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.
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I was born in Sydney in 1948 as an only child and came to Melbourne when I was eight. My best friend was the girl next door. She is about four years older then me and we’re still good friends. I went to a catholic school where if you did anything wrong they belted you. When I was 15 I was raped by a guy in his home. I think my parents may have suspected that he was homosexual but they asked me if he tried touching me and I said “No”, because I was horrified to think otherwise. It’s never been a real problem I guess.
The bloke was a librarian in a little book mobile that used to wonder around from place to place. He knew I was interested in architecture and used to suggest books for me to read. Then one day during the holidays he asked if I wanted to go and see Montsalvat which is an artist’s colony out in Eltham. We went out there and then he asked if I wanted to see his books at home. So we went and he was showing me these books when all of a sudden a hand started creeping along my leg. From there I found that the next thing that happened was he was fucking me and wanted me to fuck him which I did. I was so naive and I didn’t really know what was happening. I knew it was wrong. Then several times after that he tried masturbating me at a service station where the book mobile used to pull up. It stopped because I stopped going to the book mobile as we moved to a different area.
Sex was one of those things that my father didn’t think a 15 year old boy should know about. So when he finally decided to teach me he just handed me a little book and said “If you’ve got any queries just ask” but I think he was hoping I wouldn’t!
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I finished school and then went to Monash and studied law. Just before I started university I went to a party and met this girl who I was instantly attracted to. She was two or three years younger then me. She used to work in a little shop where I used to do a postal round in school holidays. So I started to call in and say hello to her at work. I went through university and married her within days of finishing my final exams; fifteen months later we had a daughter in 1974 and we separated in 1975.
It was about this time that I started looking at gay papers because I really didn’t want to be around women. I was still suffering the loss of my wife. It was more of an anti-women thing then a pro-gay thing. I was looking for alternatives to sex with women. I didn’t do anything about it; I just liked to read the magazines.
After about two years I started to go out with girls again. I met my second wife through work. She was a secretary of a client company of the law firm for which I was working at the time. I got a phone call from her one day asking me around for dinner. She made the first move. When I got there, there was only one other car and I was thinking ‘What’s going on here?’ When I got to her place there was one other couple her and me, so I realised this was a set up. I started chatting to the couple while she was in the kitchen and they asked me if I’d been married before. I replied that I had and instantly the girlfriend scurried into the kitchen to tell her that I’d been married. So I was left talking to the husband and I said I had a daughter, so he scurried off to tell her that I had a daughter. I was left sitting by myself in the lounge room, so I got up and went into the kitchen and we just ended up chatting in there.
We started dating and on one of our dates we went to a pub in little Collins St and I’d just booked to go overseas. We’ve always had a divergence on this. I recall saying “I think you should go overseas sometime”. She thinks I said “You should come overseas with me”. She phoned me later that night and said she was coming with me. So we left for France in December that year and whilst we were travelling we lived together. When we got back we both went back to our separate places, which lasted about a week and then she moved in with me.
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Soon after that I became a partner in the law firm, so that night we went out for dinner and I asked her to marry me. It was about a year after we met that we got married. We then settled in and were trying to have kids but we didn’t seem to have any luck with that. As a result of this we moved to another house down the road that was not suited to kids. It was an open plan house; the lounge room went straight into a courtyard, which led to the pool. Naturally within weeks of moving in she was pregnant. We had 2 kids altogether.
So in 1987 one of the two other partners in the law firm wandered off with 1.8 million dollars from the trust account. 1.8 million dollars back then was about the equivalent of 16 million dollars today. So because he did it through the mortgage register which I was associated with (without realising), they ended up taking me to a disciplinary hearing. I got back from the hearing and my other partner wanted me to leave. To which I said “No I’m not leaving”, so we remained in partnership for the next four months until I left and struck out by myself as a solicitor, in the suburbs.
I realised that things were going wrong financially with my business and I blamed myself. I decided that since I was to blame I needed to see a person that was into punishment. I tried it with both a mistress and a master but I didn’t feel comfortable with a mistress. So I had a master who would hit me on the bum and things of that nature.
The Law Institute arrived and wanted to look through the mortgage register. They then put the account into receivership saying that I should have taken steps earlier to call up the mortgages. This meant I couldn’t practice as a solicitor anymore. So I stopped working. My mother died whilst the Law Institute was assessing my situation which made it more difficult.
At the time of the disciplinary hearing with the Law Institute, I decided to stand in front of a train intending to commit suicide. Bloody railways, they had it wrong back in 92, the train was late! So I just got off the train line. A part of me couldn’t let the train driver suffer the horror of killing me. I then went off to the Melbourne Mental Clinic for a week and I started seeing a psychiatrist who I still see occasionally.
