I am a little late to be writing this, sorry about that. I’ve been doing adult-y things like a grown person the past few weeks and this has been lagging unfinished on my desktop even though multiple people have asked me to write about Deadpool and disbelieving me when I keep saying “I swear I am!”
Did you love Deadpool? If you are reading my blog your likely did. It is hilarious, self-deprecating, feminist, sex positive, and pretty much everything I have always missed in an action movie. Deadpool doesn’t just break the 4th wall, it shatters it to smithereens and pees on the rubble.
And then flirts with whatever is left.
The big question I’ve been getting about the movie is …”So, Deadpool? He’s pansexual? What’s that?”
I train on gender and sexuality on a regular basis. I’ve been doing this for years. But thanks to the recent amazing advocacy of individuals like Janet Mock and Laverne Cox, coupled with the brave public transition of Cait Jenner (and yes, no matter what you think of her politics, her transition process has still been hella brave), I have been asked to speak to this issues more and more frequently, especially in relation to working with children and youth.
I love that so many people are so passionate about learning new things in order to better support children and youth. Despite any thoughts, feelings, spiritual, or cultural beliefs and practices that are an important part of people’s lives I have found one constant in our community.
We need to better support children, youth, and adults in pain. The rates of suicide are horrifying.
My daughter has only recently been publically out as a queer youth. She told me that despite having an amazingly supportive family, and amazingly supportive friends, that the cultural and political negativity she felt from the world in general frightened her. It made her question her safety. Her ability to be authentic in the world she lived in. It terrified her.
And that’s why we are losing our youth.
And no matter what…no matter WHAT…we think of differing identities, our task as adults is to affirm healthy development and identity formation.
We help people safety be who they are and who they are becoming.
And one of the biggest parts of that is acknowledging the labels individuals ascribe to their identity.
Their names, their preferred pronouns, the ways they describe their existence and experience.
So much of what I teach is how to navigate language, how to ask questions about language, how to correct the mis-use of language.
So thank you Deadpool, for starting a conversation that those of us who are older and un-cooler need to be having.
Because WTF is pansexual anyway? And how is it different from bisexual?
In a nutshell? Individuals who are bisexual are attracted to both men and women. That’s it, nothing more fancy than that.
Bisexual individuals still have their “type”, generally speaking, among the men and women they are attracted to. The difference, subtle it may seem, is that individuals who identify as pansexual find their attraction about the person themselves, rather than certain characteristics that person may have.
They are generally more comfortable with being attracted to individuals who may not conform to gender norms of male or female. Not specifically trans or genderqueer amorous, they are open to connecting their sexual attraction to individuals they find emotionally and intellectually attractive.
Confused? It’s tough for those of us from older generations who like to understand our labels and create categories for the world we live in. Those labels and categories are coming crashing down.
And there is intense backlash when people stop fitting in the boxes we create for them. And backlash about the identities they create for themselves.
There has been significant backlash over the years against individuals who are bisexual, from jokes about how they are trying to “double their odds” to degrading comments that they should just “come out all the way already.” It is intensely discouraging to find those comments in our own LGBT community. Individuals who are bisexual are MORE likely to stay in the closet, experience harrassment in the workplace, struggle with emotional and physical health issues, and live in poverty.
Members of the LGBT community are more likely to marginalize and dismiss their bisexual brothers and sisters than heterosexual individuals are.
The call is coming from inside the house, y’all.
So bisexuality is already a hot button issue. And there here comes Deadpool, our epic antihero. He’s funny, raunchy, sex positive, dark…and identifies as pansexual. If the bisexual backlash is bad, how is pansexuality going to be treated once it hits mainstream lexicography? Yeah, not to well.
Nathanial Rogers states the following:
But the sex talk is just that, talk. I’m not the first to ask why the character is defined as pansexual when his sex life is solely heterosexual. Deadpool isn’t remotely a pansexual or omnisexual character. He isn’t even halfway there via bisexuality. He’s just a guy who likes joking about sex and masturbating.
Ryan Gilby, at The Guardian, quotes Deadpool’s creator (Fabian Nicieza) and the movie’s director (Tim Miller) unequivocal support of the character’s sexual identity. Pansexual. Yes, he has a girlfriend. No that doesn’t make him straight. Ryan Reynolds, who played the character in question stated he was totally down with having a boyfriend in future storylines. He’s pansexual. His creators and keepers said so.
Gilby disagrees in his piece, making the same tired argument that Deadpool only has a girlfriend therefore is hetero. If you google “Deadpool” with “pansexual” you will find many such pieces.
I chose this article specifically, because it goes even further in it’s argument that Deadpool is not who he says he is. Gilby suggests that Deadpool riding the cartoon unicorn during the credits of the movie, while stroking the unicorn’s horn until it spurts rainbows is evidence of bestiality. Beastiality, of course, automatically negates the concept of pansexuality because lack of consent is an immediate disqualifier. Animals can’t consent. Even mythical cartoon animals being ridden by fictional cartoon superheroes.
