An Open Letter to TAAAP: You Do Not ‘Use the SAM’

Hello, it’s me again.

We’ve been talking for several weeks now, but for the other folks just tuning in, give me a moment to establish a bit of context here.

Last month you announced the theme for your December 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 speak up. Fortunately, you facilitated a private conversation by providing me with your contact email, and that’s how this conversation began. During that conversation you worked very effectively to persuade me that a private conversation with you was a dead end. For that reason I’ve decided to write this open letter, inviting more people to contribute their perspective on the subject and join me addressing you, too.

Unfortunately, this topic is a minefield by design. Many people have an ingrained negative kneejerk reaction to any and all objections wherever “the SAM” is concerned. They hear that someone’s going after “the SAM,” and they think their own identities are under attack. And usually, they’re right. Because that’s the context from which the term “SAM” itself emerged. That itself is the birthplace of the phrase. You do not “use” “the SAM” any more than a bullseye “uses” an arrow.

But you already know that, and you continue to perpetuate the use of the phrase.

On Respecting Others (& What That Really Means)

If there’s one thing going for us, at least I know you’re not trying to be cruel on purpose. You have expressed an investment in opposing identity essentialism, which means the only part that’s missing for you is how one person’s own personal use of a term could be unfair to anybody else.

I will illustrate this with an example.

Hypothetically, say someone in the aro community decided to give a name to a completely legitimate type of aro identity or experience — nothing wrong with that. Hypothetically, say in order to express that identity, they start calling themselves a “pure aro.” Say the identity becomes a popular one, and say there’s also some aros who speak up with objections. Now imagine those aros get told, “That’s okay, you don’t have to use the purity model.”

That would be messed up.

This hypothetical is something I’m assuming we’re on the same page about. If you can recognize that this “pure aro” construct would be a problem, regardless of what “pure aro” was chosen to represent, then you can understand how the language we choose for ourselves — even to represent completely legitimate things — can in fact be unfair to other people. In the same way that it would be wrong to refer to certain aros as “pure aros” or “impure aros,” it is wrong to refer to completely legitimate things as “SAM” or “non-SAM.”

Note here I’m making an important distinction that’s easy to miss. The actual things being misrepresented as “the SAM” are mostly fine. In order to have this conversation, we need to distinguish between 1) those underlying legitimate things and 2) the application of the term “SAM” onto them, or otherwise folks will think any objections to the second is an attack on the first. To isolate the second, let’s call it the “The Split Attraction Model” Model (TSAMM), just to make sure everyone reading this gets to be as annoyed as I am. The TSAMM is not multi-orientation labeling or attraction subtyping or any of that. The TSAMM is the practice of incorrectly referring to those things as if they were “the split attraction model,” and here are the problems with that.

Problems with the TSAMM: “Split Attraction Model” is a Misnomer

Let’s break it down by parts.

1) It’s not split. The word “split,” like the word pure, inherently sets up a contrast. It’s framing these things as only partial, splintered fragments of what they’re normally supposed to be. Categorizing my experiences of attraction as “split” attraction is like referring to me as a “split person” just because I’m not a conjoined twin. I wasn’t split off from anyone. I’m just like this. This is my own whole and natural way of being. “Split” language talks down to me as a lesser fragment of something else. Why should that be recognized as anything less than condescending?

2) It’s not “attraction,” either. Too often I’ve seen people deploying “SAM” or “using the SAM” to misrepresent multi-orientation labeling, which is conflating “attraction” with “orientation.” The formulaic orientation = attraction thinking behind the TSAMM is part of a much bigger problem of essentialism within the ace and aro communities, and we need to work harder at addressing that.

3) Frankly? It’s not even a model. It doesn’t model anything. It’s just an extra sticker over multiple preexisting models and concepts, chained together by conflation and essentialism.

Consequences of the TSAMM: Making Everything Worse

In the past, one of your members has made the valid point that coining a new word doesn’t necessarily help with fixing a problem. This is true, and the TSAMM demonstrates the point: the term “SAM” was created in response to, among other things, a problem of certain things getting universalized. Yet by introducing this invasive species of a phrase into the ecosystem, it has tangled our vocabulary and made our issues harder to talk about in at least four ways:

1) The TSAMM is exacerbating attraction-based essentialism. Using “attraction” as a stand-in for orientation labeling conflates the two as the same thing, and this is unfair to A) everyone whose orientation is based on anything other than just attraction, as well as B) everyone who labels attraction outside of the orientation framework. But now, thanks to the TSAMM’s baggage, you can hardly say “hey, quit saying attraction when you mean orientation” without people flipping out and circling the wagons.

