The Split Attraction Model has a PR Problem

[UPDATE: 5/19/20: Coyote was kind enough to make a brief history summary of the term “split 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 and update notes) but my opinions will likely change as I encounter new and updated information.]
See: Apology Statement

Something I didn’t know until recently is the split attraction model (or SAM) has a bit of a PR problem. If you type “split attraction model” into the search bar on Twitter, here’s what comes up. Yikes.

There’s probably several reasons that the SAM has a bad rep, but a key reason I think is how most people learn about the SAM, it’s history, and how it’s used, which is probably the same way I did- by word of mouth. There’s not really an easily accessible good source on the split attraction model outside of ace resources and blogs. Occasionally you’ll find a pop psychology article on split attraction, but in the most public cyber spaces, social media like Twitter and Instagram, trying to find any positive posts about the SAM is hard and experts are met with scorn and an accusations of homophobia.

The most common arguments against the SAM that I’ve seen are 1) the split attraction model is only for aces and aros (if aros are even mentioned), 2) the split attraction model is inherently homophobic/transphobic/lesphobic or is very harmful to the LGBT community, and 3) the split attraction model reinforces internalized homophobia. That last point is usually expressed as a personal claim that the split attraction model “fucked me up in the head”.

My biggest pet peeve is that whenever the SAM is mentioned it almost is always presented as a dichotomy between sexual and romantic attraction and that is very much not how I use the model personally.

I personally use split attraction as an aromantc and not as an asexual. I’ve mentioned previously that my aromanticism is my most dominate trait; it’s the one I’m most aware of, it has the most impact on my behavior and relationships with others, and I’m slightly romance-repulsed. I use the SAM to emphasis my non-romantic attractions, specifically sensual and aesthetic. Other aromantics use the SAM to emphasis that QPRs are worth talking about and celebrating as much as romantic partnerships. I see the SAM as a tool to critically think about and describe human bonds and feelings without the lens of amatonormativity placing a false and inflated value on certain kinds of relationships.

So when somebody comes in and says that the split attraction model “fucked them up in the head” or that the the split attraction model is “useless” or “harmful to the lgbt community”, I feel like that is just as much an act of bigotry as if someone had come in and said that my nonbinary gender wasn’t real and valid because I’m not doing HRT. Bashing on the split attraction model is inherently arophobic.

The SAM is not exclusively for aces and aros. That is a prescriptive notion, not a descriptive one. When I first learned about the SAM the way it was explained to me was that sometimes sexual and romantic attractions don’t line up, somebody could be homosexual and biromantic. I learned that before I learned was aromantic was. The SAM is known and talked about in the bisexual community. It’s not talked about very favorably it would seem based on my Twitter search, but it’s still known and talked about.

The argument that the SAM is inherently transphobic and homophobic because people will use it as an excuse to just fuck who they want without dating them is just recycled biphobia garbage and arophobic. People say they don’t want to date bi men and women all the time because “what if they leave me to go be het”. They’re not subtle about it either because it pops up in my feed because they say that crap in public were everybody can see them. That’s not the SAM, that’s just people being assholes who lack the skills to have honest conversations about what they need and what they expect from a partner. Aromantics will be the first to tell you that you do not need to have romantic attraction to have a fulfilling and meaningful relationship nor is romantic attraction even a good marker of what makes a fulfilling and meaningful relationship.

I am very sympathetic to everyone who says that the split attraction model fucked them in the head and instead of having a clear path to finding their identity they had to try out different labels and slowly get over there internalized homophobia. You want to know who also didn’t have a clear path to finding their identity and had to try out different labels and get over some internalized BS? Me. I was 25 years old before I even learned the word asexuality and I had to look it up myself to find it. I had to do my own research without an SGA or LGBT group to reach out to because I wasn’t in school and didn’t own a car. I had to find online spaces where I could safely talk to other aces to compare experiences. It took me what I would consider a ridiculous amount of time to accept that I was aromantic. So I really am very sympathetic, but also very frustrated because somehow their personal struggle with internalized homophobia or transphobia should not justify their blatant arophobia.

