My first crush was Zac Efron in High School Musical. I was a 13-year-old boy at the time, which meant I knew to keep this to myself. Still, my love for High School Musical had to be expressed somehow, so I told everyone I was in love with Zac’s co-star, Vanessa Hudgens. I even painted a portrait of her in art class to demonstrate my heterosexuality. (Of course, I did love her as well, but in a girl crush kind of way; what Zac and I had was different).
Later, when I was a sophomore in high school, I fell in love. His name was Adam Lambert and he was a contestant on American Idol. My explosion from the closet (helloooooooooooo!) occurred on the same night that he tragically lost the competition. It was a queer whirlwind of emotion; leaving me devastated for his loss, but thrilled at my newfound freedom. I kept our dream alive by purchasing an abundance of Adam Lambert merchandise and boycotting American Idol.
The next year, Adam Lambert had become a stranger to me. I tossed him aside like an old, dusty portrait of Vanessa Hudgens, in favor of my brand new crush: Darren Criss. My new love had just begun starring on the TV show Glee (a show which premiered the day I came out – truly a day for the gay history books!) I loved Darren’s voice and his cute outfits, with their whimsical bowties. I attempted to copy this look, with only minor success. I suppose this is a question that plagues every gay man regarding their crush: do I want to be with you, or be you? Perhaps both. (I’ll let you know when I figure this out).
When I got to college, the male-objects of my attraction grew from fantasy to reality (for the most part). I began dating boys and hooking up, which for most people starts in high school. For gays, it’s often delayed by a few years while we come to terms with our identity. My early dating experience can perhaps best be summarized by the Taylor Swift lyric, “when all you wanted was to be wanted”. Whereas, after a few years, I like to think it transitioned to, “takes me home, lights are off, he’s taking off his coat (Hm yeah)”.
After I got sober, it took me a while to develop the confidence required to refine my dating palette. I had grown up with the subconscious thought, “you might as well date whoever’s interested, because who’s really going to love you?” (self-esteem not being my strong suit). But I began dating men I actually liked and was attracted to— the temerity!
When I lost my virginity, the flood gates were truly opened. I could do whatever I liked. I wasn’t bound by arbitrary rules attaching moral stigma to sex or relationships. What freedom! My wild, free-loving 60s phase lasted about a month, until I got into a new, long-term relationship – this one lasting over a year. It was my first real relationship; full of love and lust, fighting and loss. By the time it ended, I was ready to take a break. I needed some space just for me, to focus on improving myself, rather than singularly devoting my attention to another.
A few months passed. Then a year. “Are you dating anyone?” people would ask me. “No, I’m just focused on my writing,” I’d say. But the truth was, I had no interest in dating anyone. I hadn’t thought about sex in months. In the brief time following my break-up, I figured this was normal. But a year and a half later, I was starting to get worried. When would I regain my interest? I started to get in my head about it.
I have always had a healthy libido, even when I was at my most unhealthy with food and alcohol. But now here I was – healthier than I’d ever been, mentally and physically – and yet I felt nothing. I was a eunuch. Who had I become?
It wasn’t so much the lack of interest in dating that worried me, it was the lack of interest in men at all. I hadn’t felt attracted to one in months, not even handsome men at the gym, or those passing on the street. I felt like a different person; as though this part of myself I had always carried was gone. Most of the time I forgot about sex entirely. But when I did think about it, it felt like a gaping chasm I had no idea how to cross.
I felt the irony suddenly of all the hours I had spent researching ex-gays and celibacy for my writing, only to now inadvertently become celibate myself. The ex-gay community would finally love me! But I was devastated; I was pretty much gay in theory only. I remained grateful for the free life I had created, but lamented my lack of physical desire. Desire is a part of what makes us human. Regardless of whether it’s a healthy desire or an unhealthy one; everyone wants something. Whether it’s food, sex, money, connection… everyone has desires they try and fulfill. To walk around with one of the most fundamental of these gone, left me feeling like a shell of a person.
I agonized over what could be the cause of my low libido. Was it low testosterone? I had no other symptoms. Was I depressed? I didn’t feel depressed. Was I working too much? Maybe I was stressed? I tried a variety of natural supplements to help bring my mojo back. Some were more successful than others, but none could ultimately make me want something I apparently no longer desired. I felt lost and ashamed to talk about it. How do you tell friends and family you’ve lost interest in sex? It’s not exactly something you share on Facebook. But at the same time, what was I supposed to say when people asked me about dating? How was I supposed to explain the emptiness I felt about something so intimate and personal?
One day a beloved friend of mine suggested I might be low in iodine. There is a history of thyroid autoimmunity in my family, and a natural iodine supplement (from sea kelp) could be helpful. So I started taking it. Slowly but surely I felt myself coming back. It was subtle at first – a naughty thought here, a suggestive glance there. But then it came flooding, like a repressed memory I had recovered and unleashed.
I felt like I had awakened from a dream, and come back to life. “I’m in my prime,” I suddenly thought, “what am I doing?” I need to get out there, meet new people, date and experience life on its own terms again. I needed to find Zac Efron and see what he’d been up to. I dusted off the portrait of Vanessa Hudgens, threw on an Adam Lambert t-shirt and watched an old episode of Glee with Darren Criss crooning.
The difference was like night and day. I had gone almost two years without this vital part of myself, and now that I had it back, I swore never to let go of it again.
Sea kelp had saved me. It gave an integral part of my life back – my desire.
That little boy, who fell in love with every attractive man with the voice of an angel, had returned, and he was here to stay.
I still don’t know exactly what happened to me, but it taught me something important. Even if it’s embarrassing or personal, there’s no reason to suffer alone. Asking for help has invariably led me to the solution to almost every problem in my life. Shame only prolonged my suffering, but pushing through that shame and becoming willing to talk about it was the key to recovery.