Relationships to Orientation Language Norms

This post is just a summary of some ideas introduced in a previous post, now with a diagram and more in-depth use of examples. Because I have qualms about the reclamation of the term “split attraction model” to categorize people as SAM vs. non-SAM, I’ve put together some alternative scales to introduce more nuance. This post is simply an explanation of those scales (and can be considered a culmination of the conversations held here, here, here, and here).

Note that to the extent that what I’m describing here could be considered a “model,” it is a model of mapping relationships to orientation language norms.

I’ll be using six hypothetical people for the sake of example here: Flint, Ven, Jamie, Alex, Luna, and Mal. Flint and Ven both identify as gray-a, although they mean that term in slightly different ways. Jamie is an aromantic bisexual. Alex is aro, ace, and demisensual. Luna is bi-affectional. Mal is a bi asexual.

Each of these people has a different relationship to the norms of Composite Sexual Orientation, Romantic Orientation & Sexual Orientation Labels, Only Romantic or Sexual Orientations, and Orientations by Axis. In the section that follows, I give a definition of each of those norms and explain how these hypothetical people relate to them.

Composite Sexual Orientation: This is the Western composite norm of thinking of “orientation” in the singular. Under this norm, “sexual orientation” is synonymous/interchangeable with “orientation” in general, romance & sexuality are intertwined, and one’s pool of romantic interests is integrated with one’s sexuality. A person’s relationship to this norm can be thought of as a sliding scale ranging from “convergent” to “divergent.”

For example, Ven strongly identifies with this way of thinking about his orientation (blended gray-asexual & grayromantic, preferring not to differentiate the two), so you could say that his identity is very convergent. Flint, Jamie, and Alex, on the other hand, use “sexual orientation” in a much narrower sense, so their identities are more divergent from this norm. For instance, for Jamie, this norm chafes against her identity as both aromantic and bisexual, which requires multiple types of orientation to express. For Luna, too, this doesn’t work, because her identity is not based on a sexual or romantic axis.

Romantic Orientation & Sexual Orientation Labels: This is the aro & ace communities’ norm of talking about “romantic orientation” and “sexual orientation” as two things that aros and aces have. In other words, we are expected to have a “romantic orientation” box and a “sexual orientation” box, and we are expected to apply labels to or some how fit our experiences into those boxes, making ourselves legible under this framework. The more you relate to this norm as an applicable and useful framework for yourself, the more you could describe your identity as “rosol.” The more you feel alienated from this norm or want to distance yourself from it, the more you could describe your identity as more out of alignment with this dyad, or “non-rosol.” Think of this as a sliding scale with plenty of room in between for those whose relationship to this norm is ambivalent or apathetic.

Jamie is the most at home with this norm as an aro bisexual, allowing her to label her orientation on two different romantic & sexual axes, so her identity is very rosol. Flint and Mal, who use the concept of “sexual orientation” but do not use the concept of “romantic orientation,” would be more non-rosol. Luna also feels very non-rosol on account of using neither romantic nor sexual orientation labels. Ven and Alex might feel somewhere in-between — for example, Ven might be willing to use both types of labels if pressed but finds this norm to chafe against how his orientation is so convergent. Alex, on the other hand, has a divergent identity and is happy to label both their aromanticism and asexuality separately, but they don’t like people assuming that they won’t have more than two labels.

Only Romantic or Sexual Orientations: This is the norm of using “orientation” language as something that only, strictly pertains to either sex, romance, or both. One’s relationship to this norm is strong when you think of all your orientations as making reference to romance and/or sex in some fashion. One’s relationship to this norm is more alienated or distant the less you think of your orientation (or one of your orientational identities) as being “about” the traditional categories (of sex or romance). With reference to this norm, we might think of romantic and sexual orientations as the more “orthodox” types, and we might think of other kinds of orientation (like sensual, aesthetic, affectionate, etc.) as more “unorthodox.”

Flint (gray-asexual), Ven (gray-asexual), and Jamie (aromantic bisexual) all use orientation labels that are strictly romantic and/or sexual, which are the most orthodox types of axis for labeling. Meanwhile, Alex’s identity as demisensual is based on a more unorthodox type of axis for labeling (sensual orientation). The same thing can be said of Luna’s identity as bi-affectional, since she is using affectional orientation to mean something that is (for her) not necessarily romantic, making it also an unorthodox type.

Orientations by Axis: This is the norm especially prevalent in the ace & aro communities that all orientations must be specified along a specific axis, such as romanticism, sexuality, sensuality, platonism, alterity, and so on. Under this norm we are expected to “map” every orientation label along a specific axis on a grid. One’s relationship to this norm is stronger the more that all of your orientations align with a specific axis (or bundle of axes) and the more you feel comfortable with this way of sorting and defining your orientational identities. These are identities that we might describe as more “axial.” One’s relationship to this norm is more alienated or more distant the more you do not subscribe to this framework. The less you bind or map your identity to this norm, the more you might describe that identity as “non-axial.”

