And why pop star Janelle Monáe just identified herself that way

On Thursday, pop musician Janelle Monáecame out as pansexual in a new cover story for Rolling Stone.

As someone who has had relationships with both men and women, the 32-year-old singer-songwriter initially identified as bisexual. “But then later I read about pansexuality,” she told the magazine, “and was like, ‘Oh, these are things that I identify with too.’ I’m open to learning more about who I am.”

As people reacted to the news on the Internet, Merriam-Webster reported that “pansexual” was their top search for the day, as lookups on what the word actually meant surged by 11,000 percent.

In a post on its definition, the dictionary noted that the word “pansexual” first entered the English language in the early 20th century, but with a different meaning than it has today. Originally, its definition was “tending to suffuse all experience and conduct with erotic feeling.”

Today, however, the dictionary defines it as “of, relating to, or characterized by sexual desire or attraction that is not limited to people of a particular gender identity or sexual orientation.”

A lot of people on Twitter had a hard time understanding how that differs from being bisexual, so those who identify as pansexual offered up their own explanations.

Serious question. How is this different from bi-sexual?

— Montana SeaGal (@MontanaSeaGal) April 26, 2018

if you see gender as a spectrum, then we can infer there being more than 2 genders. bisexual folks are attracted to two genders (typically their own and the “opposite”). the attractions pansexual people feel are not limited by gender. does that make sense?

— kirstyn (@yo_its_kirstyn) April 27, 2018

In a 2014 blog post, self-identified pansexual writer Vanessa Celis offered another useful explanation of the difference between being bisexual and pansexual:

“While it can be easy to say that both definitions mean the same, exact thing, the key difference between bisexuality and pansexuality rests on the focus on gender identity. Bisexuality implies that there are only two genders, that being male and female. Pansexuality, on the other hand, implies that there are more than two genders. Pansexuals have no problem dating or sleeping with a transgender person, for example. This also includes people who fall out of the gender binary and consider themselves genderqueer (people who do not identify as just man or woman).”

Today, it’s becoming increasingly popular to see both gender and sexuality as fluid. As such, more and more celebrities are choosing to identify with non-traditional labels, or, alternatively, no label at all.

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For example, Nico Tortorella, who stars in the hit TV Land comedy-drama series Younger, identifies as both pansexual and polyamorous. To learn more about what those terms mean, you can read his explanation in his own words here.

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