About Staying Negative

Staying Negative aims to emotionally engage, inspire and facilitate imagination in sexual health practices. The campaign profiles the real life stories of gay, bisexual and trans men who have sex with men (MSM). Men talk about all aspects of their life from coming out, relationships, sexuality and a broad range of other topics. While HIV and safe sex is an important part of all stories, it is not the exclusive focus.

Prior HIV prevention campaigns have traditionally focused on providing gay men with information that will encourage them to adopt safe sex behaviours. In reality, safe sex practices are influenced by a whole range of environmental and cultural factors. The campaign also provides an opportunity for HIV positive men to talk about their lives and discuss how their strategies to staying HIV negative were not successful. We understand that there is more than one way practice safe sex and adopt healthcare seeking behaviours, so let's be creative about it!

There are no real criteria for participants other than that they are MSM and happy to have their stories appear as part of the campaign. In addition to the personal stories, the website provides information on HIV/AIDS, sexual health, relationships and broad of the other relevant topics including domestic violence, drugs and alcohol and depression.

1

Chalk & Cheese

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1. Chalk & Cheese

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Born in Kew, I grew up in Vermont South, with two police officers as parents and one older brother. My parents divorced in 1997 when I was eight due to my father’s gambling addiction. I didn’t understand the gambling issue when I was younger, let alone even understanding divorce. It didn’t affect me until I was 13, the emotional state of belated grieving actually hit me. Having a father who was a gambler, I’m not the best saver and I admit I have a fear of financially struggling in old age.

Seeing the aftermath of my father’s struggle with addiction where he lost his marriage, his family, his home and his lifestyle made me in later years steer clear of gambling completely. I don’t gamble or attend races and casinos.

Years later Dad was to remarry to my lovely step-mother. Growing up however, I was always much closer to mum. She very much pushed us to continue living our lives as normal as possible. She maintained the family house and continued to take us on holidays, whilst paying off a mortgage and putting us through private primary and secondary school - practically on her own, all the while working full-time. She truly provided for us.

My older brother and I are chalk and cheese. He’s a football player-electrician-firefighter. Then you’ve got me; performer-personal assistant-ex-nurse and naturally camp. Even though we had the same upbringing we have developed into two entirely opposite and different individuals from two different worlds, and although we’re not close we are as close as we could be. My stepbrother (from my father’s second marriage) is the bridge between us.

Myself (L) and friend of 22 years - Fraser (R)

2

That’s So Gay

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2. That’s So Gay

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I went to a stock standard Catholic Primary School in Vermont South. I was the social kid, I loved doing dress-ups and gravitated to playing with the girls. My male friends and I were more on the feminine theatrical side where we’d re-enact shows and embrace creativity. I had a lot of friends and one in-particular – Fraser – who’s friendship has spanned 22 years since we were in prep.

I was around 12 years old where I started noticing boys. Nobody was “out” at this stage and classmates still used derogatory terms like “that’s so gay,” as a way of teasing. I think at that age things can get confusing with hormones, puberty and the body starts going through so many rapid changes. Throughout high school, I experimented with the opposite sex, just a smidge, and even had the odd girlfriend. It never felt quite right, for me, being with the opposite sex. It wasn’t until Year 11 (2005) that I actually realised and admitted it to myself.

I was lying in bed, under the covers and I said out loud, “I’m gay.” It was like a weight lifted off my shoulders.

I wasn’t ready to admit my sexuality to my friends yet, but in Year 11 and 12, I had a really strong connection with this guy in my year level. We didn’t show it in school, but any social nights we’d be attached at the hip. Nothing really happened, we’d just be spooning under the doona on a movie night or hold hands walking home after a party. No one actually said anything but close friends noticed. It meant a lot because it was comforting - he was responding to me expressing myself to him but there was also the build-up that I was thinking, “does this guy like me? Does he not? I can’t tell!” – let alone I couldn’t ask anyone.

One night, while attending a girlfriends 18th birthday, he asked me to kiss him. Literally coming out of nowhere, I got so caught off guard (as all my Christmas’ were coming at once) that I turned responded with “what?!”. He replied quickly, due to my “rejection”, with “oh no, never mind, it’s fine,” and walked off. We continued to be close but the opportunity never arose again and I always regretted my reaction. It was a moment lost in time.

Once school finished, I “came out” – or became me - to my friends and family. My friends were incredibly supportive and even though I thought he’d be the one person that would be there, he wasn’t. From that day he took a huge step back from our “friendship” and we both went our separate ways.