Changing the narrative about the Split Attraction Model is a bigger job than I can do by myself and my little blog. I unfortunately don’t have the connections to be like “hey can we get a spot light on some aromantic visibility outside of awareness week because we need some STAT”. I think the SAM’s PR problem is linked to lack of aromantic visibility and understanding of non-ace aromantics especially.

The SAM’s PR problem is at its heart an ace, aro, and bisexual problem, so because of that is anybody really listening?


12 thoughts on “The Split Attraction Model has a PR Problem

  1. Siggy

    Incidentally, an old post I have talking about the problems with the SAM/non-SAM dichotomy has been getting a lot of hits lately. I think it’s at least partly from twitter, because someone actually showed me an example of it being used in a twitter argument–incorrectly, of course. I mean, I really didn’t write that to weigh in on twitter arguments, I wrote it to weigh in on internal community arguments that these twitter people are miles away from understanding.

    Anyway, given the link interest, I think this is something bloggers can help with by making articles with good SEO. But it’s hard for me to know what to actually put in such an article, because the twitter arguments are so WTF to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s also tricky because the requirements for things to have good twitter optimization is so completely different from the requirements to have general SEO optimization for google (which, while it still has room for improvement, doesn’t produce results that are nearly so negative as twitter does). The problem is that the solution requires lots of people frequently being loud about being positive about “split attraction model” but the problem is I don’t particularly care for that phrasing and I especially don’t care for twitter 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Twitter is definitely an aquired taste so I understand why people don’t particularly care for it

        I’m not necessarily looking to improve the SAM’s reputation on Twitter specifically. I think it would be more useful to have accessible articles about SAM models and the history that people can point to to say “no, see the SAM is not only for aces and aros” or “no there’s no specific creator, but here are the books and ideas that were up in the air at the time” or “there’s more than one SAM model, here’s a couple of the most popular ones”.

        Several of the Bi Twitter accounts I follow use a dropbox to store newspaper clippings, pdfs of scholarly articles, Google book citations, ect…

        I think it would be beneficial to have a centralized location separate or link tree to allow people to quickly counter misinformation about the SAM or ace/aros in general when they encounter it on social media. Not everyone is going to have time and energy to thoroughly research certain topics on the fly or in general or be aware of other platforms that have already had similar discussions. Another blogger said that one of their old posts had a recent spike in traffic when a Twitter account misquoted them. I’ll see screenshots on Twitter of blog posts without citations. People are still using the AVEN 2014 community census to “prove” their argument instead of trying to find more recent surveys.

        The link I posted of the PhD account being roasted shows that acephobes are not going to take our sources seriously no matter what, but I still think it’s important to try to minimize the spread of misinformation among aces, aros, and allies too. People have said Twitter discourse is “just like the 2016 tumblr discourse all over again” except for a lot of people that history isn’t accessible because they were never on tumblr or not part of those conversations. So the same discourse is going to keep happening and just jump from platform to platform unless there’s a static reference source for people to link to.


    2. That said, in response to this part of your comment:

      > because the twitter arguments are so WTF to me.

      I think it would help to make a sort of….primer of like, “common anti-ace arguments, where they come from, what they mean, and how to argue against them” or something like that?

      For example, I had to step into a facebook argument last year where someone was saying they were uncomfortable with aces because they appropriated spaces from autistic communities, and another ace was trying to address that but flailing because they had no idea what this person was talking about (because it was a specific piece of misinformation stemming from a very specific 2015ish tumblr debate about around who used the “aspec” and “actually:x” tags first, which can be cleared up with links but only if you have enough obscure tumblr knowledge to recognize that’s where it’s coming from in the first place). And so because of that, I was thinking we need a primer for activists on like “what are these specific anti-ace arguments; what are they based on, is that an actual issue we need to work on or based on a misunderstanding/misrepresentation; and what evidence or additional information do you need to bring up to push back on it?”.

      I think it’s the same situation for many anti-SAM arguments, especially in that there are different strains of criticism, with different amounts of validity, that also require very different strategies to push back on.