Flint, Ven, Jamie, Alex, and Luna all map their identities to a particular kind of axis, be that sexual, romantic, sensual, or affectional, so their identities could all be described as axial. Unlike those five, Mal also identifies as “bi” in a way that is not mapped to any one particular axis in the same way. For them, they are “just” bi, not bi in a way that is specifically sexual, specifically romantic, etc., but rooted in a more general outlook on relationships and connection to community. Because of this, Mal’s identity as bi could be described as non-axial, while their asexual identity is more axial because it is based on the specific axis of sexuality.

So, to sum up these examples:

  1. Flint’s identity as gray-asexual is divergent, non-rosol, orthodox, and axial. The “non-rosol” side of the scale allows ix to express that ix does not have a romantic orientation, even though ix identity is divergent from the composite norm.
  2. Ven’s identity as combined gray-asexual/greyro is convergent, somewhat non-rosol, orthodox, and axial. The “convergent” side of the scale allows him to express that for him, romance & sexuality are not useful to separate.
  3. Jamie’s identity as aromantic bisexual is divergent, rosol, orthodox, and axial. The “divergent” and “rosol” sides of the scales allows her to express that she has two distinct identities as both aromantic and bisexual.
  4. Alex’s identity as aromantic asexual demisensual is divergent, somewhat rosol, partially orthodox and partially unorthodox, and axial. While they do use both romantic and sexual orientation, they are somewhat alienated from the expectation that those be their only labels, since they also have a third identity label on an unorthodox axis.
  5. Luna’s identity as bi-affectional is divergent, non-rosol, wholly unorthodox, and axial. The “non-rosol” and “unorthodox” sides of the scales allow her to express that she does not find either the concept of romance or sexuality to be useful in parsing her identity.
  6. Mal’s identity as bi asexual is divergent, non-rosol, somewhat orthodox, and partially non-axial. The “non-rosol” and “non-axial” sides of the scales allow them to express that their identity as “bi” should not be interpreted as simply short for “biromantic.”

In conclusion, these four scales — convergent/divergent, rosol/non-rosol, orthodox/unorthodox, and axial/non-axial — can hopefully address the specifics of what’s eclipsed and conflated under the reductive SAM/non-SAM binary.

7 responses to “Relationships to Orientation Language Norms

  • Blue Ice-Tea

    Okay, let me see if I understand these right by attempting to apply them to myself as a platoniromantic heterodemisexual.

    Composite Sexual Orientation: I’m probably mostly “Convergent”, since I only really think of myself in terms of sexual orientation. Or am I? I experience other forms of attraction and affection, but I don’t think of those in terms of “orientation”, i.e. I don’t see them as oriented towards one group of people or another. I also don’t experience “romance” as something separate from sexuality. Or maybe I do. What’s “romance”??? Does not relating to the concept of “romance” make me divergent? Is my romantic orientation different from my sexual orientation if I don’t know what “romance” is? Since I can’t distinguish romance from friendship, does that mean I have a “romance-friendship” orientation that’s divergent from my sexual orientation?

    Romantic Orientation & Sexual Orientation Labels: Non-rosol. Because WTF is romance. Next.

    Only Romantic or Sexual Orientations: Orthodox. Because, as stated above, I don’t think of my desires for romance, friendship, sensuality, emotional attachment, etc. in terms of “orientation”.

    Orientations by Axis: This is the one that still has me most confused. I guess I’m axial, since I think of my orientation in terms of sexuality? Like, I’m not just “hetero”, I’m specifically “heterosexual“. And, again, all the other attractions and affects I have I don’t think of in terms of “orientation.”

    So, yeah, I feel pretty clear about the “rosol” thing, and pretty confident adopting the “non-rosol” label for myself. But I’m still a bit fuzzy on the others. Does it seem like I’ve got the right idea about them?

    • Coyote

      Yep, makes sense to me. If you do intend your labels with specific reference to an axis, like the axis of sexuality, that’s axial then. And as for the composite norm — it’s also perfectly possible to have a “meh” response to any of these, if it’s not something you feel definitively about either way. Where you come down on that really is something left to you, though. There’s no particular formula. Just to give an example, though, I’d call my identity more divergent since, for me, my one orientation feels very specifically like a sexual orientation, as opposed to a sexual-romantic composite, and I do think of romance and sexuality as distinct things for me personally (…one being more identifiable than the other). But not everyone needs to use the same reasoning there, even if they shared the exact same label.

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