With my partner in crime & high school classmate - Jenny

3

Be A Celebration of Yourself

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3. Be A Celebration of Yourself

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Coming out to my mum was interesting. We were sun-baking together on the beach – as you do when your 18 apparently - and she was prying as to why I didn’t have a girlfriend? After 10 minutes of badgering I said to her, “Mum...... it’s because I’m gay.” She acted fine, but six later exploded with a mix of emotions and went on this rant of “how do you know if you’re gay if you haven’t been with a girl or a guy?”. She was very emotional and irrational.

I was 18, inexperienced and it added fear, I thought, ‘oh my God, what have I signed up for?’ I think a lot of that was her own fear and insecurity with regards to the unknown due to her own lack of education about the LGBTI community. She was concerned and caught up with stereotypes. I reminded her that as long as I was happy, healthy and doing what I love – nothing else mattered. Years later she would see me in my first show which was all about me being a celebrating myself.

Over the years, through friends, family and myself, my mother and father would be exposed to and learn a lot about the LGBTI community. Looking back, I give them both credit because I think they were genuinely – due to their police profession – worried that I’d become a statistic, as opposed to a celebration. In their own way they were being protective.

My brother was really good. His response when my parents told him was, “well yeah, how could we not know? Brendan is what he is, move on.”

Dad asked me, “how can you know that you like having sex with men when you haven’t?”. At 18, I retaliated with “well you haven’t had sex with men, so how do you know you’re straight?”

His response, “okay, fair point, enough said.” My stepmother was very supportive, and she and Dad reminded me – in that same conversation - that “you are what you are, and no matter what we love you”. It’s taken my dad a while to get used to my lifestyle. I think the difference was that I believed my dad thought I’d be exactly the same as I was before. After I “came out”, it was a new Brendy. It wasn’t the old Brendy that feared being high school gossip and carried the weight of a secret on his shoulders not allowing him to be himself. I started to learn who I was. I shed that weight on my shoulders. I realised who I wanted to be and years later I would start performing. I could do whatever I wanted – I had a new lease on life. (Coming out)

I embraced my natural flamboyance, and gradually became more comfortable with myself. I think my parents still saw me as a reserved teenager, and then all of a sudden, I was this driven, passionate go-getter. Ten years later, they’ve embraced and celebrated their son who is a performer, is as camp as Christmas, and is what he is.

4

Nurse Judy & the Stage

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4. Nurse Judy & the Stage

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After high school I trained as a nurse and went on to work at Bellbird Private Hospital. I worked there from 2007 through to 2013. I absolutely loved nursing. It was an incredible experience. However, when it came time to decide between nursing and my new career (performing arts), one overrode.

Performing came about whilst nursing. I randomly went to a dance class, just for exercise. A monster was born! I started dancing at 21 which is very, very late. From there, oh my God, I was addicted. I flourished, so I decided to challenge myself and move on to further training. I mostly did Jazz, and Broadway Jazz – all the musical theatrical dancing. In 2012 I applied for a course and was accepted to train formally. When I graduated, I was cast in my first musical – The Producers - and loved it. Whilst rehearsing a fellow cast member said to me, “put on your own show - you’re hilarious.” I didn’t think anything of it but a year later I put on my first show – P.S. I’m Fabulous! From there it’s been a snowball!

My Aunty Jan (left) and mother, Deidre (right), at the opening night of my performance P.S. She Nurses

Being on stage for me is like being at home. Sounds cliché, but there is something homely about the stage, the lights, entertaining the audience and ultimately making them laugh – it is pure and utter enjoyment. I love it. It’s funny though before any show I am a nervous wreck. I’ll spend 30 minutes in the dressing room cubicle. I’ll be standing in the wings, I’ll hear my cue counting down and think, ‘oh God. Fuck this. I can’t do it,’ Before I know it I’m gliding out of the wings like Dusty Springfield on her comeback tour. During any performance season I always carry in my suitcase my two favourite biographies – Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance – that remind me that I’ll be ok. I’ve learnt that nerves are the thanks we give our audience.Performing on stage in P.S. She Nurses

5

Two Smirnoff Double Blacks

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5. Two Smirnoff Double Blacks

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I went to my first gay bar when I was 20 (2008), The Exchange, and it was the most nerve-wrecking experience. I was with friends and we’d been out for dinner. After dinner we all jumped into a car and I was informed, “by the way, we’re going to a gay bar tonight!”. I freaked out. They reiterated, “we’re going. You need to bite the fucking bullet.”

Freaking out and almost having an anxiety attack, I remember saying to them, “don’t leave me alone. I’m not the limpy gazelle in a David Attenborough documentary”. On arrival I went straight to the bar and downed two Smirnoff double blacks.

