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
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.
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.
Ah, but what about romantic orientation? That’s easy, we just need two more axes. A four-dimensional graph, not too 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.
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.
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!
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:
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.)
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.
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…
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)…
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…
If this all seems a bit ridiculous, thank you, my job is done. But also, I wasn’t the first…
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.
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?
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.
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.