It's important to have the freedom to live out the most authentic version of yourself. And recently, model Tess Holliday came out as pansexual, doing just that and contributing to an important discussion about what it means to identify with this label. The 33-year old told NYLON Magazine that she identifies as pansexual, which means she’s attracted to people regardless of their assigned sex, gender identity, or gender presentation. Holliday, who has been married to her husband Nick since 2015, told NYLON that she first said the word "pansexual" aloud when talking to a man at a pool bar. At the time, she heard him ask, “Are you bi?”
The mom of two said she then responded, “Thank you so much for asking. I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship to my own queerness, and I think the word pansexual speaks to me more than bi does.” (The man was actually saying "Are you buying," but that's neither here nor there.)
Holliday says that coming out has been a relief for her. “I feel like a lot of stuff in my life now makes sense,” she told NYLON. “A lot of the things that I felt when I was younger make sense. A lot of the relationships that I had make sense. I definitely have a sense of relief. I can connect with people on a more intimate level than I was before, because I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not,” Holliday said.
Holliday is far from the only celebrity to come out as pansexual. Singer and actor Janelle Monáe spoke out about her identity in a 2018 Rolling Stone interview, saying that “Being a queer black woman in America... someone who has been in relationships with both men and women, I consider myself to be a free-ass motherf*cker.”
Just like Holliday, Monáe said that learning about pansexuality and reflecting on her own sexuality made her realize that “pansexual” might be a more accurate label for her. “Later I read about pansexuality and was like, ‘Oh, these are things that I identify with too,'” Monáe said, going on to express that she was “open to learning more about who I am.”
Also, in a 2015 interview with Paper Magazine, Miley Cryus came out as pansexual and gender non-conforming, saying that “I am literally open to every single thing that is consenting and doesn't involve an animal and everyone is of age.” The singer and actor explained further, saying “I don't relate to being boy or girl, and I don't have to have my partner relate to boy or girl.
Although the term pansexual and the term bisexual have a lot of overlap, there are people who feel that one term encapsulates their specific sexual orientation better than the other. There's also a pervasive myth that bisexuality doesn't leave room for attraction to nonbinary folks, though experts say the definition of bisexuality encapsulates more than two genders. But, as Mika Doyle wrote for Bustle in February, many LGBTQ rights advocates feel that solidarity in the queer community matters more than debates about terminology.
It’s encouraging to see celebrities like Holliday be open about pansexuality, because so many stereotypes are spread about what it means to be bisexual or pansexual, and these myths contribute to bi and pan erasure. Some people think that trans folks can’t be pansexual or bi, but Transequality.org says that over 25 percent of trans folks identify as bisexual. Others believe that if a bi or pan person is in a straight-presenting relationship, that somehow their sexuality is invalid. Holliday and Cyrus are both married to cisgender men, and Cyrus in particular has been open about how her marriage to actor Liam Hemsworth doesn’t invalidate her queerness.
Holliday says that realizing her pansexual identity brought her relief, and that’s a relief that every queer or pansexual person should be able to have. That’s why it’s hopeful to see her publicly embracing that identity, because it might encourage others who look up the famous model to do the same.