Coming out as Ex-Side-B

StillGayI recently started writing a post titled “when sadness is only a step away,” about how sometimes it feels like the smallest thing can plunge me into a downward spiral. Even came up with a nifty little graphic for it. But then I realized it wasn’t just sadness that was so looming, but also anger, anxiety, and resentment. Many of us have emotional sore spots where our emotions are near the surface – quick to be inflamed by the slightest provocation – an opinion, a phrase, or sometimes even just a word.

Upon reflection, I realized that one of my sore spots is what is called Side-B among the gay Christian subculture. For those who may not be familiar, a brief primer on Side-A and Side-B. First of all, both sides agree that there is no contradiction in the term “gay Christian.” There is no sin, and should be no judgment in having a gay orientation. A small concession, yet way ahead of many fundamentalist Christians who condemn those who even identify as gay, regardless of their actions. But the two sides differ in an important way:

Side A adherents believe that God blesses same-sex marriages. They believe that the Bible passages that have in the past been used to condemn gay relationships have in fact been misinterpreted. These passages either do not refer to gay people at all, or they apply only in a lost cultural context that no longer exists. Read more about Side A or about why the Bible does NOT condemn same-sex relations.

Side B adherents believe that, while there is nothing wrong with a gay orientation, the Bible teaches that gay sex is wrong, and therefore God calls all gay Christians to abstain from sex with people of the same sex. Read more about Side B.

So why am I so sensitive to Side-B thinking? Why does it elicit such a powerful response of hurt, anger, shame, and anxiety? Well first, I’ll note that I’m not alone in this. Stephen at Sacred Tension wrote about it poignantly back in 2013 in When Side B is the New Ex-Gay (which was recently reblogged by Susan Cottrell at Patheos). I love Stephen’s gentle and vulnerable yet clear-spoken style:

Sometimes, your heart starts to break, and you don’t know why. You catch yourself emotionally limping through life, or angry and explosive at the drop of a dime, or feeling like a small, wounded child, and not understanding why.

Such has been the case recently. I’ve been struggling with very deep feelings of anger, hurt, and betrayal – feelings that have made writing, rest, and engaging with other people in productive, peaceful ways very difficult. When I finally noticed these powerful feelings, I sat with them, trying to understand their origin. In a moment of clarity, I suddenly said to myself, I know these feelings. I’ve felt them before. 

It’s taken the past few month of processing and writing about my recent fallout with Side B (the conviction that while a gay orientation is not in and of itself sinful, expressions of that orientation in sex or gay marriage are sinful) to unearth a subterranean monster of overwhelming hurt, guilt, and rage. As is often the case, such huge emotions can influence our behaviors and thought patterns, but it can take time for us to see them clearly.

I realized that the story I’ve been living recently is a story I’ve already walked, many years ago.

Stephen goes on to describe how he was once part of the cruel and misguided “ex-gay” movement. How he once bought into the lies that assured him that he could be “cured” of being gay. But as you might guess, over time he came to realize that it was a house of cards. Though I never went the ex-gay route, I can relate to so much of the emotion that Stephen expresses.

I was Side-B before there was a Side-B. Since I was a young teen, and up until far too recently, I believed exactly the same as many in the Side-B camp. “There’s no sin in being gay in orientation, as long as you don’t ‘choose that lifestyle’ ” <ugh – excuse me while I go clean the vomit out of my mouth>. I sincerely believed that God loved me, and not just intellectually. I felt his love for me. I experienced it each day. And because I believed, as side-B adherents do, that the Bible unequivocally prohibits same-sex relations, I “chose” to forgo romantic relationships with men. Instead I “shared my struggle” with my closest friends, prayed earnestly, and resisted temptation.  I read everything I could find about homosexuality and the Christian. I sought the counsel of pastors and religious leaders. I dated women, and eventually met and fell in love the one who would become my wife. The whole story is throughout this blog, but especially at Greg Comes Out and Not Chipper, and Gay Man, Straight Wife. A regular Side-B poster-boy! I abstained from gay relationships, and God rewarded me with a wonderful and supportive wife who knew of my “struggles.”

For me, the problem with Side-B is that it underestimated and even trivialized the very human, physiological and psychological need for sex. It treated being gay at an intellectual level, while doing nothing for underlying human need. As if finding and embracing the right understanding would then somehow do away with the need. But of course it didn’t. Stephen captures it well:

Like several years before, though, I slowly became disillusioned. I watched many people lead anguished lives of compartmentalization or promiscuity, never attaining a joy that makes vocation sustainable. Many of the leaders were able to find genuine love with celibate partners, but I realized celibate partnership, while potentially very good, would hardly be workable for many people under similar circumstances. Nine times out of ten, I watched Side B people jump ship before their lives went dark.

