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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*For clarity's sake - My partner and I share the same name: David.
I was born in Ballarat in 1947 and am the youngest of three. While I bonded with my sister from an early age I wasn’t particularly close to my brother, probably because he worked night shift and I didn’t see much of him during the day. My siblings were a lot older than me and left home when I was quite young. My brother is about 11 years older than me and we now relate very well. My sister, about 14 years older than me, sadly died over four years ago.
Aged 9 months - 1948
My parents were typical conservative country folk. My mother was very loving – perhaps smothering. She was very protective of me being the youngest and I was also a child with a lot of health issues where I was often ill with ear, nose and throat problems. I was also an insecure child, probably because my mother was nervous and anxious, so I picked up on a lot of her moods.
When I was four both her parents died within a period of only three months. I remember her in tears a lot which stressed and embarrassed me.
My father was emotionally distant and often absent from home. His passion in life was gambling at the horse races. I didn’t feel close to him - he was emotionally distant and repressed his feelings. He wouldn’t be able to say “I love you,” but I was aware of his sensitive side when noticing him tear up while watching a movie like Lassie.
I was a bit of an oddity in my school years in the 50s and early 60s. I felt this more keenly in lower senior school where I was bullied a lot for being different - I was a sensitive child who was very musical and hopeless at sport.One of the things that really set me apart was that I had a beautiful singing voice – a boy treble. This contributed to the impression of my being somewhat effeminate.
I learned very early on that if I wanted to get on well with people, I would just keep smiling and be pleasant.
I wouldn’t show underneath that I was upset or hurt by the taunts.
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The onset of puberty started young for me and my voice broke when I was 12 years old. I didn’t have any real sex education. My mother gave me a book to read about the ‘birds and the bees.’ She said, “if you have any questions, ask your father.” I remember thinking, ‘no Mum, I can’t ask Dad, we don’t have good enough communication.’ I think both my parents just found it difficult speaking openly about sex to their children, being of that generation.
Aged 4, in our backyard at home - Summer 1952
I had a friend who was a bit of a misfit and completely different from myself - we were an odd combination, but I guess we were both outsiders. I got most of my sexual education from him.
I remember when we were wrestling once, in a playful way, and being sexually aroused by it. This came as a bit of a shock to me because it was a new experience.
I processed those feelings in a negative way and felt it was an aberration.I was brought up to be a good Christian boy who went to Sunday school and all those Church-related things. I somehow got the message from both parents and Church that one needed to regard your body with respect as a temple and keep yourself pure.
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During my university years, I continued to internalise the sadness and just kept on smiling.
I had feelings of alienation, feelings of being different and feelings of rejection, all mixed in with anxiety, but I never showed it.
All my friends at the time were heterosexual so I didn’t feel able to talk to them about my feelings, and consequently felt even more alienated.
I remember having sleeping issues and periods of sadness or low moods. This went on for a number of years and I ended up going to a psychiatrist about my insomnia. He diagnosed me with clinical depression dating from childhood.I was put on an antidepressant called Tryptanol which had some really unpleasant side-effects, such as frothing at the mouth. I remember having to get my handkerchief out and dab my lips quite often.
Music has helped me through my difficult times during most of my life.
It provided me with a wonderful emotional release where I would play the piano for hours, just improvising and it was incredibly therapeutic for me. In the music I played, you could tell what a deeply emotional person I was as I wore my heart on my sleeve when I was performing.
Aged 13, after winning a competition. My left thumb is trying to conceal damage to the piano - 1961
In reality, I was still hiding as a person behind my smile, behind the pleasantness - nobody would know how depressed, anxious or sad I was.
I think if I didn’t have my music and my strong Christian faith as a young person, I probably could’ve easily committed suicide.
There was so much fear in me it even lead me to having performance anxiety. It was so bad that I chose to turn down a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music in London! I declined it because I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle the pressure of the course and public performances that it would entail.
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After university, I started giving music lessons and the parents of one of the kids introduced me to a church in Toorak. They said, “The minister there is doing great things. He is a wonderful preacher and very inclusive. Why don’t you come along?”
So, I started attending the church in 1972 when I would’ve been 24 years old. The following year, I was nominated to be an elder of the church – an elder being a layperson who has pastoral functions in the congregation.
