[Edit: If you’re reading this post in the year 2021 or later, I would recommend An Actual History of The Term “Split Attraction Model” for a quicker, shorter read.]
A few days ago, when I mentioned on Pillowfort that I wanted to write something about the development of the “romantic orientation” model, I was helpfully pointed toward this post on the “split attraction model” at Historically Ace. I appreciate that, and I think it’s a handy collection of information. However, I have a problem with that post: it’s not actually a history of “the split attraction model” as a term itself. The phrase “split attraction model” appears in the post only three times, two of those times being as introduction and the other solely to specify that something else would not be considered an example of it. The timeline of that post ends at 2007, which is actually before the phrase “split attraction model” even entered into circulation in the ace community.
For comparison, I think this is like if I had written “a history of relationship anarchy” and then only, solely charted examples of the use of queerplatonic — which is to say, maybe it’s not wildly-off base, but it still falls short of what it actually promises. As related as they are, and as much sense as it makes to discuss the two alongside each other, the history of one is not the history of the other. A history of the “split attraction model” still remains yet to be told.
Note that I don’t intended this as a corrective directed only at Historically Ace in particular. It’s my understanding that this is a more general pattern in the ways that these things are talked about. For example, I’ve also recently had a similar discussion with Ask an Aro, who attributed the split attraction model as “created by and for the aspec community.” From what I can tell, it seems like the exact origins of this term haven’t really been tracked and people don’t have a precise impression of where it comes from. I’ll even be the first to say that’s completely understandable, given that it seems to have emerged first on Tumblr — and individual Tumblr posts are like that mythical island which can never be found except by those who already know where it is.
So in response to this situation, I want to argue two distinct things: 1) the “split attraction model” came into use later than “romantic orientation” did, and 2) it and romantic orientation are not the same thing.
To argue the first thing, I’m sharing what I know so far about exact dates and examples of the development of each, starting with romantic orientation as a concept and then getting into the split attraction model as a concept. To argue the second thing, I’ll give you an example of the two being conflated and how come that has inaccurate implications that I’m invested in arguing back against.
Here’s a quick rehash on the history of the romantic orientation model.
Generally speaking, I think it’s right to look at antecedents to the idea of “romantic orientation” and claim that as precedent. For instance, taking on most of what was explained in more detail by Noel Idris (plus a detail from Kat):
- 1864 — Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, researching bisexuality, theorizes “sex drive” in terms of “tender” and “sensual” components that could be directed at different genders, allowing for the separation of “conjunctive” and “disjunctive” male bisexuality (also mentioned at a paywalled source here)
- 1959 — American Bar Association referred to proposed legislation on discrimination on the basis of “sexual or affectional orientation”
- 1977 — Michael G. Shively and John P. De Cecco separate sexual orientation into two components: “physical preference” and “affectional preference”
- 1989 — Joel W. Wells distinguished between “sexual and affectional orientation”
And that’s not even getting into 1990s bisexual activism, as well.
In the ace community, it’s unclear when “romantic orientation” or individual romantic orientation labels were first used per se, but Noel Idris has tracked it down on the AVEN forums to at least as far back as 2005. “Romantic attraction” also appears on a 2003 version of the AVEN FAQ, and “romantic drive” (and use of “hetero-romantic”) was used in 2002 on the Haven for the Human Amoeba. Shoutout to Sennkestra for supplying me with those latter two links. You can find even more mid-2000s AVEN threads on this concept and “aromantic” in particular here.
That, above, is more or less the history of “romantic orientation” as a term, plus some of its antecedents that we might view in retrospect as getting at the same or similar ideas. Notice: None of that involves people stringing together the words “split attraction model.”
Just where did that name come from, anyway?
Pillowfort user Belowdesire went looking for it and found a usage of “split attraction model” only as far back as this Tumblr post from approximately 2015, a post which includes the line “the split attraction model plays into homophobia and particularly lesbophobia,” delivered in the context of also criticizing “allosexual.” There are plenty of posts from 2015 onward that talk about it — mostly debating about whether or not it’s detrimental to non-ace LGBT people — but if you find one dated from before the year 2015, then let me know. As best I can tell, these posts are, in fact, reacting to the idea of romantic orientation, but they do not use the term “romantic orientation” (or rather, some of their anon ask messages do, while the responses do not). For whatever reason, these posts launching criticisms of our language did not deign to actually use our language, not even in scare quotes.
Oh, and on the AVEN forums, which are actually more easily searchable for this kind of thing? The earliest instance is also from late 2015, and it’s in a post arguing that heteroromantic aces “benefit from straight privilege.”
As much as I would be interested to see these developments tracked in more detail, I cannot begin to put together a link compilation on this like I have with queerplatonic and others. Logistically, that is beyond me. You’re welcome to try it yourself if you like.
I think what I have collected here already, however, is enough to support the following claims:
- The idea of differentiating types of attraction (whether that be under names like tender, passionate, sensual, physical, sexual, affectional, or romantic) is actually fairly old, dating back to at least the 19th century, and has precedent over several decades.
- The name “romantic orientation” to describe a pattern of “romantic attraction” appears in asexual community contexts (AVEN, HHA) sometime around 2005, depending on how you want to pinpoint it.
