A while back, when I mentioned my growing impression that the way people talk about “the split attraction model” is amatonormative, the response I received at the time was mostly confusion. I didn’t really address it again until later — and since a lot of things were going on in that thread, I believe that particular point may have gotten lost in the shuffle. So this post is dedicated to bringing that back into focus and discussing exactly that: how using “SAM” (or “non-SAM”) to mean rosol (or non-rosol) is amatonormative. Allow me to explain.
In Part One of this post, I quote some examples to show how people are using the terms “SAM” and “non-SAM.” From these examples, I point out a pattern in what “(non-)SAM” is generally understood to mean: “using both romantic orientation and sexual orientation labeling.” From here, in Part Two, I’m arguing that — although many people don’t seem to realize it — this usage is unduly centering romance and disrespecting certain kinds of identities & experiences.
For reference, here are some things that I have already written about the term “split attraction model”:
- Romantic Orientation and the “Split Attraction Model” are not the same thing
- The term “romantic orientation” has a different history than the term “split attraction model” does
- “Romantic orientation” was popularized by aces
- “Split attraction model” was popularized by tumblr reactionaries
- Remodeling: on the Reclamation of the Term “Split Attraction Model”
- Rough timeline on why the term exists
- Five narratives to complicate the “SAM”/”non-SAM” binary
- Five different norms & relationships to those norms to think about instead
- Relationships to Orientation Language Norms
- Some alternative vocabulary to fill the semantic gap
Now onto the case itself.
Part One: how people are using the terms “SAM” and “non-SAM”
Here are ten examples of how people are understanding, explaining, and using the term.
First off, there’s this tumblr post, which purports to share “A History Of The Split Attraction Model” but instead just gives a history of affectional/romantic orientation, without getting into where the term “split attraction model” actually came from at all (hint: it wasn’t from aces). In addition to that focused investigation, consider the following more casual quotes:
there’s something called the split attraction model which is the idea that romantic and sexual orientation are separate. SAM basically means that you can be aroace, arobi, hetace, gaybi or whatever other combination you can come up with.—anonymous, at aro-aceplace
[To explain the SAM] I’d suggest a matrix/spreadsheet. The most simple would be 4×4. With a note to the effect of using bi to also mean pan, omni and poly. This could be colour coded to indicate perioriented: Aro Ace, Hetero Hetero (Straight), Homo Homo (Gay & Lesbian) and Bi Bi; exclusive variorinted: Aro Het, Aro Homo, Aro Bi, Hetero Ace, Hetero Homo, Homo Ace, Homo Hetero and Bi Ace or (overlapping) varioriented: Hetero bi. Homo Bi, Bi Hetero and Bi Homo.—Mark
It’s a term used by aro-spec and ace-spec to accurately explain our orientation. This is because you have Ace-spectrums people who are alloromantic (not aro) and Aro-spec who are allosexual (not ace).—Fork, at aro-to-the-knee
What we do is we Split our orientation into Romantic and Sexual orientations. If you see someone who identifies as Bi-romantic ace, or someone who identifies as a Lesbian Aro, I can confirm with 95% surety, that they use the SAM.
It was created by and for the aspec community, but people who are not aspec use it as well.
For example someone might be bisexual homoromantic i.e. They might experience sexual attraction to two or more genders and romantic attraction to the same gender.—The Split Attraction Model: Pros and Cons
So SAM stands for Split Attraction Model, and is used by people who tend to ‘split’ their attraction, aka an aromantic who is bisexual, or an ace who is hetrosexual, or an aromantic asexual who also identifies as a lesbian.—Ax, at a-specvoid
If their romantic and sexual orientations are not aligned, people typically use it.—GalacticTurtle
I’ve generally seen people using it to explain that they have distinct sexual and romantic orientations – often ones that don’t match. I’ve always understood the split attraction model to be a framework for people to describe distinctions between their sexual and romantic orientations.—Eatingcroutons
i need both those terms to accurately talk about my experiences of attraction – bisexual wasn’t enough and i can’t call myself aromantic without acknowledging my sexual attraction/orientation. at that time i didn’t know i was using what is called the split attraction model (SAM)—Tost
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.—Laura, at shades-of-grayro
honestly the weirdest thing to come out of this aroace/aroallo thing is how people view non sam aros (and, by addition, non sam aces). they’re always linked in with the allo side of the community… but that’s weird to me because one of the important reasons i’ve opted out of the sam is because i’m not allo at all.—Afrofrantics
In these examples, just like in this chart, “split attraction model” is clearly being used to mean (or being presented as intertwined with) the idea of using two orientation labels — specifically for a romantic orientation and a sexual orientation. “Examples” of “using the SAM” include romantic-sexual identity label pairs. Not using it is implied to mean an absence of labeling along one of those two axes, such as an aro without a sexual orientation label or an ace without a romantic orientation label, placing the individual outside the a/allo binary along that axis.
