An Actual History Of The Term “Split Attraction Model”

Once more, from the top: The term “split attraction model” came from anti-ace and anti-bi reactionaries on Tumblr. In this post, I rehash why this is relevant to explain and then link specific sources that demonstrate the nature of its origins. If you’ve been using the term unironically/without scare quotes, then I’d kindly ask for you to stop.

[Crossposted to Pillowfort. Preview image by Cement. Updated 3/26/2021, with asterisks to mark the links that have been added.]

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.

The term “split attraction model” comes from anti-ace, anti-bi reactionaries.

This term first emerged in 2015 in a highly specific discursive context. 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 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
  • anti-bi alarmism, framing the mere 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

For these reason, I am describing these original uses as the backlash of anti-ace and anti-bi reactionaries who were responding to (sometimes overgeneralized) uses of attraction subtyping and romantic orientation labeling.

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?

For an explanation of what other terminology you can use instead, I recommend Sennkestra’s post on differentiating attraction/orientations. Note that if what you’re talking about is specifically romantic orientation, you can also just say “romantic orientation.” If your impulse is to simply continue to use “SAM” as if it can be neutral, please consider the complications that make that inadvisable.

14 responses to “An Actual History Of The Term “Split Attraction Model”

  • Lib

    I really appreciate you taking the time to put this together, thank you

  • The Split Attraction Model has a PR Problem – A³

    […] attraction model” and I highly recommend taking a look at the post series specifically this post and this post. My post will remain in its original form (with the exception of grammar corrections […]

  • Linkspam: May 22nd, 2020 | The Asexual Agenda

    […] Coyote explained the history of the split attraction model. […]

  • A Retrospective on Stagnation and Renewal | The Ace Theist

    […] model,” because I figured that everyone knew enough to write that off for what it was: an imposition of their own (worse) language on the conversation about our community. My efforts to reverse this linguistic violence and tell […]

  • Criticisms of the split attraction model | The Asexual Agenda

    […] is a really brief summary of arguments that have been discussed at greater length. I recommend this article and references therein if you want to dig into […]

  • What Does it Mean to Remember? | The Ace Theist

    […] record of a certain ace event, a certain “history of” post that didn’t talk about the actual history of the thing in the title, and the recurring issues with claiming the origins of the word […]

  • An Open Letter to TAAAP: You Do Not ‘Use the SAM’ | The Ace Theist

    […] chat event in your discord server. I have written before about where that particular phrase comes from and what’s happened because of it, so when I saw the announcement, I knew it was time to […]

  • Noli

    I enjoyed reading this post as well as a number of others you have made on the topic, but I have not posted a comment yet only lurked. What prompted me to comment may just be that I don’t understand this topic as well as you.

    While this is well researched (I assume you are an academic of some kind) it lacks charity. The quotations specifically used to support the view that the term “split attraction model” is a tool of the bi- and ace-phobic seems to be the least kind reading of those posts.
    I don’t doubt that you are trying to present a well-rounded balanced and argument and that you do not intend to engage with the posts in bad faith, but it seems to me that in particular the post beginning “the split attraction model is homophobic.” Is actually someone arguing partially in your favour. They are saying that the model is being coopted by people with internalised homophobia. I don’t know the discourse surrounding that author’s post, but I highly doubt it was a sudden pronouncement. Additionally there is a point to be made about the level of depth into which these posts go as opposed to your own. You clearly have a lot of familiarity with the subject, but I would hope that would encourage you not to attribute to malice that which could just as easily be attributed to ignorance.

    Anyway I’m going to make the decision to leave my email attached to this post in the hope that if I am contacted it is aid of productive discussion rather than brigading.

    • Coyote

      Alright, let’s talk.

      So what I’m hearing is that you interpret that post as being an accurate account of the situation. The user proposes that first there was “the model,” as you say, which was “supposed” to be used only in a certain way, and then after the fact, it was “coopted” in an inappropriate/antigay kind of way. I’ve included this post because it’s an early post using the phrase “split attraction model” and because it involves accusations of being “homophobic,” which as I said, were part of the overall theme of these early 2015 uses of the phrase.

      What’s inaccurate about that reading is that in order for it to be entirely true, there would have to be uses of “the split attraction model” prior to the accusations of homophobia. This has never been proven. I would know, I was around to see the shift take place. You can ask others like Redbeardace as well. Prior to 2015, nobody talked like this. The term emerged specifically in conjunction with moral panic about how it can be evil or used wrong. Veronicasantangelo’s post is written like it is specifically in response to/in the context of other posts like the ones I’ve linked here as examples, as a way of ceding ground and partially agreeing with those attacks while also trying to shield a specifically aro/ace use of romantic & sexual orientation labeling. They’ve used the term “split attraction model” as a way of weighing in on the conversation where that phrase was being used, not because they can prove that anyone was using the phrase “split attraction model” differently before that point. Do you see what I’m saying? They may have mistakenly thought the term was older than that, but as I said, that’s never been proven.

      In any case, no, I don’t really align myself with the argument of that post, as I don’t take the stance that there’s anything wrong with identifying as a heteroromantic pansexual.

  • The Irony of “the SAM” as a Failed Critique of Essentialism | The Ace Theist

    […] for necessary background on this topic, I recommend reading An Actual History of The Term “Split Attraction Model” & the last two sections of this […]

  • A Mini History of Different Types of Attraction in the Ace Community | The Ace Theist

    […] The term “split attraction model,” meanwhile, does not appear to predate 2015, and it comes from Tumblr users outside the ace community. […]

  • Don’t Make Me Choose | The Ace Theist

    […] is especially important on this topic because the original SAM crowd — those who came up with the term “split attraction model” — have also […]

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