Terrible graphs of orientation

It used to be one of distinctive features of ace communities, that we really liked drawing graphs. Oh so many graphs, more than I can include. The graphs were painful, and we liked the pain. It’s fallen out of fashion lately though, possibly for the best.

This article is one part historical retrospective, one part laughing at terrible graphs, and one part trying to “improve” the graphs with more math. There are a lot of graphs, so we better get started.

Triangles, Squares, and Hypercubes

A two dimensional graph with axes of homo-eroticism and hetero-eroticism

Storms’ model (1979), proposed by psychologist Michael Storms

The Storms’ model is the original asexual graph, predating ace communities by decades.  A person’s orientation is represented by a point somewhere on the graph; the horizontal position represents hetero-eroticism, and the vertical position represents homo-eroticism.

triangle with gradient from white to black. The black point of the triangle is labeled as asexual

AVEN Triangle (2001). Helpfully explained by AVENAceplz (2010).

One of the oldest living ace symbols is the AVEN triangle, originally intended as a graph.  In case you haven’t figured it out, the AVEN triangle and Storms’ model are in fact the same model.  I have helpfully illustrated the relationship below.

a poorly drawn image of the AVEN triangle overlaying the Storms' model

I drew this poorly so that nobody could accidentally take it seriously.

Ah, but what about romantic orientation?  That’s easy, we just need two more axes.  A four-dimensional graph, not too hard.

a poorly drawn hypercube with all sixteen orientations placed within

Orientation hypercube (2019), by me because I couldn’t find one made by anyone else.  I tried to make this one look bad too, but I didn’t need to try very hard.

But for some reason orientation hypercubes have never been popular.  Instead, romantic orientation is more commonly represented with two 2-dimensional graph, or two triangles.

Two Storms' model graphs depicted side by side, one for sexual orientation one for romantic orientation

The Double Storms model (2010), as illustrated in my 2012 slides. Why yes I am very biased towards graphs that I myself have made.

In this plot, a person’s orientation is represented by two points, one point on the left graph, and one point on the right graph.  And may God help you if you don’t have a romantic orientation.

A graph with two AVEN triangles making a diamond. One triangle is sexual orientation, one is romantic orientation

El Diamante de AVENes (2016), by LordTesla. Unsurprisingly, graph culture still persists in other ace communities.

I know this one’s confusing, but it follows the same idea.  Each person’s orientation is represented by a point within the lower triangle (for sexual orientation), and a point on the upper triangle (for romantic orientation).

All these models, the hypercube, the Double Storms, the AVEN diamond, they essentially represent the same thing–a four-dimensional space.  Each orientation is represented by four “components”, for sexual and romantic attraction towards people of the same gender, and people of the “opposite” gender.  But surely, we can use more than just four!

More dimensions!  More!

Multiple AVEN triangles, for sexual, romantic, aesthetic, sensual, and other. An ellipsis suggests the possibility of even more triangles.

Tira de Triángulos de AVEN (2016), by Ene (I think).

Well, if one triangle represents 2 dimensions, and 2 triangles represents 4 dimensions, then we can use N triangles to represent 2N dimensions.  What could go wrong?

But perhaps a more typical approach is to represent each dimension with its own line, as in the following famous example:

The Genderbread Person v3.3. Includes 10 one-dimensional spectra for gender, sex, and attraction.

The Genderbread person v3.3 (2015), by It’s Pronounced Metrosexual. The first version was from 2012, and the main thing they changed was adding 6 more dimensions, probably because the aces and nonbinary people got to them.

Each person’s orientation/gender/sex/etc. is represented by a single point on each of the ten lines.  Of course, only four of those dimensions pertain to orientation, but could you imagine the possibilities?  (Shoutout to Unpacking Asexuality, which takes a similar approach.)

A radar chart showing 8 different axes: primary sexual, secondary sexual, primary romantic, secondary romantic, aesthetic, platonic, physical, fantasy. Also, each axis has four values for men, women, other genders, and other.

Radar Chart (2008), by Hallucigenia. A sample orientation is shown to demonstrate how it works.  If you’re wondering about “primary” and “secondary”, it used to be that demisexuality was defined in relation to those concepts.  I’m glad we dropped that definition.

This orientation radar chart that was popular on AVEN many years ago.  Basically, it represents orientation with 8 lines, with all the lines depicted as radiating out from the center of the chart.  But really, there are 32 dimensions, because you can separately graph your feelings towards men, women, nonbinary people, and other.