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As a result of me no longer practicing as a solicitor the bank felt that I couldn’t pay back the mortgage, even though we could afford the repayments so we lost our house in 1991. I wasn’t in a position to argue that at the time. Fortunately a friend phoned me up and said “My parents’ house has been sitting empty for the last 2 years. Why don’t you move in there?” which was great of him and I am still there 8 years later!
After we lost our house I worked for a year as a cleaner which was a big fall from being a solicitor. After being a cleaner for a year I got a job for a well known Estate Agency for 2 years.
I felt like I needed to be chastised for loosing everything, I started to go to gay clubs or fetish clubs like hellfire where I could find what I was looking for. At that time I was able to say that I wasn’t cheating on my wife because I wasn’t having sex with men. I think it was probably around 2004 at a place called Steamworks in the city and they used to have a leather night. The general theme was hitting and whipping people so I started going to that. I think that was probably where I had sex with a man for the first time. I then started going to Club 80 about once a fortnight and sometimes more.
Unfortunately when you go to a gay club you don’t always necessarily only get what you want. This was my experience as far as getting spanked and belted was concerned. I soon started being the sub in sexual encounters with men. Probably 50-60% of the time I’d insist on a condom being used, but not all the time. I guess for me it was more about being hit and castigated then about the sex.
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In 2007 I had a free sexual health check at Club 80 which was done by the Melbourne Sexual Health Clinic and they discovered that I had Chlamydia. So they gave me 2 tablets and it was all fixed! In 2008 I decided to have another check up and I phoned up to get the results and I was told that I had to come in to get results. So I went in the following week and they told me I was HIV positive. From there I had to get a blood test done, I hadn’t told my wife at this stage.
We weren’t having sex because I found that it was almost impossible for me to maintain an erection as a result of my diabetes. When I told the nurse that, she told me to go speak to a counsellor. A few weeks later I missed one of my appointments and when the nurse rang to tell me, she asked if I’d told my wife. I replied that I hadn’t and she threatened to call her up and tell her. I said “No. You won’t. If anyone is going to tell her it’s going to be me. You are not going to tell her”. At the time I was working for a friend of both my wife and I. So when I answered the phone, he was sitting less then a meter away and I don’t know if he could hear the conversation or not but it was super embarrassing nevertheless.
One day as I was driving to see my doctor I got a phone call from someone telling me I had to tell my wife I was positive. I had been complaining to Melbourne Sexual Health Centre about the nurse who was threatening to tell my wife. So I got this phone call and basically spent the entire drive from Malvern to Mitcham on the phone yelling and in tears. I spoke to my doctor and he just put his arms around me and said “Come on now, you’ve got to live with this”. He was absolutely wonderful. I told my wife on the 12th of January.
I suggested she see a counsellor, she didn’t want to at first, but eventually she did. She was obviously upset about it. I knew she wouldn’t be HIV positive because we hadn’t had sex. So I felt a bit like “Well do I really need to tell her? Couldn’t she just have a test” because I knew she’d leave me, which she did. Our son came back on the 19th of May from Japan to live in Australia. My wife picked him up and on the way home told him that I was positive and that she was leaving me. She told our other child at the same time as well. I felt she should have let me tell them although I can understand her antagonism and anger. However, we have managed to remain friends but I know she doesn’t love me in the same way that she did previously.
Meanwhile I got into contact with my eldest daughter from my first marriage. I explained to her what had happened and that I was positive and it took her a little while to digest that.
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Since I found out I was HIV positive, I have become a board member of PLWHA. I have heard about people getting discriminated against but I haven’t felt any of that first hand. I’ve only had sex on about three or four occasions since then and on no occasion have I told people I’m positive, but I have insisted on a condom.
I’m a positive person not just in my diagnosis, but I’m also positively minded. I believe in the power of the mind. If you perceive yourself as being a terminal case with HIV then you will be, but if you perceive yourself as being able to overcome any disease, then you can do that also. I had an attitude that “It’s never going to happen to me” and it did. It can happen to anyone, if they don’t take the proper precautions.
Part of my philosophy is to think ‘There’s always someone else out there who’s suffered worse then you and no matter how you’ve suffered there are always other people out there who are finding life a lot harder then you are’. So I’m HIV positive, I’m diabetic and I’m single but in some ways I’m still happy and still look forward to life. I don’t see HIV as being something to be ashamed of. I don’t see HIV as meaning death like it did in the 80’s. I see myself as being positive not only in my health but also in my outlook.
I am still working up to 70 hours per week. I don't think I will ever enter into another relationship... It’s all too hard. Time will tell if that changes.
Neil was born in Sydney and lived here til he was 8 years old.
Neil moved to Melbourne when he was 8 years old and has lived here ever since.