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.
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.