In the same way that the promise of orientation change fell apart in my hands, the promise of sustainable and life-affirming celibacy for everyone who pursued it fell apart, too. I never believed it would be easy, but discipline is self defeating if it ends up killing you. I was left feeling crushed, helpless, betrayed and lied to all over again.

So there it is. My emotional sore spot for Side-B thinking is there because of my own experience. So when I hear young Christians embrace Side-B thinking, it makes me sad, and angry, and sincerely concerned that they don’t know what they are getting into. Now the Side-B thinker might say “That was only your experience; not universal truth. My situation is different. I’m entering into this with open eyes.” But don’t you see, your knowledge isn’t going to save you? I had all of the knowledge available to me; the support of my friends and religious leaders; and ultimately the love and support of my wife, who knew and understood things in the same way that I did. But knowledge isn’t enough. Knowing about food won’t take away your need to eat. Knowing about air can’t take the place of breathing. Knowing about intimacy won’t satisfy your need for relationships. And knowing about sex won’t meet your need for sex.

If you’re considering Side-B

Whether you plan to remain single and celibate, or marry an opposite-sex partner with their full knowledge, consider this. You may have addressed your need for spirituality; your need for openness; your need for emotional intimacy; for logical coherence. But how will you address the underlying basic physiological and psychological need for sex?

You say “I will remain celibate, just like many other people throughout time and even today remain celibate.” A practical question then: how do you plan to deal with the visceral urge for sexual expression?

  • resist and push down: very difficult, perhaps impossible, and likely with severe psychological repercussions.
  • masturbate with porn: if it’s your only sexual expression, it is extremely isolating and ultimately unsatisfying
  • masturbate without porn: still isolating, and what the hell are you going to think about? Corn flakes?

If you choose to marry an opposite-sex partner, you have additional things to consider. Are you planning to have a chaste celibate sexless marriage, focusing on all of the aspects of a wonderful relationship that you can have, even if it doesn’t include sex? Then you BOTH have to answer the question above: how will you each address your sexual needs? Or perhaps you’re planning for your marriage to include sex. This certainly seems like it could work if you are bisexual. (Or maybe not. I’ve heard from other bloggers like BellaElena that it remains a huge issue for them as well.) Even if you’re the gayest of gay, perhaps it can still be made to work. I don’t want to go all TMI here, but my wife and I enjoyed a good if not great sexual relationship for many years. Sex can meet all kinds of real needs – affection, physical intimacy, touch, expression of love. But if you are gay, even if it meets all of these needs, even if it is completely pleasurable, it  still will ultimately fail to meet your basic human need for sexual expression. So we’re back to the same question: how will you meet that need within your marriage?

These are honest questions! If anyone has answers, please share. I’m sure my readers who find themselves already in mixed-orientation marriages would love to hear. And I want to continue to believe that it can work. But if you are not already in that situation, why choose a path so fraught with danger and the risk of pain?

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13 comments

  1. My issue is that I did not know/accept that I was bisexual until last year. It wasn’t an issue when we were dating, or got married. It is an issue now. I want to have the experience with a woman, but I can’t because I took that vow to be monogamous. So, I’m selfish if I insist on it, and he’s selfish if he refuses to let me indulge. If you know your orientation while dating, please have a serious discussion with your partner. It’s not fair to either of you to ignore it, and hope it goes away. Because it won’t go away.

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  2. I am a gay man who married a woman, thinking that I will perhaps I will start to like a woman and be “cured” of my gayness. Sadly, it didn’t work that way and instead my marriage validated and solidified the notion that I am a certified 100% gay man and marriage is NOT for me. However, while I was married, it was extremely difficult to have sex with my wife, and I would play gay images in my mind to keep me aroused. I am glad I am not with her anymore.

    So my experience has been that if you are gay, then marriage with a woman is not for you. You will never get that completely intimacy and love that you can get from a gay man. A part of you will desire to be with a man, and a woman cannot fulfill that need. You can only stay happy in a mixed marriage if you choose to compromise your self beliefs and forgo them. I realized that’s what happened to me: I suppressed a part of my personality because I couldn’t be fully gay with my wife. 🙂 I hope I made sense.

    I am not a Christian, so I can’t speak from a religious perspective. I am confused about one thing though: how can it be all right to be gay, but not have gay sex? It doesn’t make sense to me. 🙂 That’s a rather difficult position to be in, because let’s face it, we all have sexual urges.

