The Difficulties of Being Pansexual in a Heteronormative Relationship

Two years ago, I came out to myself, and to my friends, as bisexual. Since then, I’ve decided that I do not like the label of bisexual, as it is a transphobic and exclusive label to me. Now I identify as pansexual.

Pansexuality is not the same as bisexuality. In Latin, bi- means “both.” When one is bisexual, s/he is attracted to cisgender men and cisgender women. The Greek prefix pan- in pansexual means “all.” When one identifies as pansexual, this means they are interested in ALL genders, whether or not the gender falls in line with the binary. I chose to identify as pansexual because I feel that bisexual is transphobic, and does not encompass the entire definition of my sexuality. My attraction is all inclusive of trans people, and people who do not identify with binary gender.

I am in a strange dilemma in life. Despite my pansexuality being mostly out of the closet for almost two years now, I am currently in a relationship with a straight man who I love very much. This means I am in a relationship with someone who cannot identify with me on a level that I need him to sometimes, because he can never understand what it is like to be pansexual. Some points of pansexuality are difficult for him to understand, and he can be downright offensive when I know he doesn’t mean to be. From dangerous statements that have been made to failing to understand how pansexuality encompasses my entire identity, the beginning of our relationship was rocky.

My boyfriend came into my life about a year and a half ago. He is a straight, cisgender male from Chicago who graduated from Morehouse College. Much of my boyfriend’s upbringing involved heteronormativity, homophobia, and the denial of the male privilege amongst black men. This stems from his childhood, all the way up until the end of his college career. In his defense, he is not a homophobe, nor is he transphobic, or sexist (at least not intentionally). I honestly believe my boyfriend was brought up in an environment where homophobia and sexism are the norm, part of a culture. I also think our relationship dismantled much of what he knows about activism, queer identity, and the privilege he undeniably has being a straight, cisgender male.  

As a queer black feminist, there are a number of things I immediately do not tolerate in a relationship. Sexist jokes are thwarted immediately. The question of jokes about transwomen are off the table. Homophobia is not allowed. How can you be homophobic and expect to be with me?

When he and I first got together, things were difficult on my end. I was skeptical about being in a relationship with yet another straight man. I had just come out, so I wanted to explore my sexuality with someone who was not straight. But he is the one who makes me smile. When I’m on those bus trips to Atlanta for a visit, I smile from my toes as I get closer. He’s become my peace, my sanity, and my safe space. I deal with anxiety, bipolar depression, and PTSD. Even in our “talking stage,” he’d be down to stay up late with me to calm my post traumatic stresses and anxieties, often falling asleep on the phone like high schoolers. Despite all the good parts of our relationship, I think I was too forgiving in the beginning with some of the hurtful things he has said. Especially when my passion for black rights and queer rights are confused with being an “extreme feminist,” or “being against black men.” While things that were said in the past hurt my feelings, I understood, and still take into consideration, that black men have a hard time grasping onto the idea of having privilege in the black community. This is because with years of racial injustice, “black male” and “privilege” simply seem oxymoronic. I also take into consideration that hypermasculinity is a norm, so it is difficult for him to unlearn things.

One day, he and I were having a conversation about our future children. I asked how would he feel if our hypothetical son were gay. He said something that appalled me.

“I just don’t think homosexuality is right.”

Mind you, my boyfriend knows I am pansexual. He accepts every part of me. He loves me, and nothing in my mind makes me doubt that. However, I understand that much of his upbringing has much to do with the outrageous things he says regarding a number of issues, especially those pertaining to the LGBTQIA+ community. But in this moment, I did not understand. How could he want to be with me, a person who is attracted to every gender, and say something like “homosexuality isn’t right.” How could the person I love and care about utter such words?

He then clarified himself. “Well I don’t think it’s wrong overall,” he says, “I just think it’s wrong for men.” I went off.

I was baffled. Once my rampage subsided, I realized what had taken place: Oversexualization and double standards. We talked through why he felt that way and I explained why every part of what he was saying was wrong. Straight men have this tendency to oversexualize queer women. This does not exclude straight men in committed, monogamous relationships with queer women. Many men feel as if they can fulfill their fantasies of having sex outside of his committed relationship with a woman who is attracted to multiple genders. Is her queer identity a form of implied consent? It’s the hyper-masculine fantasy that involves straight men dominating two women, and it’s misogynistic, queer antagonistic, and to be honest, a little creepy. However, because I am clearly sexually attracted to him, and also attracted to women, this was an “easy access” to every man’s fantasy of a threesome.

We talked it out, all the rights and the wrongs imaginable. He explained that he simply can’t insert himself into the narrative because he is not attracted to men. Because my boyfriend is straight, he didn’t even understand that he was offending me. He had a hard time understanding the underlying messages in what he said. By saying that homosexuality is okay for women but not for men, he essentially said that men should remain in their heteronormative roles of masculinity, while women should live to please straight men in whatever way they feel is appropriate.

Despite being together for this long, sometimes I feel that my boyfriend does not understand that my pansexuality is a part of my identity.

I began writing for an amazing website that revolves around being queer, black, and millennial. I don’t think it is feasible for me to write for a website and still be closeted to my family. Recently, I told my boyfriend that I plan to come out as pansexual to my mother. He initially felt it was pointless to come out to my mother.

“She is never going to experience you with a woman,” he says. “So why put yourself through that?”

He is positive that we are meant for each other, and we are both in agreement of our relationship possibly leading to marriage.This means I will most likely never be serious with someone of the same gender or the non-binary. This, however, does not change the fact that my queer identity encompasses a large part of who I am. It does not only involve who I am attracted to. It involves what I fight for. It encompasses the products I will and will not consume. It affects who I choose to keep around as my company. And it scares me every day.

To his credit, I do think my boyfriend understands the dangers that can potentially come with coming out of the closet to a religious woman. My mother is a  south Georgia-raised AME minister.While she is more accepting than most black ministers regarding homosexuality, and other forms of queer existence, I think her acceptance ends at her doorstep. I’m nervous that if I tell her, I will be forced out of the only home I’ve known.  In a perfect world, telling my mother that I am not a straight woman would be easy. It would be full of acceptance, and maybe even a joke or two about how she already knew and was waiting on me to tell her.

I’ve only heard of one coming out story going well. Some of my friends were kicked out of their homes. Some of my friends were forced into doing things for money that I can’t imagine. I understand that my boyfriend doesn’t want me in a space where my anxiety and depression can be heightened if it doesn’t have to be. However, I think he fails to understand that despite being in this seemingly heteronormative relationship, I am hiding. And I can’t hide for much longer.

It’s not like that for him. He figured I’d just be putting myself in a terrible predicament for no apparent reason. I patiently explained to him that it’s not that simple. My pansexuality is not something that disappears because I am dating a straight man. It isn’t pointless for me to identify as pansexual just because we are seemingly heteronormative. Instead, it seems like my heteronormative relationship is a means of hiding spot from my mother, which, even though it’s a good cover-up, is exhausting.

Don’t get me wrong, he has learned so much. He encourages me to come out to my mother because he knows essentially that is how I will be the best person I can be. He also doesn’t make ridiculous statements, and his willingness to learn is amazing. He still has his moments, but I do my best to teach him right from wrong when it comes to the realm of existence.