sent me down a giddy rabbit hole of trans-infatuation (I’m pretty sure I totally fetishized and objectified him, and I’m really, REALLY sorry.) that has lead me into some of my favorite friendships and communities. I am NEVER surprised when someone I am drawn to later transitions—even my favorite writer in the world is headed down that road. ( )

So it has felt increasingly weird to have a label that sounds like two, even though I know that isn’t what “bisexual” actually means.

I guess it’s total dork-o-rama to change my prefix because Dirty Computer was finally released, but it’s WAAAAY more dignified than choosing the name “Jane” because a character on Blossom said she thought it was cool. (Thanks Jane’s Addiction and Jane Eyre for providing cover all these years, it’s good to let the secret out!) I’m sad to (sort of) let my old category go—twenty-seven years of anything is a long time—but I want my prefix to reflect my heart. Though I tend to go for those who present as masculine these days, I’m not sure assigned gender is an important factor. I want my prefix to reflect the world I want to see, a gorgeous, free spectrum where self-expression and self-determination trump prefabricated roles and expectations.

There’s a mantra that often floats through my head when I’m uneasy, especially in spring: Let Things Change. It feels vulnerable and maybe even silly to have a new word, but I know it’s right.

Next in the process will be figuring out where I am on the asexual spectrum these days, and I expect there’s a prefix to contend with there too. One thing at a time though. One syllable at a time.

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