I 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?