Flash to me - twenty minutes later I was on a podium, swinging my unmovable hair, loving Rihanna “Shut-up and Drive”, and starting to very much feel a new sense of liberation!

Shedding those stereotypes and naivety this new world soon became one of the safest environments for me to express myself and be as outrageous as I wanted to be. We could really be ourselves, it was wonderful. Going to gay clubs and bars helped me become even more comfortable with myself because I wasn’t seen as someone different – I wasn’t alone.

Looking back, I was afraid of the unknown. Not knowing what I was walking into, I didn’t know what the community would think of me. I thought as soon as I walked into a bar or club everyone would know I was deer in headlights. I had no idea what to do with myself, let alone my hair – fuck that was a mess.

Those were the early days. Over the years my social network expanded. I met a lot of people, a whole mixed bag. I started connecting with the gay community, through nursing, studying event management, dancing, musical theatre, radio at JOY, the social scene, and through work. Through meeting different LGBTI men and women it broadened my horizons and views as I started to get more involved in the community. It was a nice transition. (Getting out there)

6

Sex & Relationships

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6. Sex & Relationships

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Luckily, I’ve never had a proper scare and I’ve only had one STI. I ended up getting (Chlamydia)and literally had no idea how I got it at the time. Upon reflection I realised fooling around with a random bisexual guy in a park – probably not the smartest move - but in referencing the musical Avenue Q he “put his finger there”. No regrets, but as soon as I found out I was straight on to the antibiotics. (Sexual Health)

I’ve had a few casual hook-ups in the past. On the odd occasion I’ve come home and instead of playing it safe we thought “stuff it, we’ll be fine” because being in the heat of a drunken moment and it “feels” better. Next morning, once sobered up I’d go into that natural panic about the ridiculous risk I’d taken the night before. Since those couple of occasions, I very much play it safe – as much as possible.

I haven’t had any relationships to write about but I have had fun with guys that I’ve had a natural connection, and honestly sex with a connection is so much better! You can always get a quick fix, but something with a deeper emotional connection is divine. In regards to status I am negative, and when it comes to status and dating positive guys, it doesn’t phase me as long as both partners are safe and honest with each other. It’s about the person, not the disease.

Luckily we live in a time where HIV is no longer a death sentence.

I am definitely more the dating type. I enjoy the occasional casual hook-up but I’d much rather go out on a date and get to know one other, and if you can – make me laugh – kicking goals. Overall though, trusting some in very important to me.

7

Someone Just Got Topped by Brendy!

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7. Someone Just Got Topped by Brendy!

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So I’ve recently realised that I am versatile! I’ve usually been a bottom but I’ve discovered this thing called “topping” and I enjoy it. It was completely accidental! Fooling around with an older gentleman, one thing led to another and he sat on me. Well one thing lead to another and long story short I woke up the next day thinking, ‘I just topped someone........Am I a top?.......Oh my God someone just got topped by Brendy!” and immediately called my dear friends Matthew and Nick.

Seas and states may separate us, but these are two fabulous friendships for the long haul - Matthew (L) & Nick (L)

I’ve met guys where they ask, “are you a bottom? Oh you are? So am I...” smiles and walks away, or if we’re on Grindr......just blocks me. What would be nice though would be “how about we get to know each other and see what happens” and when we get to the stage of sex, due to sexual chemistry one of us is going to obviously do one or the other. How about we just mix it up a little? I understand that everyone has a preference and it’s easy to pigeonhole ourselves in regards to bottoming and topping. I think in relationships it’s healthy to be versatile - it’s important to pleasure each other and mix it up. Obviously it’s a great feeling having sex but the partners involved are feeling a different kind of pleasure. It’s brilliant doing it vice versa. Everyone’s different and I understand there are strict tops or bottoms and individuals have preferences, but that’s just me. (Topping) (Bottoming)

Since “coming out” in 2006, or as I like to rephrase it “becoming me”, I’ve learnt it’s important to have no regrets (if you do – learn from them), live in the moment and truly express yourself. Celebrate you – all of you – the best and worst parts, the ups and the downs, because as long as you love you ....nothing else matters. You are what you are. Celebrate it.

Brendy Ford was single at the recording of this interview, resides in Windsor, and has his new show “Nurse Judy” premiering at Chapel Off Chapel, May 2017.

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Come and tell us your story! We would love to hear from you! If you want to find out a little more about how it all works, give Jessie a call at VAC on (03) 9865 6700, or email staying.negative@vac.org.au