Part Two: how using “non-SAM” to mean “non-rosol” is amatonormative
In Part One, I pointed out how (some) people are using the terms “SAM” and “non-SAM.” Effectively, they are using these terms to mean rosol and non-rosol. By (non)-rosol, I am referring to a particular way of talking about one’s identity as in/out of alignment with a certain norm. In the aro & ace communities, there is a 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” (RO) box and a “sexual orientation” (SO) box, and we are expected to apply labels according to those boxes. The more you relate to this norm as a 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 non-rosol.
Referring to a non-rosol identity as “non-SAM” involves at least two steps that are largely going unquestioned.
ONE – ORIENTATION LANGUAGE: The name “split attraction model” ostensibly describes “splitting” up an otherwise-whole “attraction” — and yet people are using “SAM” to talk directly about orientation labels, sometimes even skipping all mention of attraction. The assumption here is that recognizing a subtype of attraction (whether you experience it or not) directly translates into using orientation language to talk about that type of attraction. In this model — the model of sorting people into a binary of SAM and non-SAM — orientations and attraction patterns are treated as interchangeable. Orientations based on things other than attraction patterns are not recognized. Attraction patterns that aren’t filtered into an orientation label are also not recognized.
TWO – THE SPLIT IS ROMANTIC: When people are using the phrase “split attraction” to talk about “using another orientation label in addition to a sexual one,” they consistently — consistently — assume that the “additional orientation label” (or the type of orientation being “split” off from sexual orientation) will be a romantic one. There is no acknowledgement made that some people label themselves according to more than two types of orientation, and there’s also no acknowledgement that having multiple orientation labels doesn’t have to mean that one of them will be romantic. The consistent focus (and presumption) is the romantic & sexual pair. “Splitting” orientation or attraction in a way that doesn’t include “romantic” as one of the types is something this particular SAM/non-SAM binary doesn’t make room for.
Using “SAM” to mean rosol assumes that the effect & purpose of “splitting” (or recognizing different types of) attraction is to filter that attraction into different orientations. Using “SAM” to mean rosol assumes that the resulting orientations will feature a romantic orientation. Using “SAM” to mean rosol assumes that — other than a sexual orientation — a romantic orientation is the only kind of orientation that really matters to anyone. Using “(non-)SAM” to mean (non-)rosol expresses an undue centering of romance, aka amatonormativity.
Note I understand that most of this may be unintentional. Using “SAM” and “non-SAM” in these ways, as terms, seems to be just something thoughtless that people picked up from others, just using it because others were using it, all while communally neglecting to interrogate its origins (and ultimately, its originators are who I hold responsible for this mess). I’ll clarify here that I don’t think anybody using these terms in this way is deliberately endorsing the ideas I’ve unpacked here. My hope though is that, by unpacking them, I’ve made them easier to walk away from. My actual grievance would be against people who have all this pointed out to them and yet continue to do it anyway.
Besides just being a case of clunky untenable modeling, the amatocentricism of using “SAM” to mean rosol (and vice versa) disrespects other people’s identities in at least two ways.
One, among those who use more than one orientation label, it disrespects those who don’t map all their orientation labels exclusively to either a romantic or sexual axis (example, example, example). When people give examples of “SAM-using” identities, I almost never see sensual orientations, emotional/platonic/alterous orientations, or non-axial orientations being furnished as examples — just romantic ones added onto sexual ones. But I don’t want to see that “fixed” and patched over by including more diverse “uses” of the concept (i.e. more types of unorthodox orientations), because….
Two, it disrespects those with non-rosol identities who do personally recognize & label different types of attraction. What’s being communicated to me with the non-SAM/non-rosol conflation is that, because I don’t have a romantic orientation, that means I “don’t use the split attraction model” or that I am a “non-SAM ace.” But actually I do differentiate between multiple types of attraction; I experience them separably and find it personally useful to identify them by subtype. If I had not been introduced to the language of sensual attraction and aesthetic attraction, I might never have ended up shedding my identification with heterosexuality at all. So I need people understand that by crunching my identity as a quoiromantic in this way, they’re not just bugging me with semantics — they’re threatening the very thing that helped me find my way into a community that has been dearly important to me.
On that note, I also object to the idea that differentiating types of attraction should be called “split” attraction at all, because that implies that there is a natural, normal, “whole” attraction that we are prying apart, instead of just recognizing what’s already different in the first place. As I’ve said before, calling this “split” attraction is like calling apples and oranges “split fruit.” We didn’t cleave the apples and oranges apart from each other. They’re just two different things in the first place.
In other words, the phrase “split attraction” treats the composite outlook on attraction as more natural than “splitting” it (or distinguishing between types). I believe that this expectation is itself amatonormative and sexnormative. Which would make sense, because that was the foundational attitude behind tumblr reactionaries coining the phrase “split attraction model” in the first place. It was always, always a matter of backlash against people deviating from the norm of composite orientation. It should not be surprising that adopting their language should obliterate possibilities for nuance.
So the next time you go to categorize other people as “SAM” or “non-SAM” according to their orientation labels? Or explain “the SAM” in terms of using romantic orientation alongside sexual orientation? Please don’t. If rosol or non-rosol are what you mean, then just say that.