2) That manifestation of the TSAMM is also inhibiting conversations about alienation from attraction itself. The TSAMM gets people so used to seeing “non-SAM” used to mean something about orientation, it flies right under the radar when someone is actually trying to talk about disidentifying with attraction. That makes it harder to specify when what you mean is attraction subtyping & the prevalence of attraction narratives (aesthetic, emotional, etc.) in the aro/ace communities — because under the TSAMM, that just gets lumped in as “the SAM” along with the whole rat’s nest of everything else.

3) The TSAMM is inhibiting conversations about alienation from the romantic/sexual distinction. Obviously people may resent it when their identities are getting called “split,” especially when those identities don’t actually feel like separable parts. That’s how you get aro aces gloming onto “non-SAM” to express something else entirely — because “split attraction model” is the only name the TSAMM gives them for a romantic/sexual distinction, and so “non-split” is the only way they’re given to express romantic-sexual convergence. Meanwhile people are still also trying to use the TSAMM to address the problem of assuming aros’ sexualities, and this is how you get people tripping over each other with different ideas about what they’re even talking about.

4) Consequently, the TSAMM is even inhibiting conversations about alienation from romantic orientation. All this is why I recently had to gently shepherd an aro out of your “opting out of romantic orientation” channel. The TSAMM encourages a conflation between “romantic orientation” and “distinguishing romantic from sexual,” and the popularity of that conflation has so thoroughly undermined conceptual space for folks like me that you can outright name a channel “opting out of romantic orientation” and you’ll get people in there talking about how much they definitely do identify with a romantic orientation. Even in space deliberately set aside for me, the TSAMM renders the distinction incoherent.

I deserve better than this. Everyone deserves better than this. We deserve to get to have these conversations without the TSAMM getting in the way.

I know this is a lot to process. I also know that my communication style is strange, and I might not be doing the best job of articulating these things. But at least you don’t have to just take it from me.

How many other people will see what I’m saying? I don’t really know, to be honest. We’re going find out. Maybe at some point down the line, that number could even include you, too.

[This post has been crossposted to Pillowfort, where you can find more comments. A link to it can also be reblogged on Tumblr.]

29 responses to “An Open Letter to TAAAP: You Do Not ‘Use the SAM’

  • raavenb2619

    I got your submission to my Tumblr. Are you asking/requesting that I make a post on my blog that links to here? (I’m guessing the answer’s yes, and I’m happy to do so, but I figured I’d ask directly in case I was misinterpreting things.)

    • Coyote

      Yeah, I saw that you’d hit like on the post, so I figured I’d try sending it to you with a recommendation on which part to excerpt, in case you’d be willing to share. There’s a lot of people on Tumblr who use this kind of language and I’d like to try and invite some of those folks into a dialogue here, if I can.

      (I wish there were an easier way to include notes like this in a submission, but then that risks them getting published as part of the post, which wasn’t the idea.)

      • raavenb2619

        Yeah. Tumblr has been getting marginally better (nowhere near close to fixing the technical or structural issues with the platform), so maybe it’ll get revamped at some point?

        (I added some stuff in the tags encouraging people to comment here.)

  • Anonymous

    I’m going to have to read through the linked posts tomorrow when I’m more awake but this is very interesting! Thanks for posting this

  • Anonymous

    So, your problem with it is…the name? I’m trying to make sure I’m reading this right.

    • Coyote

      That’s a start. I listed three problems with the name, and from there, four problems that are made worse by using that name instead of more appropriate language. There’s also more discussion on the Pillowfort crosspost, if you’d like to see. What questions do you currently have?

      • Anonymous

        Mostly, I just wonder what you would propose as the alternative. Right now, the SAM (or, more popularly, non-SAM) is being used as a label for an identity- suddenly removing a term at all is going to leave a void and make it difficult to find others with similar experiences. I have to wonder how you would not just replace, but improve on the term.

        • Coyote

          There wouldn’t be a void. Not unless you want to look at it that way because you’ve ruled out all the other options. Which, I mean, you could do. It could be that everything that’s ever been used to express these things is unsatisfactory in some way — in which case, I’m not particularly against folks trying to start anew.

          With that said: there is language that’s in active use or has been proposed for basically all of the things brought up in discussion here. It’s just a question of which options folks want to go with.

          Which ones are you interested in hearing about?

