October 16, 2019

Tess Holliday Came Out as Pansexual—Here's What that Means

“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.”
Written by
Olivia Harvey
Published on
October 16, 2019
Updated on
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In her feature story in the July digital issue of NYLON, Tess Holliday, one of the world’s best-known plus-size models, came out publicly as pansexual. She told the publication she only just labeled her queerness a few days ago when a man at a hotel pool bar asked her how she identifies. 

"Are you bi?" the man asked Holliday. "I said, '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,'" she told NYLON.

"He said,” she continued, “'Thank you for telling me about that, but actually, I said, Are you buying?'" Hey, it happens to the best of us.

So, what exactly is pansexuality, anyway? 

According to Dr. Liz Powell, psychologist and author of Building Open Relationships, pansexuality can be defined as an attraction to someone regardless of their gender identity or expression, and is similar in some ways to bisexuality.

“Pansexuality and bisexuality have overlap and their definitions can vary some between the folks who use them,” Dr. Powell tells “Bisexuality means someone is attracted to people of their same gender and of a gender/genders other than their own; pansexuality means that someone is attracted to people regardless of their gender.”

So, when Holliday was asked if she’d enter into a romantic relationship with a woman, she gave an enthusiastic “Yeah!” "I might not know, like, what to do,” she added. “But I feel like I'd figure it out."

Dr. Powell points out that Freud was the first to define pansexuality, with his definition meaning, “that all human behavior is attributable to sexual drives and urges,” she says, “Its current usage really only began in the ‘90s.”

Holliday, who has been married to her husband Nick Holliday—who also identifies as queer— since 2015, explained that being in a monogamous heterosexual marriage while also being pansexual is less complicated than it may seem. In fact, having identified herself as pansexual has helped her better understand herself and her prior experiences.

"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."

Twitter’s response to Holliday has been hugely positive, with people supporting her as well as coming out as pansexual themselves. By being so open about her sexuality, Holliday ignited a much-needed conversation that not only educates people on what pansexuality really means, but also inspires others to embrace and own the label (if they so choose).

Holliday isn’t the first one to openly identify as pansexual. several celebrities, including Janelle Monáe, Miley Cyrus, and Bella Thorne have openly identified as pansexual. Being as high profile as all these stars are, the pansexual community is finally beginning to be heard, seen, and supported within mainstream culture. 

Pansexuality is another term to help one put a word to how they identify with their sexual orientation, however, using a label isn’t necessary. If pansexuality resonates with you, then own the term. If not, you do you and being labeless is okay too. 

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Olivia Harvey is a freelance writer and award-winning screenwriter from Boston, Massachusetts.

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