I was questioning myself, ‘Should I, being a closeted homosexual, really accept this nomination?’
I thought I’d speak to my minister, David, about it one night after a cell group gathering. He invited me to his study and I remember being very nervous divulging this secret about my homosexuality that I’d been keeping.
I was nervous when I started talking, stammering my way through telling him I was concerned about accepting this nomination for eldership because I’m a homosexual.
But before I finished, he interrupted the flow of this revelation and said, “Before you go on, I want to tell you that I’m also gay, and that I love you.”
I almost fell off the chair!
David then stated clearly that I should accept the nomination of the eldership – my being gay did not prohibit me from having this significant position in the congregation of the Church.
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David’s coming out to me was a shock. I didn’t anticipate that happening whatsoever. David was in his late 40s at the time and a lot older than me.As a teenager he was aware of his same-sex attraction and was troubled by it. When he spoke to his minister and scoutmaster about his attractions to his peer group at his all male school, they both responded independently with, “David, don’t worry about this. It’s just a passing phase, you’ll grow out of it.”
In good faith as a Christian boy, he accepted this explanation and in time grew out of it! Years later he met an attractive woman, he fell in love and married her. However, as the years went by, through his reading and growing understanding of homosexuality, he was eventually able to acknowledge to himself that he was in fact gay.
He hadn’t told anyone because he was committed to his wife, his four children, to his Church and his congregation.
He just put it to the back of his mind. He did not plan on telling me at all, but decided spontaneously that he couldn’t sit there and say nothing as he watched me being so nervous, honest and open with him.
Prior to that, we barely had much interaction – I was just one of many young people in his congregation with whom he had contact.
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After that encounter, I went home and didn’t sleep a wink. I could see immediately the ramifications of this revelation and the fact that David had entrusted this enormous confidence to someone in his mid-20’s. The implications on his marriage, his family and his Church would have been huge.
David slept soundly that night, which says a lot about us as different people. He felt for the first time that he was able to be totally honest and authentic with someone.
He spoke to his wife the following morning about his sexuality.
He didn’t say anything about me, but it eventually came out and not long after he told his children who accepted it with understanding. I was ready to walk away from any kind of relationship with David if his wife wanted me to. He conveyed this to her. She felt that it wouldn’t solve anything and as David was committed to her and the marriage, she would remain in the marriage as long as she chose.
David’s main commitments were to his wife and children – I was happy to take a back seat.
In the latter part of the following year, David and I began weekly visits to the family’s newly built log-cabin in the country – we would leave late Sunday night and spend the whole of Monday there. This was the only time we could spend alone together. His family was well aware of this arrangement which lasted from about 1974 to 1982, when the property was sold.
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David’s wife was a very intelligent woman and won a scholarship to do postgraduate work in California. In 1982, during one of her return visits to Australia, she said she wanted a divorce.
With the divorce imminent, David decided he would retire prematurely in 1983 from his role as Minister of the Church and from full-time ministry.
The reason he wanted to retire was not because he was a coward, but as an act of courage wanted to protect his family and his congregation from any gossip and scandal that would ensue. In 1983 homophobia and social prejudice were rife due to the emergence of the AIDS epidemic.
Early 1984 - David and I were now living together following his retirement. David was 60, I was 36.
Once the divorce came through we decided to tell certain friends in the congregation about our relationship. We told them the real facts and they could choose whether they wanted to continue on a friendship with us or not. Most people accepted us as a gay couple and maintained their love for us. However, there were some who didn’t.
A couple of ministers of religion rejected us, which David found hurtful because they weren’t being true to the gospel of love and acceptance that they were preaching.
David continued to love and support his former wife until he died. David was able to love unconditionally - he believed that unconditional love has the power to liberate, to set another free.
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We continued living our life together and I eventually bowed out of the Church I was once part of, as David’s successor was much more conservative and his style of assertive theology did not appeal to me. In 1985 we bought a property together, which we eventually developed. About this time, during the AIDS crisis, David became a AIDS line telephone counsellor.
I relied on David a lot in our relationship as I saw him as the strong one, the rock, the one who’s very much together emotionally. He was charismatic and had a strong sense of self without being arrogant.
He was a beautifully, well-adjusted man upon whom I depended because I felt insecure and nervous about being seen by the heterosexual world as being in a gay relationship.
