By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)
May 24th is a day we honor as Pansexual Awareness Day to bring awareness and education toward people who identify as “pansexual.” Pansexuality is a sexual orientation that looks beyond the gender binary when it comes to sexual and/or romantic attraction. That is, a person who identifies as pansexual does not define their attraction based on gender and is inclusive for transgender, non-binary, and intersex people. But rather based on individual traits such as personality, education, looks, self-expression, or other factors unique to the individual.
Pansexuality reflects the spectrum of romantic and sexual attraction that has come to define the LGBTQIA+ movement and has been around for just as long. However, it is not as well understood or known as more common sexual orientations such as gay, lesbian or bisexual, which is why “Pansexual Awareness Day” exists in the first place.
In terms of pansexual representation, unfortunately it is still limited but in the last 5 years or so it has improved remarkably. Celebrities such as Miley Cyrus, Cara Delevingne, Janelle Monáe, Brendon Urie and Demi Lovato as well as Drag Race alumni Bob the Drag Queen and Courtney Act have all come out as pansexual. Sports on the other hand, general lags when it comes to representation and acceptance of LGBTQIA+ people, and pansexuality is no different. However, even sports are changing too with openly pansexual freestyle skiier, Makayla Gerken-Schofield, and pro-race car driver, Charlie Martin, leading the way.
Makayla publicly announced she was pansexual when she helped GB Snowsport mark the UK’s LGBTQIA+ History Month in February. Her interview with GB Snowsport, when prompted by the question “What do you think that landscape is like for LGBTQ+ people is like in snowsports currently? Is there more than can be done in terms of inclusion?” she responded.
For this subject in particular I could not say much because I actually came out not long ago, many people call me bisexual, but I consider myself as pansexual and I never really had the occasion to talk with a lot of athletes, but I would be delighted to meet more people in the LGBTQ+ community in snowsports and to bring my support for someone who would need it.
“I feel that any LGBTQ+ visibility day is useful awareness! To be able to stand up, be accepted, and be understood that being pansexual is just one part of who someone is. On Pan Visibility Day, it’s important to remember that we’re celebrating pansexual people from all backgrounds and all walks of life.
Tom, Leonie and friends saw that I kissed a girl at a party, so they sort of guessed I was ‘bisexual’ so I just went with it and assumed I was bi. But then it bothered me because it didn’t feel like that was me… pansexuality is different from bisexuality but the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Being bi means being attracted to more than one gender, while being pan means being attracted to people regardless of gender.
And it’s nothing to do with saucepans or frying pans! I have nothing against old jokes but the one about being sexually attracted to pans isn’t just old, it’s also just not funny…
Watching LGBTQ+ documentaries, movies, or even just looking up the different kinds of sexualities there are in the world helped me. Then I came across pansexual, and it just felt right. I swear I was smiling at my laptop because I finally knew what I was!
Since I’ve found my place in the community, my confidence has improved a lot. I never really knew who I was before – I felt a bit lost – but now, I’m just me.”
For Charlie Martin, identifying as trans and pan has presented a whole new perspective on what visibility means for people within the transgender and non-binary community. In an interview with Jon Holmes at Sports Media LGBT+ last year, Martin shared.
“Yeah, I know my experience really echoes with a lot of trans and non-binary people. It’s something that happens when you’re identifying as transgender or later when you’re going through transition – you’re moving through gender and deconstructing it to an extent. For me, I had to almost dismantle my entire masculine identity in a very visible way and then move through that to a point where I’m at the other end of that scale. Inevitably as you move through that, there are periods where you’re questioning more – it just broadens your horizon of how you understand gender. It’s so much more than just black and white.
I worried when I was younger about the stigma of how I identified. Now I don’t worry about that at all but going through the process makes me think it doesn’t really matter to an extent. I understand gender the way I understand it, so that’s my feeling. It feels more natural to me to be attracted to people based on a whole lot of other criteria other than how they define their gender.
Gender is a much more fluid thing than probably what a lot of people think. When you go through transition, you definitely feel that way. I think that’s why so many trans people do identify as pan.”
As Makayla and Charlie continue sharing their stories and experience with being pansexual, they will inspire other athletes and sports as a whole to learn more about what #SportsDiversity means and what it takes to be truly inclusive.