Dear Bi Lesbian Defenders: Stop Throwing Me Under the Bus

If you’re out there arguing against identity policing, that’s great. While you’re at it, try making room for people like me, too.

This post explains how defenders have been lured into an essentialist framework, what the problem is, and how to fix it.

[Crossposted to Pillowfort. Preview image: Tire Track in Concrete by Darren Hester (GrungeTextures), licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.]

Criticizing a Concept vs. Criticizing a Term

One of the obstacles I’ve run into on this topic is people failing to make any distinction between criticizing a concept and criticizing a term. For example, if I criticize the use of dogwhistles like “super-predator,” “TIM,” “cultural Marxism,” or “bihet,” that doesn’t mean I’m “against” who/what those terms are supposed to represent — it’s that I’m object to calling them that. Terms like these signal a particular approach or outlook on a topic/demographic (racist, transmisogynist, antisemitic, anti-bi), and so by objecting to those terms, what I’m objecting to is those ideological implications.

If you can understand that, then you can grasp the concept of criticizing the term (TERM) “split attraction model.”

Examples of What I’m Talking About

Opponents of lesbian identity policing have sometimes gone about their arguments like this:

This needs to end. If you want to actually defend everyone from identity policing, you need to ditch the phrase “split attraction model” itself.

Why “SAM” Is The Wrong Term

This term should not be “reclaimed” from its origins* because it is inherently flawed and misrepresentative. In this context, people are generally using the term (TERM) “split attraction model” to mean multi-orientation labeling, particularly in the form of romantic orientation & sexual orientation. But this choice of words comes with a bunch of unwanted implications.

Referring to romantic orientation labeling as “the split attraction model” is wrong because

1) Romantic orientation is not “split” anything. A lesbian with a romantic orientation is not any less of a lesbian.

2) Romantic orientation does not have to be based solely on attraction. This is attraction-based essentialism, and it contributes to identity policing. If identity policing is something you’re opposed to, then you should squash this when you see it.

3) The words “the” and “model” are out of place here. Calling anything “the” X “model” makes it sound like one definitive singular thing, when in fact the term “the split attraction model” has been haphazardly flung around at several different things, romantic orientation being just one of them. Using the term “split attraction model” is to participate in conflating those things as all the same.

To call romantic orientation “the SAM” is to endorse the ideas that

A) Romantic orientation is the only type of divergence from the composite romantisexual view of orientation. This fails to account for other forms of divergent, narrow orientations, even without a romantic one involved.

B) Orientations are equivalent to (only based on) experiences of attraction. This fails to account for anyone who identifies based on other factors, including priorities, boundaries, desires, potential for compatibility, and other salient experiences.

C) “Romantic” is the only type of attraction other than sexual. This fails to account for any other types of attraction at all.

D) Experiencing a kind of attraction necessarily means identifying with a parallel orientation. This fails to account for those of us who experience some form of attraction that we don’t conceptualize as part of an orientation.

All of these assumptions are wrong when it comes to me. So in short, to use the term “split attraction model” is to participate in conflation and erasure. It is not the right term for any of the things you could possibly want to express, be that romantic orientation, multi-orientation labeling, divergence, attraction subtyping, or anything else.

*For context: one of the original uses of the term “split attraction model” was specifically as a criticism/attack on mixed orientations. This is something I have covered before in An Actual History Of The Term “Split Attraction Model.” The discursive context that produced this term is the same one that launched targeted suspicion at mixed identities such as heteroromantic pansexual, heteroromantic bisexual, homoromantic bisexual, biromantic lesbian, biromantic heterosexual, panromantic homosexual, and heteroromantic homosexual, calling them “unhealthy” and instructing people that they can pick one or the other, but “don’t be a mixture of both.”

How to Make Space for All of Us

It’s simple: say what you actually mean. If you mean romantic orientation, say that. If you mean multi-orientation labeling, say that. If you mean combining identity labels, say that.

Do not say “split attraction” when what you mean is multiple orientations. Posts from 2014 or before refer to these mixed identities without using the term “split attraction model,” and you can too.


5 responses to “Dear Bi Lesbian Defenders: Stop Throwing Me Under the Bus

  • KaeS

    One of the reasons I’ve had to just quit most forms of social media is how dominant essentialist narratives have become. I feel that a lot of what’s going on here is that people responding to a very narrow form of essentialism with with a multi-dimensional essentialism that’s superficially more diverse. And relational, narrative, negotiated, fluid, and local ways of talking about sexuality get labeled as “problematic.”

    I feel like one of the big ideas of queer theory gets lost in this. A lot of people online are so busy elevating personal hot-takes as universal political truths, that they’re unwilling to consider we don’t have that yet, might never have that, and instead, must share our individually negotiated petite truths. It’s not just a linguistic or theoretical difference, it’s a fundamental difference of views about what language and theory do.

  • Rory

    oh, i never thought of the sam theory like that! :o thank you for explaining it so well with the helpful links, ive learned a lot

    • Coyote

      Thanks for commenting. I’m not sure what you mean by “the sam theory,” since what I’m objecting to is a term, not a theory, but you’re welcome to ask questions if anything was unclear.

  • Linkspam: March 11th, 2022 | The Asexual Agenda

    […] Coyote wrote summary explanations why romantic orientation can’t be “appropriated” and why bi lesbian defenders shouldn’t use the term “split attraction model”. […]

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