The origin of “Side A” and “Side B”—and why they might not mean what you think.

In Christian conversations about same-sex relationships and LGBTQ people, the terms “Side A” and “Side B” have become fairly widespread. In short:

  • Side A refers to the “affirming” view. Side A Christians support marriage for same-sex couples.
  • Side B refers to the “traditional” or “non-affirming” view. Side B Christians believe marriage is only between a man and a woman.

But there’s sometimes confusion about what these terms mean. Some people now use the term “Side B” to refer to LGBTQ Christians who choose celibacy, and there’s sometimes disagreement about whether the term should also be applied to “ex-gay” groups.

So if you’re curious about where these terms come from, here’s the story.

Where the terms started

The terms “Side A” and “Side B” originated in the 1990s in an internet discussion group called Bridges Across the Divide.

Bridges Across was a small group of individuals from various walks of life who disagreed with one another about the morality of same-sex relationships, at a time when that was becoming a bigger part of the cultural conversation. The goal of the group was to increase understanding between the sides as a step toward having more compassionate dialogue.

Early on, it became clear that there wasn’t good language to talk about the different points of view. Terms like “conservative” and “progressive” were too political; calling one side “pro-gay” made the other side “anti-gay”; etc. No one could agree on what to call the two sides.

Eventually, the group just decided to call the sides “A” and “B.” Side A was the view that same-sex relationships are morally equivalent to opposite-sex ones, and Side B was the view that God’s design is for male-female marriage only.

It’s important to note here that Bridges Across had originally been started because of a conversation between two people, one on each side.

On Side A was Maggie, a straight mom who supported her gay daughter. On Side B was Steve, an ex-gay man who had married a woman.

(If you’re not familiar with the term “ex-gay,” it used to be the most common term for ministries attempting to make gay people straight. Today, you might hear terms like “conversion therapy,” “reparative therapy,” or “pray away the gay.”)

Maggie and Steve began inviting other influential people to join the conversation, so eventually, though the group was small, it ended up including some very prominent voices—ex-gay leaders, gay activists, pastors, and others, all dedicated to finding more grace-filled ways to talk about this stuff.

Guess what: There were other letters!

Not many people know this, but as Bridges Across continued their dialogues, a few other terms were coined.

Side C was sometimes used to refer to people who were somewhere in the middle, not feeling fully comfortable being identified as either A or B.

Later on, the group began to discuss how, no matter which side you were on, you could either be “unbridgerly” (unkind, ungracious) or “bridgerly” (kind, gracious) in your treatment of people who disagreed with you. The terms Method D and Method E were coined to refer to the unbridgerly or bridgerly approach, respectively.

They used this chart to illustrate:

But if that’s starting to sound a bit overwhelming, don’t worry: None of these C, D, or E terms really got a foothold outside of Bridges Across.

A and B did, however, and that’s partly because of…

The GCN factor

I found Bridges Across as a college student, and at the time, I was the youngest member. By then, their A/B terminology was already firmly established.

Although Bridges Across included a lot of Christians, it wasn’t a Christian organization. So a few years later, I went on to start an explicitly Christian organization, and when I did, I built on some of the Bridges Across principles for loving, compassionate dialogue, but within a Christian context.

The Christian community I built, GCN (now defunct), was designed to include both “Side A” and “Side B” Christians, but we didn’t use that language, because I thought it would be confusing to have to keep explaining it to new people.

However, we ran into the same problem—we couldn’t find good terms for the different views. And since a number of Christians from Bridges Across joined GCN in its first few years, they kept using those “A” and “B” terms by habit, and the terms ended up catching on with a lot of folks.

I kept trying to get people to use different terminology, but without great terms to suggest, “Side A” and “Side B” just caught on. And as GCN got larger, a lot of folks heard the terms from us, and that’s how they started to spread.

However…this is where the story takes a bit of a turn.

How Side B shifted

The term “Side B,” as coined by Bridges Across, referred to any theological position that disapproved of same-sex sexual behavior. That would include those advocating for celibacy, but it also included ex-gay groups like Exodus. In fact, almost all of the Side B people at Bridges Across were in the ex-gay movement in one way or another.

But GCN’s community didn’t include ex-gay ministries. Our whole deal was to provide safe spaces for Christians who identified as gay or bi, which by definition excluded groups like Exodus. So although we had lots of Side B folks, the Side B folks we had weren’t ex-gays; they were celibate gay Christians.

And this created a bit of confusion. Because these were the very early days of the celibate gay Christian movement—a movement that we now see in people like Ron Belgau (also part of Bridges Across), Wesley Hill, Eve Tushnet, and others, and in groups like Revoice and Spiritual Friendship. A big piece of that movement started within my group, GCN. So those folks began identifying themselves as “Side B gay Christians.” And since that’s the first place most people heard the term “Side B,” people came to associate the term with the celibate gay Christian movement and not with the ex-gay movement.

This led to the assumption that “Side B” only referred to celibate gay Christians, and that it excluded groups like Exodus. I’d hear people say things like, “Oh, I’m Side B, not ex-gay,” as if they were mutually exclusive, not realizing that the earliest use of the term Side B was in an ex-gay context.

Eventually a GCN member named Eric coined the term “Side X” to refer to the ex-gay belief that people should change their orientation, and thus you started to hear people refer to “Side A, Side B, and Side X.” But for those of us who were part of Bridges Across, that always felt wrong, and I still use the term “Side B” to refer only to the theological view that sex is for male-female marriage.