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    1. I’m so glad we connected through our blogs – it’s been great to read about your life as a gay man in a different culture and different part of the world, and I so appreciate you sharing your story here. On your blog you describe the pressure young gay men in Lahore face to get married (#1 on your https://sixfeetfour.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/being-gay-in-pakistan/ for example). Do most gay men do so then? For those that do, would you say it’s most common to end in divorce?

      re: your final question “how can it be all right to be gay, but not have gay sex?” – that is a great question. It’s easy in the short term, right? (For example on your blog you’ve shared much about your relationship with your ex-friend, which if I read correctly it did not include sex.) But in the long term, it’s obviously not so easy. Is it even possible? Can it be healthy?

      Thanks for your comments and questions!

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  3. I am Side B by theological conviction but despite this difference, I really empathise with everything you say.

    The teaching of the church on masturbation is almost criminal and goes against all common sense and reason. It goes beyond the gay issue and cripples everyone – gay and straight – with needless condemnation. Although it does not provide for your needs the way sex with someone else does, it is what makes celibacy bearable. But sadly most evangelicals deny single people (both gay and straight) this outlet. They encourage singles to pray and ask God why they feel a need to do this? Well it’s pretty obvious isn’t it? People are sexual beings for heaven’s sake! Why do they think we need a revelation about that?

    I don’t think it is wrong to be sexually aroused by the form of someone whether naked, semi-naked or whatever and this causes someone to masturbate then I don’t see a problem. In fact, I think it’s normal. To me, it only becomes a problem if you are watching people actually have sex. This is what pornography is – and it is a separate classification to nudity or erotica.

    That said, I am still Side B not because I want to but because I believe the Bible teaches it. I have read the arguments by Justin Lee and Rick Brentlinger of gayChristian101 but I am just not convinced. However that not an issue I want to get into but I just wanted to explain where I am coming from. I am ex-evangelical because I can’t go on walking in those circles with their double standards, empty words and hypocrisy when it comes to gay Christians.

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      1. Greg, I am really glad we have linked up via our blogs. It has been really helpful and informative to hear of your experiences. I am very disillusioned with the Side B community in many ways and also the UK evangelical community which I was once part of. Reading your blog reflects the raw reality which is refreshing, a complete contrast to just being hammered with a load of Bible verses or nice sounding pious ideas that I am used.

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        1. I am too! I hope it’s clear that I’m not Side-B bashing. I KNOW that I’m just describing my own experience. And that because of the particulars of that experience, I’m especially sensitive to Side-B thinking. Sometimes I find myself surprised at the range of experiences that I read about – for example one blog I ran across recently is a woman who went from being an sexually active atheist lesbian to a Side-B Christian… I absolutely cannot relate! 🙂 But we each have our own story. Though I’m tempted to read only those that conform to what I want to think or feel, I find that I can’t quite bring myself to set aside those stories that are so different from my own.

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  4. Hello Friend, I do wish I had something to say that would make sense for your situation. I guess despite the discrimination I have faced sometimes, I have been lucky to have been just me all my life. I can say that you can masturbate all you want, until your hand goes numb, and yes it does help with tension and calm one down a bit, however it never compared to just being held by a person of the gender you desire. I remember in my youth when we boys would seek each other out just to hug each other, to feel the arms of someone around us of our own gender. All I can say is please be true to your self, to be honest with your own needs, and treat your self as a sensual sexual being as you were born to be. I so agree with your post, your warning to those who would hide, I would love to post this on my Toy Box to help so many others. See that is the real beauty of your blog and your writing, you are a living example of what to be careful of , how to treat others, how to not cause harm to someone who you may join with who doesn’t know your secret. It is a wonderful message you are sharing. Thank you and please don’t be hard on your self, you also deserve happiness and joy in life. Hugs

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  5. This breaks my heart. I was Side B for many years, and I have a good friend who is gay, married AND Side B. Honestly, it’s so much easier to stay married when you’re Side B. I’m so grateful to finally be free to embrace my sexuality and a Side A theology. But it really has screwed up my life and marriage, to be honest. Where do we go from here? I still just don’t see many examples of Side A gay Christians who are staying in a healthy and thriving mixed-orientation marriage. Maybe Alan Chambers is one?

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    1. Glad you’ve made that progress – to be free to embrace and acknowledge who you are. But of course that doesn’t make it easy, right? And that’s some Venn diagram – side A, gay, Christian, staying, healthy, thriving mixed-orientation marriage. I’d bet there are people in each of those groups, but is anyone in ALL of them simultaneously? That’s one beer-drinking, tap-dancing, Uzbek-speaking unicorn. Who swims around in Loch Ness.

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