This morning, the New York Times published a conversation between John Corvino and me, in which we address the question, “Can People With Dementia Have a Sex Life?” Predictably, controversy ensued. The dispute began when Dr. Corvino linked to the dialogue on Twitter:
With the violent rhetoric that readers of the New York Times have come to expect from conservative Christian thinkers, Matthew Lee Anderson responded:
— Matthew Anderson (@mattleeanderson) April 22, 2015
Things went downhill from there:
The simple answer is: it’s complicated.
If we adopt an originalist standard, then the case must be decided in Matt’s favor. The Bridges Across project, where the SideA/SideB terminology originated, defined Sides A and B in terms of belief:
SideA believes that the sex/gender of the partners in a relationship or sexual act does not affect the moral status of the relationship or act.
SideB, in contrast includes those who believe that the sex/gender of the partners in a relationship or sexual act is morally relevant. In particular, they believe that same-sex relationships and sexual acts are immoral, and/or they fall short of God’s ideal. They generally believe that people should either have sexual relations within the context of a heterosexual marriage, or they should abstain from sexual relations completely.
However, as Oliver Wendell Holmes observed,
With regard to that we may add that when we are dealing with words that also are a constituent act, like the Constitution of the United States, we must realize that they have called into life a being the development of which could not have been foreseen completely by the most gifted of its begetters. It was enough for them to realize or to hope that they had created an organism; it has taken a century and has cost their successors much sweat and blood to prove that they created a nation. The case before us must be considered in the light of our whole experience and not merely in that of what was said a hundred years ago. (Missouri v. Holland 252 U.S. 416 )
Since the term “Side B” was defined at Bridges Across in the mid 1990s, it has tended to shift in common usage from a belief marker to an identity marker: a “Side B” person is a gay person who holds “Side B” beliefs (in the originalist sense).
So the short answer is that both are right: Matt correctly identifies the original sense of the term, while John—with a typically liberal bias—focuses on the dynamic sense that has emanated from the penumbra of the original term.
As a compromise, I suggest that, henceforth, John refer to Matt as his tallest SideB friend.
The case is remanded to Twitter.