Now I always thought these radar charts were a bit pathetic.  Only 32 dimensions?  Why not more?  Perhaps I’m the only one who thinks this way–for context, as a former physicist I worked with ~10^23 dimensions on a regular basis.  Let me show you how we might depict an infinite-dimensional space.

A depiction of the radar chart as a line graph with 8 points. Then a line graph with 20 points (20 dimensions). Then a smooth curve with infinite dimensions.

Again, I’m making these ugly so nobody will accidentally take them seriously.  I start out by representing the Radar Chart as a line graph with 8 points.  We can just increase the number of points until we have a graph with an infinite number of points.  And then we have an infinite number of dimensions.

Okay, but why would we want an infinite number of dimensions?  Well I’ll tell you.  If one dimension is attraction towards women, and another is attraction towards men, don’t we need a dimension for every gender?  And there are a lot more than three genders…

Various graphs, each graph representing an orientation and the degree of attraction to different genders. Several bisexual and pansexual graphs are shown.

Some graphs of sexual orientation (2013), by me. I don’t actually endorse this view of pansexuality, but it is a view.

In the Storms’ model, there is just one graph, and each orientation is representation as a single point within the graph. But in the infinite-dimensional model shown above, each orientation is a function, not a point.

But doesn’t it still seem too simple?  I represented “gender” in one dimension, but according to the Genderbread Person, gender has at least two dimensions.  Clearly, instead of a 1-dimensional function, we need an N-dimensional function to capture the many dimensions of gender, as well as any other circumstances that may be relevant.

That brings me to another model I’ve created (yes I’m very biased towards me)…

A model depicting orientation as a function that takes at least three dimensions of circumstances, and maps them to at least three dimensions of feelings

The Extremely Simple Model of Orientation (2015), by me. Orientation is a function that maps circumstances to feelings.  It’s a parody, taking this whole model thing to its absurd conclusion.

How do you actually visually represent an orientation within this model?  You represent it as a map, with the axes representing different circumstances, and feelings represented by colored blobs.  I had an example of this…

A plot with two axes, "other person's gender" and "random variable". A colored blob in the middle is labeled "FEEEEEELINGS"

This orientation is called “All the feelings towards gender X”

If this all seems a bit ridiculous, thank you, my job is done.  But also, I wasn’t the first…

A map showing blobs of various genders, and also a blob of people you have emotional connection to. The intersection of two of these blobs is highlighted.

From “Visualizing Demisexuality” (2013), by Queenie. This is one of many drawings; this one shows a demihomosexual orientation.  Queenie also pioneered the idea of making drawings bad in order to prevent people from taking them seriously.

Queenie was depicting orientation as a map years before me!  It’s so beautiful.

What the … ?

Now I’m going to share some graphs that I like to think represent the “twilight” of graph-making culture.

An infographic showing five circles on the left (for romantic orientation), and three on the right (asexual, gray/demi, and sexual), and lines between all the circles.

The Asexual Spectrum (2013), from Huffington Post. It claims to come from the AVENwiki, how cheeky.

Here’s a “graph” created for Huffington Post’s six part series on asexuality.  It’s basically Double Storms again, but instead of having two graphs, we have two sets of circles, one for romantic orientation, one for sexual orientation.  And there are… lines drawn between the circles?  I guess it gets the message across, but it could have gotten the message across with more math.  At least put the circles on some axes, you know what I’m saying?

Oooh, this one makes me so mad. It clearly did not get any vetting at all. Someone just invented some attraction types, posted it on Reddit, and somehow it got shared by Mic.com and George Takei.  And it’s not even clear what you’re supposed to do with it.  Are you supposed to pick just one square?  Or perhaps one square from each of your favorite rows?  What are we to do with this mess?

The purple-red scale, fixed by drawing a set of axes on top of it, and scribbling over the text

There, I fixed it.

If you thought the biggest problem with the Purple-Red Scale was that it should have been Black-Red instead, and that it didn’t include a simplistic scale for polyamory, then I’ve got a model for you!

The text is small, so I’ll just point out that the Purple-Red Scale had a row for “hypersexuality”, but in the Attraction Layer Cake it was replaced with “aromantic sexuality”.  I leave it as an exercise to the reader to explain why this is horribly problematic.

Finally, I’d like to show an example that I think is representative of later trends, where people dropped graphs entirely and instead just tried to talk directly about what they mean.

