It's OK - it can seem a bit confusing.
We all know there’s a lot of words for queer identity. As someone who has been out as about half of them for varying lengths of time (look, I question myself a lot), I know that there’s no real succinct explanation for a lot of them.
There’s no question I get asked quite as often as “what’s the difference between bi and pan?”
It’s not just confused outsiders asking it- it’s people questioning themselves, people who identify as one of the two and, well, everyone. It’s a big question with no simple answer, really.
First of all, we need to work something out. What do bi and pan mean?
BISEXUAL means being attracted to the gender the same as your own, AND to other genders - some people use it to mean "attracted to two or more genders".
Alot of people assume that what that means is that bisexuals either don’t know non-binary people exist or aren’t attracted to non-binary people… or even trans people at all! As a bi non-binary person, I promise you that isn’t the case.
While some people might use bi to mean they only like girls and boys, that isn’t a universal definition. I've been told before that because bi means "two", the word bisexual implies there are only two genders - but I see it more as there being two groups of genders (my own gender, and the other genders I don't identity with).
PANSEXUAL however, means attracted to (or has the ability to be attracted to), people of ALL genders. Binary or not.
Some people use the word pansexual to be specifically inclusive of trans people, but keep in mind that trans people aren't their own separate category, because being trans is not a gender. It's just a descriptor of how you experience your gender.
Really, it just means “attracted to all genders”- and that can include that you don’t factor gender into whether you’re attracted to someone at all. You can have gender preferences and still be pan, but you can also genuinely not care.
So, how are they different?
Well, they don’t have to be. You can identify as bi and pan, because they kind of fit into the same sort of thing. But there are a few reasons why you might prefer one to the other.
Bisexual, for starters, can mean you’re attracted to same and other genders- but not all of them. You might be attracted to boys and non-binary people, girls and non-binary people, boys and girls, or a range of specific non-binary genders but not all of them. You might be attracted to any number of people with any number of different identities, and that's totally cool. Don't feel like you have to like everyone to call yourself bi.
On top of that, bisexual has a long long history. Holding onto the label of bisexual can be about remembering all the people like you who came before you, and aligning yourself with them as a community.
You might prefer pansexual, though, because it makes it really obvious that you mean all. It makes it easier to communicate what your preferences are without getting specific, and makes it well known right from the start that you mean non-binary people too.
Is there anything wrong with using one over the other?
No! Not at all. Just remember that you preferring one term doesn’t make the other one bad, and don’t assume that everyone who uses that term means it in a bad way. Not everyone who is bisexual is clueless about non-binary things, and not everyone who is pansexual believes in being “gender blind”. If you're defining your identity as how it's better than someone else's, you can really hurt people. They're both legitimate identities, and there's plenty of good reasons to use either term for yourself.
Read more, including topics like Coming Out and reclaiming the word Queer!