Ask: Ace Identity and the SAM

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An anon asks on Tumblr:

To be honest, in the past I was on the exclusionists’ side with the SAM (Split Attraction Model). It’s harmful! Stop forcing it on people! Attractions don’t need to be separated like that! Even though I myself am technically aroace. I was angry because I felt like I was being erased and spoken over in the ace community. I felt like I was being forced to separate my romantic and sexual attraction when they weren’t separate. It made me furious that I couldn’t make a post or comic calling myself asexual without some ace commenting, “no, asexuality is actually x aces can do/feel y that’s not what asexual means!” As if I’m confused.

So basically I hated that the SAM was forced on the word asexual any time someone used it. I’ve somewhat changed my mind recently: I now understand that splitting attraction is crucial to some people, but I do think we need something else because I can also understand genuine reasons why some are adverse to it and feel like its forced on them. There has been concern with using existing terminology and splitting them into romantic and sexual attractions.

Maybe instead of doing this we could create terms that are shorter and mean the same, combining the two attractions into one distinct identity. For example, a panromantic asexual is, uhh, tresexual? Not the real alternative–just to show what I mean. Arosexual or aseromantic could be umbrella terms for aspecs who feel one type of attraction and not the other. I’m not saying we should abandon the terms we have now.

Like I said, I’m not against the SAM any more (I’m sorry I ever was) and definitely think anyone can identify how they want. But I think we as a community need labels that are more concise and convey more information. I think it will make it easier for aspecs to find people that are most like them instead of just one part.

Just so folks know: you (general you) don’t need to insist to me that you’ve changed your ways. You don’t need to prove to me that you’ve learnt better. You can just say “I no longer believe that” and leave the conversation there. I dislike the purity culture tendency of having to constantly demonstrate one’s growth and resulting apology in order to reveal a less-palatable truth about the people we were, and I’m not going to demand it of the people who are doing the risky and dangerous thing of revealing their past in conversation with me.

We can’t grow as a community unless we talk about the beliefs we held and why we held them. We will fail in outreach to others if people don’t feel safe to talk about their history–we will fail to learn the unspoken undercurrents of why harmful attitudes are compelling. Folks who have learnt and changed are a vital bridge between two sides, and I think any requirement to constantly apologise or offer up reassurances for making a mistake long after is only going to stop the people we most need to hear from talking to us.

And oh is this a reason we need to better discuss and understand.

It is difficult to have conversations about aromanticism that encompass the non-split attractions of asexuals and aros who don’t use the SAM while still highlighting the experience of aromanticism as felt by folks (ace and allo alike) who do need the SAM. The fact that I’ve had to write out your identity with such a clumsy, ridiculous line to clarify your shape of ace against other shapes of ace encapsulates this in a nutshell: for crying out loud, asexuals who don’t use the SAM! That’s not your ace identity! The fact that I do not know a better way to talk about you (or the non-SAM-using ace character in an earlier ask) in clear, simple, concise language is a problem. I shouldn’t have to keep referencing the SAM just to clarify your particular identity and experiences. Anon, I know you live this and don’t need my explaining to you the exceedingly obvious, but I’m writing this out because my attempt to respond to you is such an example of the problem you’re discussing with how we use the SAM, and it only worsens when you have to endure folks correcting you in discussing your identity. When I can’t even respond to your asks to validate you without floundering, we have a problem.

Right now, we either push aside non-split aces and aros to focus on the rough groupings of aro, ace and aro-ace, or we settle on awkward attempts to include you. Neither is good enough.

I want to stress that you should feel angry, othered, alienated and hurt by the sheer degree of circumlocution needed to talk about your experience as distinct from folks who identify as aro-ace and alloromantic asexuals, and the corrections you endure when you do talk about who you are without it. I’ve felt the pain of losing a word myself: when I came out as agender in 2012, it meant genderless (other neutral-gender meanings now used for agender were covered by neutrois) and it is a difficult and alienating thing to see my identity used to include other experiences of having a gender. In my case, I do have the word genderless to fall back on, but I still feel divorced from a word that was once fully my own. I am still corrected by agender-as-neutral-gender folks telling me it isn’t a problem that agender is conceptualised as a gender instead of as the absence of one, even though said conceptualisation is a constant microaggression I endure from the non-binary community. We talk on the evolution of language in LGBTQIA+ communities and the importance of accepting these shifts to be more inclusive; we don’t talk about the pain of having one’s identity shift to mean broader umbrellas and how to manage when we’ve lost that precise word to say exactly who we are. We don’t validate each other in our feelings of losing language, and in not doing this, I think our activism falls short.

When we do try to talk on the pain of this language and identity loss, we’re seen as regressive or hateful–even exclusionary. We’re seen as holding back the LGBTQIA+ community’s progression and growth. Is it any wonder that some folks lean in exclusionist directions when there’s no space to recognise, discuss or explore our feelings?

The fact that ace means many things is a problem, and most of us, myself included, lean on aro-ace in our conversations because we don’t have the lexicon to handle aces and aros with non-split attraction.

At the same time, anon, I am so leery of conjuring words for allosexual aros to describe individually the combination of our split attractions.

