I was 19 when I came out as gay. I had just broken up with my girlfriend, and I’d been seeing her for two years. I didn’t realise if I was gay or what, because I had never been with a guy.
So I came out to Oxford Street with some friends, guys that I knew who were gay. It was my second time to Oxford Street, my second time out, that I basically got tanked at one of the clubs and then went home with a guy.
He was quite a bit older, in his early 30s or so. It was unsafe sex basically. I was extremely drunk and I didn’t really know what I was doing.
It was just that one time and afterwards it completely put me off really because it was not a good experience at all. After that I didn’t do anything else and then I met my partner. We were monogamous for a year.
About a year later, my partner had a sniffly nose and a cold -“ he thought it was fairly constant -“ and he didn’t know what it was. He was actually studying sports science at the time and they had just covered HIV. He thought perhaps he might have it.
But he had never really been with anyone before, and I had only been with that one guy, and by that stage it was almost a year ago, so I didn’t really see any risk or any possibility that we’d have it.
He went and got tested and it came back negative. Then he went and got tested a month later and it came back negative.
But I could tell he was concerned. It was about a week before my 21st, and I went and got tested basically for him. I found out I was HIV-positive.
It was the shock of lifetime. You can’t prepare yourself for that sort of thing.
The doctor who tested me was in a suburban practice, so it wasn’t the ideal. He didn’t suggest any counselling or any support. He basically said, Try not to worry about it or lose any sleep over it, and then sent me on my way.
I went through disbelief and total shock. To get HIV from one experience, when you’re 19 and it’s the first time you’ve ever been with a guy, I just couldn’t believe how that could happen.
I spoke to my friends, and a lot of them didn’t use condoms some of the time, and had certainly been put at a lot more risk than I ever had and didn’t get anything. I kind of questioned why it was me.
Before I found out I was HIV-positive, my awareness of safe sex was basically zero. I went to an all-boys Catholic high school that certainly didn’t teach you about safe sex and certainly not HIV.
I never saw HIV as affecting me. I had a sort of stereotype of what sort of person contracts HIV and what’s the risk of it, and it certainly wasn’t at that time a 19-year-old surfie from the northern beaches.
Everyone thinks coming out as gay is a huge issue, and it took me a long time to come to terms with that. Then soon afterwards I had to do it again on a much larger scale.
Having to tell my partner and then thinking he was at risk and the months that followed were a total nightmare. But he wasn’t infected.
I disclosed my HIV status to my partner at the time and to a close friend, but I kept it at that for basically a year just because I didn’t really want to deal with it. I thought ignoring it and not telling people, that way I could get on with my own life and pretend it wasn’t happening.
When I did start coming out as HIV-positive and disclosing to people and being more public about it, my experience was really very positive and supportive, especially from my family and my friends.
The best thing to come out of it is my outlook on life now. I was at uni when I found out I was HIV-positive, and I thought I knew what I wanted in life: basically a good job that involved a lot of money.
Catching HIV midway through my degree changed everything. When you’re faced with that, it defines very quickly what’s important for you in life. For me that’s my health and my family and friends. I don’t think I would have had that outlook otherwise.
It has also introduced me to some pretty amazing people and I’ve got to do things that have been pretty amazing that I never would have.
Before I even came out as positive to my family, I joined the Positive Speakers’ Bureau, which allows people to hear the personal experiences of people living with HIV/AIDS. I got to the stage where I thought: You can’t just keep ignoring it. You’re not dealing with it at all by keeping it to yourself.
The day after the Positive Speakers’ Bureau training I took off on a tour through Tamworth and Moree and Inverell and Armidale and a whole bunch of country schools.
It was pretty amazing to be telling complete strangers I was HIV-positive when my family didn’t know. I’ve been doing talks to schools and to some companies ever since. If anything it’s made me more motivated and made me do more things than I otherwise would have.
I’ve been sick a couple of times, but that’s only a couple of times in four years or so. I don’t take any medication or anything like that.
But psychologically there’s been a huge impact, especially the first six months. You always look back and think how pointless it was. One drunken night when you’re 19 -¦
It’s a big price to pay.
Interview by Ian Gould