When Adam Maurer was 16, he came out to the pastor of his evangelical youth group at Williamsburg Christian Church.
“They tried to pray my gay away,” Adam says. “They anointed me with peppermint oil. Two weeks later, I was looking at gay porn and hated myself, and then I attempted suicide.”
Later, when Adam thought about God, he’d tell himself, “If we’re all reflections of God, men and women, I’m the most like God, because I have so much of both. I’m a lot of femininity, and I’m a lot of masculinity. I’m a lot of everything.”
He says he put a wall up after that, though, and because of that wall, he felt fragmented.
“But once you go through an experience like that,” Adam says, “you give up some of your fucks.”
And Adam says that was functionally the end of his journey with evangelical Christianity, which had been a formative part of his life growing up. He sees a difference now between what he terms pride-based religion vs. shame-based religion. He knows some folks who hold onto their beliefs as a way to feel safe, or to stay connected to their families, and says that despite his own struggles with the church and with organized religion, he understands that impulse. “As long as it’s pride-based,” Adam says, “I’ll support it. But shame—shame is never useful.”
When I first met Adam, we were both in undergrad, and he was a few years younger than me. He was closeted at the time — re-closeted, I guess, since he’d come out once and then gone back in. “I realized I was gay before I even kissed someone,” he says.
He would come out again, for good, during his junior year, but that hadn’t happened yet when I first met him. I knew in him a truly warm and funny guy, and also someone who walked his own way in the world, who made up his own mind, delightfully, about everything.
This younger Adam held himself aggressively in, though. He presented as conservative, maybe even uptight. But the undercurrent of edge and weirdness was obvious if you looked for it. He was rigid at the edges, like he was just barely holding in an entire explosive multiverse. A manic pixie dream boy; mingled Elvis Costello and Bjork. A 4D VR simulation inside a daguerreotype, buttoned up and pinned in and wearing black hornrims. (He’s never given those up.)
“I was a people-pleaser to the max,” Adam says of his younger self, “and I learned to be miserable. Now, I’m very cautious about who I deeply care for.”
He started referring to himself as a beautiful giraffe sometime in the late 2000s. I watched him and his partner befriend a group of my aunt’s conservative Bush-voting Texan friends during a lake weekend we all shared in Austin in 2007.
Those folks are out of all of our lives in the destructive Trump era, but initially, when things felt less dire and less divided, it was beautiful and powerful to watch these two worlds collide, intermingle, and find common ground.
Adam’s mother wasn’t invited to his wedding to his longtime partner MaSean in 2013. Adam says she’s never shown herself to be willing to take the steps to become more open-minded. He says that as far as he knows, she has been continuing to pray for him to renounce his queer reality ever since he first came out as a teenager.
“When I got engaged to MaSean,” Adam says, “I told my mom she needs to do some work to come to figure it out.” He sent her a variety resources she could access in order to do that work, which she ignored.
They haven’t spoken since 2011.
Adam is a sex therapist, a podcaster, a trivia host, and speaker. He and his husband, MaSean, have an open relationship, and recently, Adam has had some new realizations about his identity.
“I am recognizing that I’m pansexual,”—attracted to all genders—“which is wild after working so hard to claim gayness as an identity,” Adam says.
“Or maybe,” he says, “my mother’s prayers of 17 years are finally paying off.”
(It’s probably obvious to everyone reading, but I want to say for the record anyway: he’s very joking. And pray-the-gay-away isn’t a thing.)
His husband is also pan, and had been with women before Adam, but Adam said the realization about his own pansexuality came gradually, and only recently, and he’s still just in the exploration phase. Adam also says it’s been interesting to continually expand his identity—especially as he’s built a professional identity around being queer, and particularly around being gay.
“I’ve only seen one vulva in my life,” Adam says, “and that was on the way out.”
He says this interest began bubbling up with joking references, at first, as far back as two years ago. But now he feels there is a type of purely femme energy that he’s attracted to.
In his work as a sexpert (not my word, and not Adam’s either; I think famous original sexpert Dan Savage can claim the distinction for bringing the word to greater prominence), Adam teaches people to pleasure all types of bodies, including folks with vulvas.
Eventually, he gave himself some recognition for what he was thinking about. “I was like, ‘All right, girl, you have some people in your life with some vulvas that you, too, might want to please.’”
Adam feels he is currently teaching himself just the same as he teaches people in his workshops. He says that teaching opens up a conduit for him to continually learn and evolve his understanding of everything, including himself, a process he describes as “humbling and amazing.”
In practicing polyamory along with his husband, Adam is a vocal proponent of safe sex practices. He takes the HIV medication PrEP as a preventative, but says he may have to start worrying, for the first time, about unplanned pregnancy, and says it’s interesting to be going through this process of discovery with an audience, as he is on Instagram, where he describes himself as a “straight-friendly therapist.”
“A lot of people think [my interest in pansexuality] is a joke because I enter so many things with humor.”
Exhibit A: his leather-daddy Christmas Eve gingerbread cookies.
For people who are holding tight to certain ideas about Adam’s identity, then, it can be tough to swallow that he’s not joking about wanting to explore pansexuality. But, he says, of his friends and followers who are more liberal and open-minded, the greyness of not knowing right now seems to be going just fine.
