Nothing was out of the ordinary when Jay Franzone went to donate blood in early January 2017—well, except for the fact that he was able to donate at all. Following official policy of the Food and Drug Administration, men who have sex with men must abstain from sex for 12 months before they’re allowed to give blood. Franzone, a 21-year-old political communications major who graduated from Lasell College in December, thinks that the policy is a “ridiculous” and “unrealistic” double standard in desperate need of change, as does much of the LGBT community. While the year-long ban, adopted in December 2015, is a relaxation of the FDA’s original lifetime ban, enacted in 1983 to prevent the spread of HIV, it is still discriminatory given HIV isn’t exclusive to the gay community.

That’s why Franzone went abstinent for a year: to draw attention to a practice that, for all intents and purposes, isolates gay and bisexual men as second-class citizens by restricting them from a freedom people of other sexualities partake. (The lifetime ban re-entered headlines in June 2016 when dozens of gay men in Orlando were turned away from blood banks after attempting to donate in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting.) I recently spoke with Franzone over the phone about his year of celibacy, how it affected his relationship and what it felt like to donate blood for the first time in his life. The following account was crafted from excerpts of our interview.—John Walker


Something was missing the night I turned 21. It wasn’t the birthday dinner; my boyfriend at the time had planned that out perfectly. He took me to this fancy restaurant that overlooked the Boston skyline. We ate fancy food, drank fancy drinks. I mean, I ordered crème brûlée! It all felt perfect. But afterward, when we got back to my place, something was missing. You see, we just…went to bed. Fancy dinner. Fancy drinks. Crème brûlée. You’d think that sex would’ve come next—or at least a blowjob. But no, we just went to bed. We wanted to have sex. I wanted to have sex. But we didn’t. We couldn’t—or, at least I couldn’t.

In the beginning, my abstinence was sort of accidental. After my last sexual contact right before Christmas, I just ended up not having sex for a couple of months. I was home for the holidays and then, busy traveling. Sex didn’t cross my mind.

I also happened to be engrossed in my schoolwork, which focused on the FDA’s policy that prevents gay and bisexual men from donating blood. It’s not that we can’t donate blood, per se. For decades we couldn’t, but in December 2015—also the last time I had sex, mind you—the FDA updated its policy to let men who have sex with men give blood as long as we haven’t had intercourse in the past year. But this 12-month celibacy window is still completely unrealistic. Personally, I wanted to be able to give blood to help people who needed it, so I decided to do something about it. I turned my dry spell into a mission to raise awareness about the FDA’s ridiculous policy.

I first learned about the FDA’s policy in 2010, when I was in high school. Back then, the policy banned all sexually active gay and bisexual men from giving blood for their entire lifetimes. That spring, my school hosted a Red Cross blood drive on campus. If you gave blood, you’d get a ticket to Six Flags. Who the hell doesn’t want a ticket to Six Flags? When I went to donate, the person working there asked me a bunch of questions about my sexual history. One of those questions was about whether I’ve ever had sexual contact with another man. Actually, it was, “You haven’t had sex with a guy, have you?” She asked me as if it was a given that I’d say no.

“Um…yeah,” I answered truthfully, not knowing that would impede me from giving blood. I went back to class feeling sad. I didn’t have the “I donated!” sticker. I didn’t have a Band-Aid on my arm. I didn’t have a cookie. I didn’t have the tickets to Six Flags. People started asking me questions.

“Why didn’t you donate blood?”

“I couldn’t.”

“Why not? Everyone’s going down to give blood.”

“They wouldn’t let me.”

“Why not?”

I explained that I couldn’t give blood because I’m gay, which led to a lot of people asking me questions like if I have AIDS or if I’m HIV positive.

The FDA’s official definition of sexual activity includes oral sex, along with vaginal and anal. That’s part of why the policy is so ridiculous. It paints entire groups of people with such a broad brush. A lot of high school students who give blood have been sexually active in some way. Why the hell is a kid who has only gotten a blowjob from his boyfriend once banned while his straight best friend, who could be having unprotected sex with multiple partners, can donate without a problem? There’s no rationale to it.

It’s not that I want to see the policy changed to include heterosexual people, too. I’d like to see the FDA move to a policy that is based on individual donors’ actual risk, evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Do people know their status? Do they get tested regularly? Do they use condoms? Are they on PrEP? Have they only had oral sex, which the Centers for Disease Control says carries little to no risk of HIV transmission? The policy, as it stands now, is ridiculous because it’s not based on actual risk. It’s based on stigma and stereotypes.

My boyfriend and I broke up last summer, with about six months left on my celibacy countdown. Moving from a relationship into dating again while abstaining taught me a lot about myself and how I view relationships over the past year. My Tinder game has always been pretty strong, but holding off on sex forced me to become upfront and honest. My Tinder bio read something like, “I’m not having sex for a year so I can donate blood (maybe you saw me trending on BuzzFeed?).” I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time if they were just looking for a quickie.

I’ve since gone on a handful of dates with people. It’s been challenging, but it’s not like you can’t date without having sex. I’m still in touch with a couple of the guys I met on Tinder last year. If I wasn’t doing this project, we might’ve just slept together and never spoken again. But since we had to find things to do instead of immediately jumping to sex, we bonded in a different way than we might have.

Finally, on January 10, 2017, I walked into a donor center, checked myself in and filled out a questionnaire on a computer in the waiting room. When I read the question, “Are you a male donor who has had sexual contact with another male?”, I clicked “No.” Holy shit, I thought. After I donated, one of the medical staff handed me a juice box. Everyone who donated blood got one, and it symbolized something I’ve wanted since high school. And then I texted one of my friends who I had met on Tinder.