      • Anonymous

        (Not sure if it changes anything, but the reply button was broken on the last comment)
        I either haven’t heard of alternative language used before that tries to communicate the same idea. Because I’ve called myself a non-sam aro, I’m mostly curious about terms that would replace that one.

        • Coyote

          (WP gets finicky like that after too many layers of nesting, yeah. It’s part of why I prefer PF for longer comment threads.)

          So the answer to that depends on what your own preferences/criteria are, what you’re looking to express, and what suits you as a way to express it. Like I said, there’s a lot out there, but to keep this comment from being Too Much I’ll highlight just two. For instance:

          Quoi, as an identity term, can be used to express trouble with or a deliberate rejection of certain models, such as romantic orientation, sexual orientation, or gender identity. One of the things I use “quoiromantic” to express is breaking away from the aro-vs.-allromantic binary. Here’s a post about quoi generally. Here’s a post by an aro quoisexual system. Quoi does get used more than one way/covers a few different narratives, but it can be used as a way to say “neither” in response to the “a-or-allo” binary, and that’s pretty central to its origin story.

          There’s also the aro neutro/neutral identity that was proposed more recently. I’m not as familiar with it, and the introduction post is… hm, leaves something to be desired, but I bring it up because it’s something that emerged in the aro community as an aro-specific identity, if that means anything to you.

          But it could also be that you’re aiming to communicate something different entirely or have different priorities that can be served by these. What else can you tell me about what you’re looking for?

      • Anonymous

        (Oh, I see- I don’t regularly use this platform, unfortunately I don’t have a PF though…)

        I liked non-sam aro because it’s JUST aro- functionally, I’m also ace, but the experiences of being ace and being aro are vastly different…My lack of sexual attraction is more so a fun fact while being aro affects my opinions on media and who I choose to interact with- it fundamentally changes quite a bit about my life, especially because I’m a loveless aro. I even get uncomfortable being called just ace.

        Non-sam aro is pretty much exactly that- being aro is either the ONLY thing that you are and you don’t have or don’t label a sexual orientation OR being aro holds such a high priority to the extent that your sexual orientation just doesn’t compare.

        I could call myself JUST aro, but until we fix the problem of assumptions and giving labels to people who don’t want them, it just wouldn’t have the same implications and it still leaves a lot of room for confusion. When I’m looking for aro-only things, they usually get mixed up with ace-only things, but that mixup never happens when I use non-sam aro.

        • Coyote

          So when you say you get uncomfortable being called ace… now it could be this is an irrelevant thought, so feel free to dismiss it, but just in case, I’d like to say: You don’t have to identify as ace. You don’t have to think of yourself as “functionally” ace or “technically” ace. Ace is a label that’s there for you if you want it; it’s not something you’re contractually beholden to. I believe in a more autonomous outlook on identity than that.

          When you’re looking up aro things… can you say more about where you’re doing that?

          Anyway, more in the vein of what you described, I’ve seen priori aro, and there was also some discussion over here about unicum aro and primaro.

      • Anonymous

        Yeah, that’s why I chose to identify myself as a non-sam aro.

        I’m primarily on Tumblr when I’m looking for aro things. All kinds of posts are almost always either paired with ace things or are being improperly tagged with aro tags when it’s really about aces and says nothing about aros. It’s not impossible to find exclusively aro-based posts in aro tags/blogs, but it’s significantly easier to find those aro experiences, jokes/memes and such with non-sam aro tags/blogs.

        There’s a fairly high risk on ace-based posts (usually alloace) that you’ll still run into “but we can still love romantically” and “love is what makes us human” type posts too. Of course, looking through non-sam aro tags won’t mean you never find anything like that, but it seems to happen less and there’s a better chance you’ll find pro-loveless positivity there.

        • Coyote

          Tumblr! Well there’s your problem. Mistagged posts isn’t an aro thing; it’s a Tumblr thing. If you want to be able to look up aro stuff and find aro stuff, what you need is moderated, curated spaces were off-topic material can be removed. A while back we tried to have a conversation about that, but, well… the people who initiated that conversation didn’t end up coming back around to talk to us. In any case, if you find yourself frustrated with the state of aro things on Tumblr, I would highly, highly recommend branching out to more aro community spaces besides just Tumblr.