Up until recent years I have remained circumspect – but no longer. Even though we had been living together for years I was still inclined to say that I was a close friend of David’s and his family, not his partner. Probably due to my own fear and anxiety of rejection or persecution – a consequence of my experiences of being bullied as a child and encounters with homophobia over the years.
In my early 40s, during a party in our new home - 1990
David was much more comfortable in his sexual identity and had a healthy sense of self-worth. He had always felt very loved by his parents and was taught to believe that he and his siblings could do anything they turned their minds to, but if they succeeded they ought to practice humility and never boast.
Whereas for me, I was always basically fearful – a completely different mindset altogether.
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I suppose the balance in our relationship came because, to quote David, we were “psychological equals”, despite our nearly 24-year age gap - although, I think he was being a bit generous in his belief. I did regard him as more or less the leader and initiator. Ironically, that began to change as David became physically frail and his dementia increased.
He continued to conduct funeral services until the end of his career, but decided to retire as he noticed he wasn’t as mentally sharp as he once was and, “Before I start making mistakes,” he said. He conducted his last funeral in 2006, just after turning 82.
It was after this that it became more obvious he was becoming physically frail and had chronic pain in his back and spine.
In 2007, he had a laminectomy – a form of spinal surgery. It was quite major surgery and meant to help alleviate pain in his lower spine and back.
I am pretty sure that David had a stroke during the surgery because he was mentally never the same after that.
Following that, he began having a series of mini strokes too.
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David was diagnosed in 2009 with two forms of dementia - Alzheimer’s disease, which we were aware of prior, and vascular dementia caused by strokes. It was a double whammy. It was very sad for me to see the physical and mental decline in a man who had been so physically active, energetic and vibrant.
After a family party at home. David, aged 82, was in the early stages of dementia and physical frailty - late 2006
As his capacity for movement and decision-making deteriorated, I became more and more his carer. Ironically, it gave me the opportunity to be the strong one in the relationship. David, who was basically a very autonomous person became more and more dependent on me as his carer.
I had power of attorney both medically and financially. As my caring role increased, my self-confidence improved because I proved to myself that I could cope in quite difficult situations.
I don’t actually remember having any serious discussions about my being his carer, it was just something we tacitly accepted. I think I just drifted into that role as we were both committed to each other and both loved each other; it seemed the natural thing to do.
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Although David’s dementia was progressing and he had physical frailty and experienced chronic pain, he basically remained the same person. He was always very trusting, loving, and remained very gentle. You hear of people with dementia becoming violent, for instance, but that was not the case with David.
As David’s dementia got worse, he started to become sometimes anxious.
One of the common symptoms of dementia is Sundowners syndrome whereby as evening approaches, the person with dementia becomes agitated, restless or anxious.
I used to give him half a Xanax and play music from a CD that would appeal to him and calm him down. It gave me the opportunity to have 10 minutes to myself, perhaps go for a brief walk, or do something else for myself.
There are a few reasons I did most of the caring on my own. For one, I felt like I was coping and I actually enjoyed the role. It gave me personal satisfaction and I have to admit that my ego was stroked when people often said, “Oh, you’re such a wonderful partner and carer, doing such a wonderful job.”
Someone even said, “If David were my partner, I’d have put him in a nursing home by now.”
It made me feel good that people were noticing and thinking I was a wonderful person. That’s not a nice thing to admit, but my ego was also part of it.
More importantly, I understood that David handed his life over to me for his care. He trusted me completely.
Aged 69, feeling relaxed and mellow during a long lunch with friends - late 2016
He told me years before he died that when I felt the time had come, “I must let him go”.
That I must not allow him to keep living beyond what I thought was an appropriate time for good quality of life.
It wasn’t until the last year of David’s life that I called on the help of a carer respite service. It gave me support by providing a carer to come at certain times to our home. This enabled me to continue teaching - just enough support to help me cope. I also received wonderful support during this time from some of David’s family.
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David had a series of mini-strokes. He would feel very strange for a minute or two and then it would pass leaving him likely to feel confused. In early January 2012, I couldn’t rouse him one night to give him his medication. I left him for a while sitting in his chair and then tried again, but still couldn’t rouse him. I suspected that he had had another stroke.
I called the ambulance immediately and by the time they arrived, David had actually come to and was reasonably okay, but I thought it was too risky to keep him at home. When we got to the hospital, the doctors began running a number of tests.