Gilby, I suppose, is trying to throw out anything he can find in his argument about Deadpool’s identity. Including some batshit treatise on cartoon unicorn bestiality.
Here’s the fucking problem right here.
Deadpool doesn’t actually exist, of course (sorry to break it to you, if you didn’t already know). So Deadpool can’t speak for himself as such. But the creator of and guardians of the character are of one voice about his identity. He is pansexual.
And the rest of the world is determined to call him something else.
The APA defines sexual orientation thus:
Sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic and/or sexual attractions to men, women or both sexes. Sexual orientation also refers to a person's sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors and membership in a community of others who share those attractions. Research over several decades has demonstrated that sexual orientation ranges along a continuum, from exclusive attraction to the other sex to exclusive attraction to the same sex. However, sexual orientation is usually discussed in terms of three categories: heterosexual (having emotional, romantic or sexual attractions to members of the other sex), gay/lesbian (having emotional, romantic or sexual attractions to members of one's own sex) and bisexual (having emotional, romantic or sexual attractions to both men and women). This range of behaviors and attractions has been described in various cultures and nations throughout the world. Many cultures use identity labels to describe people who express these attractions. In the United States the most frequent labels are lesbians (women attracted to women), gay men (men attracted to men), and bisexual people (men or women attracted to both sexes). However, some people may use different labels or none at all.
Sexual orientation is distinct from other components of sex and gender, including biological sex (the anatomical, physiological and genetic characteristics associated with being male or female), gender identity (the psychological sense of being male or female)* and social gender role (the cultural norms that define feminine and masculine behavior).
Sexual orientation is commonly discussed as if it were solely a characteristic of an individual, like biological sex, gender identity or age. This perspective is incomplete because sexual orientation is defined in terms of relationships with others. People express their sexual orientation through behaviors with others, including such simple actions as holding hands or kissing. Thus, sexual orientation is closely tied to the intimate personal relationships that meet deeply felt needs for love, attachment and intimacy. In addition to sexual behaviors, these bonds include nonsexual physical affection between partners, shared goals and values, mutual support, and ongoing commitment. Therefore, sexual orientation is not merely a personal characteristic within an individual. Rather, one's sexual orientation defines the group of people in which one is likely to find the satisfying and fulfilling romantic relationships that are an essential component of personal identity for many people.
This is a beautiful definition that captures so much of the nebulous qualities of identity as part of our bigger culture and engagement with others. Sexual orientation can be about our identity, behavior, and/or our attractions. There is not a test with specific margins that you have to pass in order to qualify for one label or the other. There is no sexuality identity equivalent of A1Cs. Sexual orientation is your unique experience of determining your place in the world and honoring that place.
And I have to say, the response of individuals now asking me about pansexuality has been encouraging and affirming. I explain the difference and people have been saying “Oh! I get it! Ok, cool!”
Thank you people who say that.
But, alas, they continue to be the rare exception. If they are asking me the question or coming to one of my trainings they are the people who have already in the place of accepting others for who they are, who are seeking knowledge about the experience of others so they can understand that experience to the best of their abilities and affirm their identities. These are the people who say: You are telling me this is your place in the world? That’s awesome, I’m down with that.
But as we have seen, most people want to argue the point. Any identity that doesn’t clearly align with the specific behaviors that we have assigned to them are called into question. Bisexuality, pansexuality, and genderfluid identities are attacked and picked apart on a regular basis. Even in the communities to purport to accept difference.
And when we don’t let people safety identify themselves and affirm that identity we cause lasting problems. They don’t find their place in the world. They feel consistently unsafe. They experience far reaching physical, emotional, and economic consequences.
So picking apart a fictional character may just seem an exercise in word play or intellectual masturbation, but the effects are way more far reaching. People like my daughter who are hyper-aware of what the world thinks of her and lives in fear of the potential consequences.
The people writing these articles? Probably lovely people who would be deeply kind to any of their friends and family who claimed a more fluid identity. They consider these articles merely a form of cultural criticism. It’s a fucking movie review, nothing more.
Except it’s way more than that for the people being criticized. It isn’t just an intellectual exercise to anyone reading these pieces, especially those individuals with those fluid identities. These articles are shaping our awareness and responses to how people claim identity, and how we reinforce their choices.
We are saying, over and over again, that you don’t get to choose your identity, we will choose it for you. We define you, you don’t define yourself. Because, clearly, you are doing it wrong.
There was so much about this movie that I loved. Things I originally intended to write about. (Pegging scene, anyone?) But when I sat down, this is what came out. Because I think the most important thing this series is going to do is say over and over again “Fuck you, you don’t define who I am.”
Deadpool may be the ultimate antihero. But honestly, that is way more heroic than anything else I’ve seen in popular culture in a long-ass time.