      For example, one strain is concern that some uses of phrases like “heterosexual biromantic” or “bisexual homoromantic” reduce common orientation labels to just the sexual aspect and don’t accurately reflect the ways that many people use heterosexual, bisexual, etc. to refer to not only sexual attraction but also romantic interest, past history, future partner choice, and more. I would argue that this has some validity, but also that people making this argument tend to 1. underestimate the extent to which ace communities are aware of and working on that issue and 2. the ability of the human brain to understand that “heterosexual” or “bisexual” can be used to mean different things in different contexts and 3. the extend to which that is a problem aces inherited from wider cultural forces.

      Another strain is concern that (as in part of the twitter thread above) if you “let” people use the word “lesbian” who might at any point in the past or future have been interested in sex or romance or whatever with men, men will use that as an excuse to harass women. I would argue that this is less valid, because it totally misunderstands why obnoxious straight dudes hit on lesbians, and sees throwing other women to the wolves as acceptable, but even if you do think it’s valid it still requires a completely different set of arguments.

      And building on that, there’s also the third strain of concerns of based on fears of people who are not real “gold-star lesbians” inflitrating lesbian communities to “use” them (whether it’s fears that bi women will use them only to betray them to turn back to men, fears that trans women will infiltrate them and trick them into touching penises somehow), which then evolve into fears that bi ‘lesbians’ will “use” real lesbians for sex and not really love them (as in the example above) or that bi aces will “use them” by tricking them into sexless relationships (not in this thread but one I’ve seen elsewhere).

      Both of these last two are similarly hard to engage with properly unless you know the wider context of like, radical lesbian and seperatist lesbian history and the history of tensions around lesbian and bi women and gold star lesbians and more, which many aces (as well as young people more generally) may not have.

      Having explainers that go into this kind of background information would be helpful….but my concern is that they are also hard to make and propogate to the people who need them without getting derailed by flame wars from the content of the explainer itself.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I really like the idea of a primer for common anti-ace argument and where they come from

        The autism argument is another one that I see pop up a lot

        A radical lesbian and separatist lesbian history would be phenomenally helpful actually because you can kind of tell there’s a sort of family resemblance to different kinds of rhetoric but people don’t know the history and all they can say is “idk, that sounds super terfy to me” which does nothing to deescalate the situation.

        I think a lot of the WTF about Twitter arguments is most of the time people are trying to tackle issues they have only a vague idea about and it just devolves into a mess


  2. I think the biggest chunck of backlash about the split attraction model is currently being directed at the bi community and mspecs. There was a video that was posted earlier this month of a woman talking about her experience as a heteromantic bisexual and people reacted very loudly and negatively with biphobic and inherently arophobic comments. What people tried to double down was that “the SAM was for aces/aros only”.

    Before that video came out, the anti-SAM comments seemed to be prominently “the SAM is harmful to lesbians” because it exacerbates “internal homophobia and compulsory heterosexuality”.

    With a limit of 140 characters Twitter isn’t really built for long form arguments. In general people are reacting to something; a video, screenshot, a world/community event, or Tweet somebody else posted. I actually like using the search function because it works like any other search bar where you can use quotes to search an exact phrase or a minus sign to exclude words/phrases. The ” latest” tab puts everything in reverse chronological so I can see every public tweet with that word or phrase going back a couple or years. It’s not scientific, but I try to find patterns to what people are saying. “Only for aces/aro” and “does harm to the lgbt community” jumped out to be because I personally see those as relevant. Somebody else doing the same search might see a different argument that they would want to address.


  3. There’s probably several reasons that the SAM has a bad rep

    Well, I can give you some of the background on that one, because “split attraction model” as a term/phrase inherently comes from a context of reactionary criticism on Tumblr. It’s not an ace term, it’s not an aro term, it didn’t come from our communities. It comes from us using our language in general contexts, sometimes in irresponsible ways (i.e. universalizing), and other people seeing that and giving it their own name (to conceptualize a whole bundle of assorted things) specifically for the purpose of saying “I disagree with the split attraction model.” Before that point, nobody was talking like that. It’s not our term; it’s theirs.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Pingback: An Actual History Of The Term “Split Attraction Model” | The Ace Theist

  5. Pingback: Linkspam: May 22nd, 2020 | The Asexual Agenda

  6. Pingback: Criticisms of the split attraction model | The Asexual Agenda

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