Eventually they advised that his colon was not functioning properly and recommended that terminal palliative care should begin.
I felt that David would have no quality of life and that terminal palliative care was the right decision. After speaking to his four children about it, they all agreed and were supportive of that decision.
When David was taken off his medication, very sadly, he was the most lucid he had been in many months, which reinforced my thoughts that a lot of David’s confusion was caused by the medication. The other symptom he had to deal with, caused by the medication, was chronic skin itch, which he said was even worse than the chronic pain. The skin itch also disappeared when he was taken off the medication.
For a brief time he was more his normal self.
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A couple of days later, after palliative care had begun in hospital, we happened to be on our own and had our last conversation together. Upon reflection, I felt there were times when I had been impatient with David, shouting at him when he couldn’t follow instructions, or too rough when trying to help him move between the bed and his wheelchair. David could not weight-bear and I am not particularly strong.
I said to him, “Davie, I’m sorry that I have been unkind in what I’ve said to you at times and been rough with you.”
He thought about this and replied, “There is nothing to forgive.”
After a while he said, “Although I don’t seem to be getting better, I’m really feeling quite well, when am I going to go home?” I was shocked by his question – obviously, he had forgotten an earlier conversation we had about his beginning terminal palliative care.
I replied tentatively, “Well, no, because you are soon going to die.”
He was surprised because he said, “I really want to keep on living.”
When I reminded him he had begun the process towards dying, he said to me, “I trust you to do what you think is best.” Those were his exact words and the last words he said to me.
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I wanted to take David home to die.
This was against the doctor’s recommendations as they said it would be too difficult to handle and that sometimes people become aggressive as they’re dying, but I insisted.
One of David’s daughters said to me, “If you want to bring Dad home, I’ll stay with you for as long as it takes.” I was grateful for her presence and practical nature because I was just so fatigued by then. Like her father, she has a wonderful combination of having both a soft heart and hard head, so she could think clearly during this time of caring.
I remember sitting in the ambulance with David on the way home and he was still very lucid. It was an incredibly hot day. He always suffered from motion sickness, so he was very uncomfortable on the ride home, but remained stoic. I remember how lovely it was to have his daughter waiting for us at home with the aircon on.
David’s two daughters and I cared for him until he died.
He remained his ever loving, trusting self whilst he was dying.
I remember in the early hours of that Sunday morning, I woke to David’s breathing being very shallow. Fortunately, being a light sleeper, I had woken, then called his daughters in. It was a beautiful Sunday morning, the sun was shining and ten minutes later, he died.
It was so appropriate that David should die on a Sunday morning, as did both his parents. It was also the day that for so many years David had encouraged his congregations to live loving and fulfilling lives.
It was a beautiful death and as it happened, both his daughters jumped off the bed and said, “Dad, we’ve done it. We’ve done it!”
Then they joyfully embraced and burst into tears. There was a sense of not only sadness, but almost euphoria. An experience the three of us will never forget, that wonderful moment when David died so peacefully.
The interesting thing for me was that, despite feeling a sense of great loss, I didn’t ever go into depression. I experienced grief, melancholy and sorrow but never became depressed.
After David’s death, along with help from some wonderful individuals from a carer respite service and David’s older daughter, I became involved in the creation of a music program, set up in David’s memory, for the purpose of not only supporting people with dementia, but also their carers – an emphasis on the latter due to the significance of their role.
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If I could speak to a younger version of myself, I would tell myself to not be controlled by fear - fear of failure or rejection. Fear is the enemy of love - similarly, love is the enemy of fear.
Aged 11, after winning a piano competition - 1959
Had I been, from a very young age, less fearful, less anxious, I would have been a more fully loving person.
I am by nature loving but this could sometimes be compromised by fear.
If someone is a carer, it is important they ask for help when they feel they need it, or even if they don’t think they need it. I didn’t for a long time and it’s not healthy as there is a risk of becoming totally fatigued and unwell.
I was working on adrenaline all the time, my cortisol levels were probably through the roof.
Seek help, whether professional help or help from family and friends.
The caring role is wonderful but you do need to take time out for yourself. You need to care for yourself in order to properly care for the person who needs your support and love.
Aged 4, in downtown Ballarat - Winter 1952