After Janelle Monáe Came Out, Searches For “Pansexuality” Skyrocketed 11,000% On Merriam-Webster.com

Even members of the LGBT community are looking for clarity on the label.

Janelle Monae came out as both queer and pansexual this week in an interview with Rolling Stone. And while America had familiarized itself with the queer identity (to some extent, at least), the revelation sent thousands to the Web to get a clearer definition of pansexuality.

Merriam-Webster.com reports “pansexual” was among its most looked-up terms on Thursday, the day Monáe’s interview dropped, representing an increase of 11,000% from the days prior.

“Being a queer black woman in America,” said the “Pynk” singer, “Someone who has been in relationships with both men and women ― I consider myself to be a free-ass motherfucker.” She said she initially identified as bisexual, but then read about pansexuality “was like ‘Oh, these are things that I identify with too.’ I’m open to learning more about who I am.”

Discussion of her statement revealed that even those within the LGBT community aren’t always clear on what being pan means. According to M-W, it’s
“of, relating to, or characterized by sexual desire or attraction that is not limited to people of a particular gender identity or sexual orientation.”

The entry notes that the adjectival form is the same spelling as the noun meaning “one who is pansexual.”

Pansexual (and pansexuality) entered the English language in the early 20th century, although with a different meaning than it generally has today; the word initially meant “tending to suffuse all experience and conduct with erotic feeling.”

The prefix “pan-” comes from the Ancient Greek word for “all” or “every.” And while pansexuality is often conflated with bisexuality, it’s differentiated in that bisexuality is seen as being linked to the gender binary—i.e. someone who is attracted to men and women—while pansexuality includes those who are intersex or outside the gender binary.

Of course, while dictionaries offer useful insight on terms and labels, each of us defines our identity on our own terms.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.
@ItsDanAvery