(Putting this on tumblr to test the waters of the medium.)
Where does this model come from? Many writers will act like it’s handed from on high. This is pedagogically helpful, since people need to learn the basics before learning the advanced topic of where the basics come from. But let’s go beyond that.
First note that there are many other models of attraction, ones that have been proposed within and without asexual communities. Here are a few examples of models that are very different from the standard:
- Years ago, I was enamored with a model mentioned by Lisa Diamond, where romantic love was divided into passionate and companionate love.
- There’s the primary/secondary attraction model (formerly known as Rabger’s model). I have a long-time feud with this model, but that’s another story.
- There’s the model used by the now-dead Official Nonlibidoist Society (in which asexuals without libido are the real asexuals, or at least a whole different class to themselves). I believe that the ABCD model was a reaction to this model. Nowadays, most people have never heard of either one, and good riddance!
I believe that it’s sort of a natural selection process. New models and new adjustments to old models are proposed all the time. What we have now is what stuck. They resonated with people enough that the ideas consistently get repeated. They were pedagogically successful, so people would use them in intro materials (which become the foundation for asexual newbies).
I guess I’d call this the memetic meta-model of attraction? Except I would rather distance myself from meme theory…
A few notes:
- The models do not survive on the basis of their correspondence to reality. But then, models aren’t so much about what’s real, they’re about what’s important. For example, the nonlibidoist model isn’t wrong, it’s just that libido isn’t so important that it should be the biggest divide among asexuals. The natural selection process is pretty good at picking out what most people consider important and useful; in fact, I can hardly think of a better way.
- What’s useful to most people is not necessarily useful to every individual. For example, the idea of separating romantic and sexual attraction isn’t useful to me personally (as a gray-A/gray-romantic), but the idea’s general importance is undeniable.
- Some features of our model are there because people found them useful. Other features might be incidental to its history. For example, I’m quite sure that the fact that we call it “romantic orientation” rather than “affectional orientation” (the name bisexuals came up with) is incidental. But given any particular feature, it is unclear whether it is incidental or not.
- If AVEN, tumblr, and other asexual communities drift apart, we may see the popular models drift apart as well. Some of this has to do with incidental features, and some of it has to do with different kinds of people with different needs. I contend that this is already happening.
At this point, I actually don’t have much use for aesthetic attraction, sensual attraction, or romantic attraction, none of which are particularly useful concepts to me. (Although I have aesthetic preferences for people, they’re not qualitatively different from my aesthetic preferences for animals or objects, so I am unsure that this deserves the moniker “attraction” per se. Sensual attraction is something I find to be confusingly defined at times, but for me things like enjoying touch are much more closely linked to how much I trust and like a person than to innate qualities of the person themselves. And I have written so much on my issues with romantic attraction that I am just going to move on for now, because at this point I find the whole thing boring.)
That said, if they work for other people, awesome! I will probably continue to more or less ignore them. I certainly don’t see any point in trying to stop other people from talking about them if they find these concepts useful or trying to overthrow these models, because I don’t really have anything better to take their place. I do think that it’s important to be wary of assuming that dominant models apply to everyone—if it wasn’t for the ever-present assumption that asexuals all have easily stated romantic orientations, for example, I don’t know I would ever bring one up. In fact, I normally don’t unless directly asked for one, and then I usually say something along the lines of “It’s very confusing and I find the concept is not very useful to me” and then hand people the term “wtfromantic.”
That said, I am particularly fond of note 2. In fact, I’ve always thought it’s a good reason to allow for multiple coexisting models within a system, as long as they aren’t mutually exclusive.
A good example of this is the dual definition of asexuality I sometimes see: an asexual person is “someone who does not experience sexual attraction,” but also sometimes defined as “anyone who feels the label is useful to them.” One is better for education and explaining what the needs of the asexual community are, but the other is more welcoming to questioning people who are worried they may not be welcome, or who may be confused about what sexual attraction actually is*.
Note 1 is also a good note about the point of models in general. I don’t think you really can come up with a single unified model of sexuality without it being so terribly over-complicated that it is not useful to anyone. Similarly, most systems that people devise models for are so complex that it is very difficult to properly understand them without oversimplifying them in order to focus on a particular aspect of the system, and that oversimplification essentially is what a model is meant to do. I had a really interesting conversation with a mathematical modeler in evolutionary biology about what models are meant to do the other day, and one of the conclusions we ended up coming to about the way people react to models is that they often assume a model is meant to conceptualize all of reality, not just aspects of it.
*for example, the way I am confused about what romantic attraction actually is, because it is generally poorly or vaguely defined by others