Bella Thorne is pansexual: Why are more women than men coming out?

Rachel Grumman Bender
Beauty and Style Editor
Celebrities, including most recently actress Bella Thorne, are coming out as pansexual. (Photos: Getty Images / Collage: Yahoo Lifestyle)

Bella Thorne revealed for the first time that she is pansexual in an interview with Good Morning America on Tuesday.

"I'm actually a pansexual, and I didn't know that," Thorne told the show.

The 21-year-old actress says she defines pansexuality as, “You like beings. You like what you like. Doesn’t have to be a girl or a guy or a he or she or they or this or that. It’s literally you like personality. You just like a being.”

So what exactly is pansexuality? According to GLAAD, “being pansexual means being attracted to all gender identities, or attracted to people regardless of gender.”

“Pansexuality is often used to refer to attraction to others regardless of their gender or sexual identity, e.g. straight cisgender women, gay transmen, demisexual genderqueer individuals, cis lesbians and so on,” Debby Herbenick, PhD, professor at the Indiana University School of Public Health and author of The Coregasm Workout, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

And it’s resonating with young people in particular. A 2017 study of 2,200 non-heterosexual individuals, published in The Journal of Sex Research, looked into their sexual and demographic characteristics and found that younger people are more likely to identify as pansexual, compared to those who identify as bisexual, lesbian or gay.

Thorne is part of a growing number of celebrities who have opened up about their pansexuality, including Sarah PaulsonJanelle MonáeJazz Jennings, influencer Tess Holliday (who shared that she’s pansexual with Nylon this month), SiaKesha, and rapper Roes (formerly Angel Haze). As Miley Cyrus herself put it in a 2015 interview with Elle U.K.: ‘I’m very open about it — I’m pansexual.”

But it’s hard not to notice that — with the exception of a small handful of celebrity men, such as Panic! At the Disco’s Brendon Urie, who came out as pansexual in a 2018 Paper magazine interview — nearly all of the celebrities coming out are women. So why is it more acceptable for women than men to come out?

“When you look back at celebrities who came out early on, it was by and large women who paved the way, like Ellen [DeGeneres] and Rosie [O’Donnell],” Zeke Stokes, GLAAD chief programs officer, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

As far as why it’s been more challenging for men to come out, Stokes says, “I think there’s still a lot of stigma around gay men that dates back to this mythological idea that if you’re gay you’re somehow less masculine, and we know that that’s absolutely not true. I do think that’s a big part of what’s kept a lot of A-list Hollywood men in the closet — that if you’re gay, you can’t play other roles, which is ridiculous. It’s been more difficult for men to come out and feel their careers would be secure.”

According to a 2017 Pew Research Center report, “over the past two decades, there has been a dramatic increase in public acceptance of homosexuality,” but there’s still a ways to go. It can be particularly challenging to come out as bisexual or pansexual, for either a man or woman, because they’re often less understood. “Our research and others has shown that there’s still a good deal of bisexual stigma in general — including pansexuality as an aspect of bisexuality — and so ‘more acceptable’ is still relative,” notes Herbenick.

She continues: “U.S. society generally does give more license to women to identify as bisexual and to express their sexuality in certain ways… but it’s not like women have full rights and freedoms associated with their sexuality or their sexual and reproductive health or well-being — see, for example, #metooTime’s Up, and the relatively narrow range of bodies and ages of women portrayed as ‘sexy’ in Hollywood.”

However, Stokes says that attitudes towards gay men in Hollywood have shifted dramatically over the past few years, particularly when it comes to the younger generation of celebrities. “We see Jim Parsons and Matt Bomer and Sean Hayes being out and visible about their sexual orientation,” he says. “For younger people, too, we’re seeing that Lil Nas X coming out at the very beginning of his career, instead of the end. There are a lot of young queer celebrities [who are] stepping out of the closet or were never in the closet and are visible and proud of that.”

He says that people like Cyrus — who shared with Elle that even though she’s in a heterosexual, traditional marriage, she still considers herself “queer” — are “educating their fans about what it means to live authentically and openly and be successful. It’s important for fans to see [that].”

While there’s a history in Hollywood of male (and female) actors staying in the closet lest they risk losing their fan base and hurting ticket sales at the box office, an increasing number of gay, bisexual, gender-fluid and pansexual actors are having successful careers.

“Think of [gender fluid] Nico Tortorella in Younger, who can play as stereotypically masculine as you’d ever want to see, but is living his life authentically — and he has a massive fan base,” says Stokes. “You look at young talent, shows like Good Trouble portraying bisexuality accurately and inclusively. People are feeling much freer to be authentically themselves, and fans want to see concepts that reflect that, too.”

It’s the younger generations that are currently paving the way and seeking out more inclusive and authentic content. “When you look at the demographics of Generation Z and Millennials, as much as 20 percent identify as something other than straight or cisgender,” notes Stokes. “Or they want to eschew labels so they’re looking for content that reflects that; they’re looking for talent that reflects that, and content creators are looking for content that appeals to that audience.”

“We’re certainly not where we need or want to be,” says Stokes, but vast strides are being made. “This generation is a game-changer. We’re fast approaching the time when there will be an A-list actor who arrives on the scene, out of the closet, living visibly, and it’s simply not an issue.”

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