My first argument against is that aromanticism already makes us less allosexual to non-a-specs. Conversely, allosexual attractions also tend to make us less a-spec in a-spec spaces where aro is treated as a second thought to the ace. Alloromantic asexuals have the advantage of ace being an aspect of their identity, the more recognised and centred side of the a-spec umbrella in a-spec spaces; allosexual aros have the disadvantage of being aro, the less recognised and actively de-centred side of the same umbrella in a-spec spaces. To have a word that doesn’t specify both the aromantic-spectrum or the allosexual attraction identities seems a thing that to me will be taken advantage of by allo-allo spaces and a-spec spaces alike, to further erase and deny whichever part of allo-aro they find inconvenient or difficult. It will also exclude us from the communities based around our allosexual attractions, communities that already erase and deny us.

The reason I tried to deny my pansexuality for so long, to ignore the fact that both grey-ace and ace didn’t fit me all the time (honestly: more of the time) was to better belong in a-spec spaces–to be included in the community in ways aro alone, at the time, didn’t grant me. I felt I had to be aro-ace because aro wasn’t enough to be heard and accepted. Even now, there’s little to no conversation on being gay and aro, bisexual and aro, heterosexual and aro, or lesbian and aro (amongst other allosexual aro identities) in aro-spec spaces, and language that doesn’t name our allosexual attraction, I fear, won’t halt that trend.

Secondly, our attractions are split, so why not the language used to describe it? Why shouldn’t the language directly encapsulate the nature of our identities and experiences by requiring two words to communicate it? My abrosexuality and my aromanticism are two different things–shaping each other, yes, but separate experiences nonetheless. I have no need to merge them together in a way that is unnatural to me. I want the world to see the component parts of who I am. I see your suggestion as a way to un-split our language, to create singular and unified terms for two experiences. While there’s every possibility that some folks will like this, I think it diminishes and disregards the reasons why many aro-aces (especially in aro-spec spaces) ID as aro-ace and why many allo-aros require two words.

Lastly, I do not see how the structures of the words you’ve offered are any improvement on already-extant language (like “pansexual aro”) in terms of communicating meaning when this is already communicated without undue difficulty. We already have umbrella terms in allo-aro and allo-ace; I don’t understand the point in replacing these with another single word.

The problem is not the existence and use of the SAM. The problem is not the terms aro-ace, allo-aro and allo-ace. Introducing specific un-split words for the combination of a person’s split romantic and sexual attraction isn’t a solution, anon, because it does not address the problem we’re facing in how we use language or how it is currently harming you.

The problem as I see it is that “ace” is used to mean, simultaneously, allo-ace, aro-ace, ace-spectrum and non-SAM-using-ace. That’s four different meanings and experiences attached to the same word! That is what we need to address: the fact that there is no distinct, non-clumsy term for depicting precisely how you are ace, because it can be used, alone, to mean four different things. That is where the lack of clarity lies, not in words like “pansexual aro” or “panromantic ace”. In fact, if using “allo-ace” were more common (as a descriptor, not an identity) in ace-spec spaces by allo-aces, I suspect it would be easier for you to exist as ace alone without using the SAM and enduring the “but aces can experience aromantic attraction!” corrections.

In that light, it seems to me that the easiest solution for clarity of language and expression of pride and identity is to crate a new modifying term before “ace” and “aro” for non-SAM-using aces and non-SAM-using aros. This is not a good answer and I will acknowledge that. I’m sure, anon, that you connect to ace as much as I connect to agender, that you want to use your own word to describe who you are. I’m not offering this lacking knowledge of what it’ll cost you to conjure a word that describes, solely and specifically, non-SAM-using ace when ace alone fits that use in your heart and history.

This way, though, better fits how the community already uses language; it doesn’t require a complete overhaul of established terminology. It also gives you space to communicate your shape of ace now without waiting on the rest of the ace-spec community to catch up.

I’d look at finding another word or prefix, so we have aro-aces, allo-aces and [invented word]-aces. In other words, every ace fits under the umbrella of ace with an accompanying prefix describing their shape of ace, so you don’t have to identify as aro-ace or reference the SAM at all. Uni-aces/aros? Mono-aces/aros? A prefix that means “only” or “wholly”? I don’t know what that prefix might be, and I am not the right person to choose it–this conversation should be had amongst a-specs who don’t use the SAM. I’m just throwing out a couple of words so folks get a sense of what I’m suggesting and how it might work.

I’ll stress that I don’t mean that you need to identify as [invented word]-ace: I don’t identify as allo-aro or aro-ace, but instead use those words to communicate my experiences where appropriate and as a reference to how I am aro-spec. I mean this usage in the same way: you identify as ace and ace alone, and when someone questions you or expresses confusion, this is a tool to describe how you are ace, just as allo-ace and allo-aro describes a way of being ace and aro.

I do want to conclude by validating you, again, anon, in your pain–and you are free to disagree with my conclusion, as is anyone else. Please, everyone, take my words as a discussion point, disregard them where necessary and get a conversation going, even if that conversation is proving me wrong, because we need a solution above all. I hate that in writing this post I must hurt you by using clumsy and alienating constructions to convey my meaning. There’s nothing right about my language in this post, and I am so sorry that I don’t know how better to refer to you as the ace you are and refer to, specifically, your shape of ace.

Whatever happens from this post on, we must do better.

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