An Actual History Of The Term “Split Attraction Model”

The term “split attraction model” originated in 2015 with Tumblr users criticizing the ace community. In this post, I rehash why this is relevant to explain and then link specific sources that demonstrate the nature of its origins.

[Crossposted to Pillowfort. Preview image by Cement, licensed under Public Domain.]

Why even talk about this?

Those of you who follow my WP blog might be wondering why I’m revisiting the subject now. Last year, I already wrote three different posts on why romantic orientation and the “SAM” aren’t the same thing, some problems with “SAM”/”non-SAM” terminology (summarized by Siggy here), and a mini history of different types of attraction. I’ve since come to the conclusion that those first two could use revisions, but I want to keep them up as a record of how certain conversations unfolded.

I’m writing this here as a more tightly-focused post to address a few other things that have come up since then. Most recently, Lib has noticed that the term “SAM” has a PR problem, and I want to explain why that problem is intertwined with the term itself. Also on Twitter, the FYA account recently asserted its supposed origins, ostensibly in reference to this flawed historicallyace post. And then there’s AUREA’s post, which draws on my posts and then tries to detract from them by bringing in some questionable evidence. This is apparently the approach they prefer to just using the comment section, and their own post doesn’t have a comment section, so I’m following their lead here and responding with a new post of my own.

What is the actual origin story of the “SAM”?

This term first emerged in 2015 in a highly specific discursive context. It is not an ace community term — it was created by outsiders in order to criticize to ace community terminology, concepts, and practices, including the x-romantic y-sexual label format, romantic orientation as a concept, divergence from their preferred definition of sexual orientation, labeling other types of orientation, the description of attraction in different types, and the inappropriate treatment of any of these as universal.

The coiners created the term “SAM” specifically in order to argue that “the SAM” is bad. The arguments varied, but they generally involved accusations of homophobia, scrutiny of aces, alarmism over mixed orientations, objections to “the SAM” as inherently universalizing, and identity policing people into the het/gay/bi triad.

This all happened within living memory of those were were around to see it unfold. Many of the original posts have since been lost to deactivation, deletion, and URL changes, but a friend of mine has helpfully dug up some representative posts that still remain online, and I’ve since tracked down a few more. Here are some of the relevant excerpts, with links (note, asterisks mark links that were added in 2021 or later):

Note the patterns here:

  • accusations of homophobia, sometimes framed in terms of internalization or a threat to those who are questioning
  • objecting to universalization, meaning criticism of blanket statements and overgeneralizing
  • identity alarmism, framing the concept of mixed orientation labels (especially bi/pan ones or “contradictory” ones) as a threat to gay people
  • ace/aro exceptions, i.e. attempting to restrict and contain the “split attraction model” as only acceptable for aces and aros to use but otherwise a dangerous contaminant to everyone else
  • scrutiny of ace language more generally — see for instance this post where criticism of the “split attraction model” is talked about alongside criticism of “allosexual,” or this post which does the same

So if you’re noticing that the term keeps being attacked by people who keep calling it “homophobic,” that’s because that itself is its original purpose. Pre-criticism uses of the term “split attraction model” do not exist. When you embrace that term instead of the more complex original language it was meant to seize control over, you are giving ground to these ideas and letting them dictate the terms of the conversation.

If not that, then what?

The term “the SAM” conflates multiple different concepts together, so the more accurate term will depend on what you’re talking about. For example, it could be that you’re talking about different types of orientation (ex. romantic orientation & sexual orientation), divergence from a certain definition of “sexual orientation,” identifying with other types of orientation (other than romantic/sexual), labeling different types of attraction (like sensual attraction), or the problem of identity essentialism. These are all different things, so it is unfair to conflate them.

If your impulse is to simply continue to use “SAM” as if it can be neutral, please consider the complications and the harm that that can do.


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