  • raavenb2619

    On the topic of questionable models related to asexuality, the card suit thingmight be making a bit of a comeback? (20k+ notes in a week is a lot, and I feel like I’ve seen discussion of this more frequently in the past few months. Not a lot, but some.) In reading through the notes, I stumbled upon this discussion of the card suits falling out of fashion, which places the blame squarely on 2015 acephobia. (Content warning for discussions of the experiences of 2015 acephobia.) Link.

    While I don’t doubt that 2015 definitely played a large part in the card suits being mostly forgotten, does saying that 2015 is solely responsible ignore the aces who spoke out and tried to get the community to move away from the card suit model? Put another way, did intracommunity discussions have a meaningful impact on the use of card suits before 2015 hit? (If yes, I think having evidence of those conversations and results might prove useful in the future, in case the narrative that “2015 acephobia killed the card suits, and 2015 acephobia was wrong, so we should bring back the card suits” becomes more popular.)

    • Coyote

      Funnily enough, Laura just sent me a link to the same thing today. It is… frustrating.

      And yes. Yes, it does ignore the criticism of compulsory romantic orientation coming from within our own community. I don’t know why they’re fixating on the year 2015 in particular, but if we want to talk about 2015, then what I would point to is the rightful criticism of Ace Day.

      • Sennkestra

        Lol I’m not sure if you realized but the card suites were born and died on Tumblr in 2015 exactly because of ace day.

        While there had been occasionally attempts to assign all the suits in various ways on AVEN, none of them really caught on other than hearts being slightly more popular among romantic aces and spades among romantic aces.

        Even that was never super codified in Tumblr ace spaces as much as it was on AVEN….until The Asexuality Blog tried to assign people card suites for ace day, and got a lot of notes, and also got *immediately* called out on it by other aces for both not making space for all aces and for trying to shove people into boxes in uncomfortable ways.

        The Asexuality Blog later apologized for it later and withdrew it from their future ace day suggestiona because of those concerns being voiced.

        IMO, that strong internal community pushback was the reason it immediately declined (although still not enough for my tastes as I still see it going around and have for years).

        External ace hate was not at all a meaningful factor.

        • Sennkestra

          Also, regarding why people don’t use card suite emoji all over their profiles anymore…it’s because they all use ace flag heart emoji instead. Much better color scheme and much less ambiguous about whether you are an ace person or a poker player.

    • Coyote

      See replies above from Sennkestra (not sure if you have notifications set up, but just in case).

      Also… can I interest you in a diagram? That might have more rebloggability value for people who have a hard time with long text.

  • raavenb2619

    In case it doesn’t get crossposted (I’d assume it would at some point, but it isn’t on yet), TAAAP’s Response to an Open Letter.

    My understanding (which very well could be wrong) is that your issue is specifically with the phrase “The Split Attraction Model”, including the implications of the word “Split” as well as the way that it is used to refer to many different concepts, which conflates them. Reading through this, it seems to me like they want to leave room for the latter to be discussed in the December Pride Chats, but dismiss the former by saying

    This degree of connotation does not exist for “split”. We say this not to dismiss the real harm people experience in relation to the SAM, but to highlight the false equivalence in the hypothetical.

    Letting the issue of conflation be something for the Pride Chats seems like a reasonable enough decision (especially when considered from the angle of communicating/broadcasting to a wide audience and engaging lots of people in important conversations), but dismissing your issues with the word “split” like that is…disheartening, especially when this notion of “splitness” or “completeness” comes up in other contexts like soulmates/”other half”, where aros have been very vocal (and hopefully made some headway) in our complaints.

    • Coyote

      You know what’s strange? They didn’t email me this, and they didn’t leave a comment here (where guest commenting is enabled), but they did go out of their way to leave a comment on Pillowfort.

      dismissing your issues with the word “split” like that is…disheartening, especially when this notion of “splitness” or “completeness” comes up in other contexts like soulmates/”other half”, where aros have been very vocal (and hopefully made some headway) in our complaints.


    • Coyote

      Well, I bet you can guess how things turned out.

  • The Ace and Aro Advocacy Project

    We’ve seen that a link to our response on tumblr was already posted here. For those who prefer the Pillowfort medium, here’s our response there:

  • The Call (to Abandon Card Suit Sorting) is Coming from Inside the House | The Ace Theist

    […] And if you want to talk about the actual impact of the 2015 anti-ace brigade — how about you talk about how even an ace & aro org is endorsing their language over ours? […]

  • Linkspam: December 25th, 2020 | The Asexual Agenda

    […] has an open letter to TAAAP: “You do not ‘Use the SAM’“.  TAAAP […]

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

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

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