- The name “split attraction” and “split attraction model” began emerging on Tumblr in 2015, among non-aces, in the context of criticizing the asexual community and its language. This appears to be approximately the beginning of what would become merely the latest (and longest?) of the anti-ace flamewars. History repeats itself, and its voice is getting louder.
Since then, the term has proliferated and I’ve been seeing it everywhere, even in contexts that have nothing to do with addressing anti-ace hostility. I hope you can understand, though, why that is exactly what I associate it with. Because I was watching Tumblr when it emerged, because I was here before it happened, and because I remember a “before” when this wasn’t how any of us talked at all.
Now that I’ve laid out a brief account of the concept’s origins as I understand it, let me say a few words on why I don’t like to see the two treated as interchangeable. Ostensibly, “split attraction model” is meant to describe the same thing as “romantic orientation” does. But it doesn’t. It describes “attraction,” and the “splitting” thereof, and it does not specify “romantic” by name. Technically, the concept of “splitting attraction” could apply to splitting sensual attraction from sexual, for instance, or any type of attraction from any other. See for example how it’s explained in this 2015 Tumblr post by one of its critics (note the universalizing language):
split attraction model is the idea that every single person experiences romantic/platonic/sexual/aesthetic/sensual attraction entirely separately and identifies every single LGBT+ person using that as a guide
So according to the people who more or less popularized it, the “split attraction model” refers to “splitting” any attractions, or rather, splitting all attraction into all types conceivable (& the idea that it applies to “every single LGBT+ person”). This is not specifically the idea of separating out romantic attraction from the rest and conceptualizing its patterns as a romantic orientation. They are not, technically, the same exact thing.
Yet I see a lot of people using it like they are, which both invokes me and totally eclipses me out of the picture at the same time. In that reblog-addition chain, Tumblr user Luna (lunerian-therian) brought up quoiromantic people, and Laura at shades-of-grayro further down replied:
This is all very related to lunarian-therian’s point about people not fitting into the allo/aro dichotomy. Not everyone finds the SAM works for them, and the SAM is absolutely necessary for a non-sexual Romantic relationship to be a thing. For some people it’s not romantic if its not sexual, and that’s okay, as long as its not generalized to everyone. Those people should be free to use queerplatonic.
I can’t begin to touch on everything going on here.
For the purposes of this post, this is the important part: Luna brought up quoiromantics — who are neither aro or alloromantic, against the dichotomous premise of the original post — and Laura replied by talking about how “not everyone finds the SAM works for them.” I’m not even going to get into how the “model” was originally defined in universalizing terms and is now being talked about as something idiosyncratic that “works for some people” and not others, ostensibly as an effort to salvage and sanitize what seems to have originally been a concept derived in bad faith. I’m not going to try and work back or hunt down what exactly definition is actually being used here or why romantic & sexual attraction are being talked about as the only conceivable attractions that could be split. I’m just going to focus on how Luna said “quoiromantics” and Laura said “people who don’t find the SAM works for them,” because this substitution conflates romantic orientation with differentiating (or “splitting”) types of attraction. Note this is happening in the context of talking about quoiromantic people, which it means it’s in the context of talking about me.
Hi, I’m quoiro, and I differentiate between types of attraction. I don’t have a romantic orientation. I do “use” the “splitting” of attraction. I find it useful for myself to give different kinds of attraction different subcategorical names, and for me, “romantic attraction,” as parsed into an orientation, isn’t one of the ones that is useful. The “split attraction model” is not the same thing as the romantic orientation model.
To be honest, this touches on a nerve for me because differentiating types of attraction was extremely key for my personal process of realizing that I’m gray-a. Differentiating between sensual attraction, aesthetic attraction, romantic attraction, and sexual attraction were what freed me to make sense of my experiences in a new and more comfortable way and facilitated my path toward identifying under the asexual umbrella. Realizing that I didn’t actually find the concept of “romantic attraction” useful for myself would take longer, but I certainly don’t experience “attraction” in one singular, undifferentiated bloc.
When you talk about the quoi umbrella and “not fitting into the allo/aro dichotomy,” you’re talking about me, and when you talk about “people who don’t use the split attraction model,” you are not talking about me. One does not mean the other. If you mean to refer to quoiromantics, say that. If you mean to refer to the quoi umbrella, say that. But don’t swap that out for “doesn’t use the SAM” when that’s not what was originally being said. In fact, feel free to not use the phrase “SAM” or “split attraction model” at all! I would happily see that phrase die. The horses may already be out of the barn now, but please don’t feel obligated on my account. There are people under the quoi umbrella who differentiate among some types of attraction, and what’s more, not “splitting attraction” (or not using every single subcategorical attraction label ever thought of) doesn’t mean any one singular thing for everyone, contrary to what Laura’s “for some people it’s not romantic if its not sexual” comment would imply.
If we’re going to adopt the phrase and make it ours, it’s high time we reflect on how best to go about that. In order to even have that conversation, though, we first need to address the conflation happening between it and romantic orientation, so just in case you missed it, I’ll say it again: Romantic orientation and the “split attraction model” are not the same.