Adam’s feelings about love and partnership are far broader and more expansive than most. He and his husband both have partners outside the marriage, and date others as well. Their structure probably wouldn’t work for everyone, or even most of us, but Adam’s on a mission to normalize what, for him, feels truly natural, which is the expansion of his definition of love beyond the boundaries of monogamy, or even romantic partnership.
“Essentially, we are taught that to have love, it has to come in this hierarchy, so it’s like: the love of God, the love of a partner, the love of your family. We devalue friendships in this model. But what is hanging out with a friend? You go get wine, you talk about what’s going on in your life, you hug at the end. It’s a date. It’s love.”
Adam says he values deep, meaningful conversation with someone at least as much as a physical hookup. He describes this model as “relationship anarchy,” and says that, in his own struggles with depression, one of his ways of coping is to actively seek out connection with people. Relationship anarchy allows him to find these calming moments of connection with anyone and everyone, and he describes it as both a “wild concept” and “really freeing.”
“If you have a solid relationship with someone,” Adam says, “the goal is that you grow as individuals. Now say the relationship was so good, that you both grew. Well, that’s great. Maybe you learned more about yourself: you’re more asexual than you thought, or more kinky than you thought. Some people are more built for monogamy, some for non-monogamy, and some people float between. Sometimes there is dissonance within a partnership about that.”
Adam insists, though, that there are a variety of ways to get these kinds of needs met, and it does not always take the form of sexual expression.
“So these people come in and they have this kink or that fetish that their partner is not into, but they’re also not into the idea of non-monogamy. Maybe it’s about controlled chaos. Could you write erotica? Could you jump out of a plane?”
Some people also seek counseling, of course, because of relationship-boundary violations, which in the common parlance generally means one partner has cheated on the other.
For the record: Adam’s not a fan of the word cheater. He finds it creates problems if there is no space for taboo, or the shadow self, to emerge.
“The reason people are drawn to ‘bad boys’* is because bad boys are selfish,” Adam says, referencing the work of Esther Perel, whom he counts among his influences. “Bad boys take care of their own needs, and you know that, going in. You know you won’t have to take care of them emotionally.”
* of any gender
Adam has a friend in New York City whom he visits once or twice a year. The relationship doesn’t go beyond annual sex and very occasional texting—he calls the guy The Comet—and Adam says that relationship is in some ways as important as his 11-year relationship with his husband.
And he is able to bring some of that joy into his primary relationship.
“To connect all that good stuff back with The Comet with MaSean, who’s my nesting partner. He sees me completely, and that is a treasure I don’t want to give up.”
Adam is a donor to the nonprofit organization Unhushed, which teaches pleasure-focused sex ed. He says he particularly appreciates their mission of teaching young people how to navigate and destigmatize sex; one of the exercises they teach is simply buying condoms.
He also points to the work of Gina Ogden, although he states that she’s “a little granola.” But, he says, she broke attraction down into four parts: mental, physical, emotional, spiritual. It’s an easy modality from which to inquire: what do we turn ourselves on for or off for?
Adam says he is someone who does a lot of mental and emotional connection in the course of his daily life, and particularly in his work life as a therapist, so in romantic partnerships, it’s not uncommon for him to want a very physical sexual connection.
He is usually dominant in his partnerships, and enjoys exploring a wrestling fetish with consenting partners. He faced one of his most heightened emotional and physical scenes just after the 2016 election of Donald Trump.
One of Adam’s partners, David*, is an immigrant who came to the U.S. from Central America as a young boy. Trump’s election had taken a toll on his psyche, and he was quite upset.
* not his real name
Adam offered David an idea: “I’ll be this fratboy Trump supporter, and you’re going to dominate me.” Adam sent texts prior to the scene to get them both into character. He said that inhabiting the Trump-supporting character was tough for him, but he had the sense that it would be important, and healing, for David.
He was right. David cried for a long time after the scene was over, and Adam says it was important for both of them, to release some of the trauma they both felt—and the lack of control.
“I’m gonna cry to talk about this,” Adam says, and now we’ve pulled the lens back from his personal life to the full scope of his professional, working life. “But it’s an incredible privilege to sit with someone in therapy who has been steeped in shame and to help them dismantle that.”
Adam says some of the folks who come to his practice will begin their therapy journey only ever wearing grey or taupe. As the work progresses, he will begin to see them come in with pops of color here and there.
“It seems trivial,” he says, “but style is just another way of expressing who you are to the world.” As people shed their personal, internal shame, they begin to radiate that outward, and Adam says it’s amazing and humbling to witness the transformation people go through during therapy.
Adam, who opened his therapy practice six years ago, says it will be interesting to see where he’ll be in another six years.
“The hardest thing that I’ve been updating on,” he says, “is my own whiteness. I want to be a support to communities of color. I make sure I’m reaching out to communities that are marginalized to make sure they have access to what they need.”
“My work is making the whole world more accepting, reducing shame, and defending the right for people to have pleasure.”
Adam Maurer is a therapist, sexpert and speaker. You can catch his and MaSean’s podcast at Me and My Gorgeous Husband.