Neale: I met this man while we were conversing online. It was really a meeting of minds on a whole lot of levels. I could sense that he was very open about his status. He worked for an organization where he was identifiable as a positive man, and I was intrigued with how he could be so public about it.
Max came into my home, and I think it was thought at the beginning that it would just be a sexual liaison. We sat down, had a glass of wine, and had a conversation about aboriginal art and Central Australia and just connecting with land. We decided we wanted to see each other again; I think Max will probably tell you that it was all about dating. And having Max as my first positive partnership since turning positive, I had some hurdles to get over. I’ve been very self-sufficient and independent, and I think I asserted that in the early days, but fell in love with this man and enjoy his company immensely. I feel so lucky to be over 50 at this point in time with this immense love in my life.
Max: A little bit of background: I had been in a 13-year relationship, and when I came out of that relationship I decided I had a mantra: “single, happy, and be able to be me again with no restraints.” I went a bit wild for quite some time and really embraced my sexuality and myself again. I put a coda on my mantra, that if somebody came along I was not going to say no, but if a red flag came up I would beat a hasty retreat. I was just not going to compromise myself ever again.
In chatting to Neale, that was when my partner had actually moved out. So I wasn’t really ready, and there was nothing urgent about it. And really, even though I was being a bit wild, I was also being pretty cautious. It was merely coincidence that Neale sent me a message and said, “Would you like to come for a drink?” And, I thought, “I’m okay with this, I don’t mind a casual hookup.”
So I walked in the door and I just got this amazing feeling from him. And the synergies that were there – I just felt pretty relaxed and engaging. I actually resisted any form of moving towards any sex that night. I said, “Look, I’d really like to catch up with you.” Now, that’s normally code for, “won’t see you again” type of thing in the gay community. But he sent me a lovely text and I followed up and just said, “If we’re going to do this, what I’d really like to do is to get to know you. I want to be wined, dined, and romanced.” In other words, I want to go the old-fashioned way and not just fall into the trap of just having sex.
We’re incredibly similar, similar star signs, and a very similar approach to life. To fall in love again when I never thought that would ever happen, and to actually acknowledge what was happening rather than trying to keep my distance was– I had to break down a lot of the barriers and walls that I’d built up again. I think mature love, based upon the experience of life – we’ve applied everything that we’ve learned about engaging, relating, and understanding each other. And it’s done with a high level of respect and trust, and I think it’s just fabulous.
Both being positive, I think, reduces a lot of the fear about transmission of HIV. I think that I’ve made a choice that I want a positive partner, for the empathy and the understanding of what you actually have to deal with: the stigma, the discrimination, the pills, the regular doctor visits, all of those things. It’s not that I hadn’t had some relationships with negative guys, but there’s always the fear – especially in the early days, when we didn’t know the treatments prevented transmission – that “how would you feel if that person became positive?” It would be quite traumatic. It’s not necessarily about positive or negative, but I feel more comfortable.
I was very inhibited for a long time. I had a few periods in my 40s and my 50s where I did become quite out there about having sex, and then I’d retreat because I was more interested in work and other things in life. But when I finished my last relationship, that was prolific sex. It was totally liberating, and I met some wonderful people, some of whom have remained friends. I don’t ever think that sex shouldn’t be part of a relationship. It is the most nurturing, beautiful, wonderful, affirmative thing to have. And I believe the sex I have now, especially with this fellow, is astonishingly good. It satisfies me at all levels. And at times it’s not even about an orgasm, it is just about this astonishing connection.
For me, I was always in relationships and totally monogamous. And then in the ‘90s, I became celibate. But by the time I hit 40, the pendulum had swung completely the other way and it was sort of, “So many men, so little time.” I was a late bloomer. I became positive when I was 48. That inhibited my sexual activity, but I have a great need for physical contact. I am a sensual, tactile guy, and I think the way that we express our physical attraction for each other is quite amazing.
Max: Libido, when you’re HIV-positive, can be a real problem. I’ve been really proactive in making sure I get testosterone replacement therapy. And of course we now have amazing pills that can help when things don’t work as well. I’ve found with Neale is that I’m requiring that assistance less and less. To me, it was about performance in the past, and now it’s about just going with whatever’s happening.
Neale: It’s very unifying, but it’s very hard to explain. A lot of sexual encounters were very much orientated to yourself, whereas this is quite a dynamic situation, and so enriching for both of us.
Max: It’s not like it’s every day or ten times a day. But when it happens it happens, and when it does it’s just extraordinarily good and satisfying. I’d like to also say that, we went to see Dan Savage one time, and he has coined the word “monogamish,” and that resonated with me. Do I want to say I’m monogamous? I don’t think I can do that at my age. And I don’t think that’s the human nature. My previous long-term relationships have ended up where it hasn’t been monogamous. In listening to Dan Savage, we both agreed that that’s probably the word that we would like to describe us. But I’ve mentioned more recently that I’m almost at a point where I want monogamy. I know that you can’t be 100%, but this is about an ongoing discussion. This is about being honest with each other, and if you don’t keep that dialogue going, that’s when mistakes can happen and secrets happen.