Comic depictions of six types of attraction: sexual attraction, romantic attraction, crushes, squishes, sensual attraction, and aesthetic attraction.

Types of Attraction (2012), by secondlina.  This image was very influential.

What a missed opportunity for a radar chart!  It’s like it’s not even trying to hurt my eyes!

Well, at least we still have lots of flags to look at.

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
This entry was posted in Articles, History, Modeling. Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Terrible graphs of orientation

  1. aceadmiral says:

    I was sad at the lack of terrible graphs coming out of the English-language asexual community, but then last AAW I saw the #AceFile project and I could sigh deeply and be Tired all over again! (No, actually, in all seriousness I think it was a good idea, just, you know, I’m used to the unruly elegance of the radar graphs and dodecahedrons.)

  2. “At least we still have flags…”? We’ve made deliberately bad fake flags too! https://redbeardace.tumblr.com/post/66437487917/nextstepcake-metapianycist-i-am-really

    Also, I think you missed that the “Diamond” is actually a 3D Octahedron shape with a baffling set of edge-based axes around the central plane between the two pyramids.

    Plus, Orientation Infinity Snakes FTW.

    • Siggy says:

      Oh, is that what’s going on with the Diamante de AVENes? CT was describing it as an octahedron, but the title says diamond so I was thinking diamond.

      I’m trying to think if it makes sense to place bisexual/pansexual/skoliosexual in spectrum like that. Umm… no… no it doesn’t. Maybe I was giving the diagram too much credit.

      • Yeah, i don’t know what happened with the name. You would think an astrophysicist would know his geometry. Maybe he thought “octahedron” was a mouthful?

        And about the model itself… he did include a footnote:

        Disclaimer: there are many simplifications in order to make it understandable and because we can only understand three spatial dimensions.

        But yeah… no…

        • But as several of the other graphs showed, you can solve that problem with color! Although in those, the color is meaningless and Edward Tufte is sad.

          And I was going to say that no one’s tried including time as a dimension, which seems like a clear missed opportunity, but then I saw the black hole graph below, and time would obviously come into play with that one.

    • Coyote says:

      “At least we still have flags…”? We’ve made deliberately bad fake flags too! https://redbeardace.tumblr.com/post/66437487917/nextstepcake-metapianycist-i-am-really

      That flag looks like it represents a Cursed Texas.

  3. I feel like there should be a line mentioning that the Storms Model and the AVEN Triangle are both based on the Kinsey Scale. Y’know, just in case.

    And may God help you if you don’t have a romantic orientation.


    Tira de Triángulos de AVEN (2016), by Ene (I think).

    Ene was the Asexualpedia editor in 2016, so she may have just added a graph someone else created and posted in Facebook or in the AVENes forum (like she did with LordTesla’s model). Unfortunately, both Facebook and the forum are very hard to search through, and the forum admins restricted images after the 2016 AVEN server migration, which included deleting a lot of older ones so… yeah.

  4. elainexe says:

    Oh gosh I had forgotten all about that purple-red graph. It’s certainly something. I never even saw that black-red one.
    I’ve always thought these kinds of models are useful internally to make sense of yourself and your place among other people….but not to try to externally say others fit in these boxes. I always liked graphs. Though maybe not these ones.
    I also remember there was this one paper that came out trying to fit like…all of sexuality into it. And different genders. I dunno, their graph was like…3D computer-generated, funnel shaped? With asexuality as the bottom point. Someone tried really hard on this model. A link to the pdf was going around tumblr a few years back.

  5. Sennkestra says:

    I’m rather partial to this series of graphs (and critiques thereof) that Queenie made: https://queenieofaces.tumblr.com/post/30546550626/aces-and-monosexuality

    Excellent use of color and giving points on the graph proper emotional expressions.

  6. Blue Ice-Tea says:

    Interesting that no one did what seems to me like the obvious graph of sexual vs romantic orientation: the 2D one where sexuality interest (low to high) is one axis and romantic interest (low to high) is another axis. That one seems like it would be quite relevant, especially given current discussions about the relationship between the asexual and aromantic communities. But it looks like, in practice, we seem to be incapable of making graphs of sexuality or romance that don’t specify the gender(s) of one’s object choice. Which is… weird.

    • Siggy says:

      Presumably someone would complain that this graph groups gay and straight people together (while ignoring that every other graph also groups people together who might not want to be grouped together).

  7. I read the words “gender fractals” and thought of you.

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