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’m 28. My first sexual experience, I can’t remember if it was safe or not; all I can remember is that it hurt! I think I must have picked one of the most hung guys in Melbourne. I was about 18. At that point I was actually living in Greensborough with these Christian doctors and they were completely homophobic. I did not know a single gay person at that point. So I found in the local newspaper a gay Introduction Agency ad and I rang them up, went for an interview and they hooked me up with this guy who was completely unsuitable!
‘It was quite bizarre..’
I think they had a couple of regular guys on their books who just went through everyone. They sat me down for an interview, took my money and discussed what I liked and what I didn’t like. And I got someone a heck of a lot older than me and we had nothing in common. It was quite bizarre.
We arranged to meet at South Yarra train station and he then took me down to the Xchange. Then we went to 3 Faces. A song from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert came on and he asked me if I’d seen the movie and I said no. He said, ‘Oh, I’ve got it at my house. Do you want to come back to my house?’ And so we did. And while we were watching it, that’s when I had my first kiss. And then things progressed.
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I must say that my first few guys led me down what was almost like a spiral downwards - only because we had nothing in common. I couldn’t relate to them. I was 18 and they were well into their thirties.
‘a weedy little guy who smoked..’
After that first experience the Introduction Agency set me up with another guy who was the most unattractive man, a weedy little guy who smoked. He was 35, he was a banker, and we had nothing in common. But back when you’re 18 and vulnerable...
I think part of it was that I’d paid money to meet people and I had 40 meetings that I’d paid for, so I felt like, two down, 38 to go, surely there must be someone reasonably attractive on their books! After the second meeting, I don’t think I handled it very well. I think I almost fell in love with the guy – I look back now and think, ‘My God’ – I’d call him all the time and do all crazy things like that and he wasn’t interested - thank God! I think at that point I just had nobody. All of a sudden I had all these experiences and no-one to talk about it with.
I guess HIV at that point wasn’t even in the picture. I wasn’t taking condoms to these meetings, I didn’t even think that sort of thing would happen – that we’d fuck or that anything like that would happen. I had no idea what to expect. I’d never kissed a boy before then, I’d never even had sex with a girl, so I was all very new to it.
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Living with the Christian doctors definitely put more of a stigma to the whole coming-out process for me. Being gay was frowned upon in their community and I sort of had become part of their friendship group and, while I didn’t take up their religious beliefs, it still impacted on me that the very people I was living with weren’t going to accept my sexuality.
‘I would get married and have kids..’
I grew up in Whittlesea. During my teenage years I decided that I was not going to come out; it was not going to happen. I would get married and have kids and that’s the way it was going to be. So HIV wasn’t even an issue. I remember when I first realised I was gay I said, ‘Oh my God, I’m one of them’.
And I guess ‘one of them’ also meant someone that would get HIV. I guess I was quite scared and it wasn’t until I wasn’t living at home that I realised I couldn’t keep going.
‘They thought I’d been attacked..’
I thought about coming out to my parents but I thought there’s no way they would accept it at all. In no way could I come out to my housemates. So I actually found myself one night on the floor after taking a whole packet of Panadeine Forte – this is after meeting that second guy – and luckily the Christian doctors came home and found me there. I also cut my forehead open with a knife – I’m sure it was just for shock value – but I looked a right mess with blood pouring down my face. They thought I’d been attacked. Then I told one of them that I was gay, in the Emergency Department of the hospital. So that was my experience so far and it wasn’t a very cheerful one at all.
‘I came out to my mother..’
I was kept in hospital overnight and then I got sent home. I rang up my mother and I wanted to tell her. She insisted I tell her over the phone and so I came out to my mother over the phone and she was distraught. She hung up on me and she told me it was just a phase and to go and get professional help. She said to me that I could no longer give blood. I was completely traumatised by the whole thing. My Mum then told my Dad and she gave me family photo albums to look through like I was ripping apart the family.
At this point the Christians had also given me books and tapes on how other people have converted back from homosexuality and so I was kind of being torn. So another packet of Panadol ended up being taken – this was about a week later – but this time of course they told me it wasn’t the codeine I had to worry about, it was the paracetamol. I went into my housemate’s room in tears and then of course off to the hospital again and this time they decided to keep me in.
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I was admitted to the Adult Psych ward. Which was good. I had my own little room and had a cushy little week there. I had a cute psychiatrist. During the meeting with the psychiatrist, he told me about the Young and Gay group at the VAC and he enrolled me in it.
My next contact with gay people was through the VAC. One of the facilitators of the group actually managed to find me new accommodation and I moved in with a couple of gay guys. One of them I still consider one of my good friends. So from that point everything started looking a little more rosy.
‘I slept with one of the patients..’
I think I was about to go into one of those ‘I think I’ll sleep with everything’ phases. I slept with one of the patients in the psych ward. The bit that shocks me the most is that I actually got the psychiatrist’s number and we actually met up as well. Afterwards. That was one of the most weird things – that someone I thought I would be able to trust... and at the end of the day poor vulnerable little me found myself sleeping with my psychiatrist about a week after I left the Psych ward. So that was a bit full-on. It’s weird in retrospect, but at the time I was just overjoyed. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got a phone number!’ - it didn’t matter that it was my psychiatrist. I slept with him twice. He had a boyfriend as well. He was in his early thirties, just at the very beginning of his career.
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I became a lot more sexually active after I moved in with these gay guys. One of them and I sat down and we counted fifty guys within, say, four months that I’d slept with. They were friends. This was 1995. Friends of friends, and their friends, and their boyfriends - it was just left, right and centre. Not through beats, just social contacts. The Young and Gay group was a whole new friendship group. We’d go out together or go to someone’s flat and drink cheap wine. It was mostly one-nighters, no boyfriends at this stage.
‘I had unprotected sex..’
Staying HIV negative was just at the back of my mind. A lot of the time fucking wasn’t happening. It was more quick blow-and-go stuff. There was probably only one instance where I actually had unprotected sex with someone and it was one of the housemates of one of the guys from the group. It just happened. It was just one of those got-caught-up-in-the-moment kind of things. And I remember afterwards just thinking, ‘Oh fuck, I have no idea if this guy’s positive or negative’. He told me he was negative, so I just had that to go by.
I panicked a bit and I think at that point the psychiatrist had also referred me to a GP and so I had my first HIV test around that time as well. I actually had my first test shortly after coming out of the hospital. I’m pretty sure I had a test after that incident as well. After my first scare I avoided putting myself in that situation where I’d panic and have to wait for a test result and all that sort of thing – I couldn’t stand it.
‘I’d slept with all of his friends..’
These one-night stands went on for a good eight or nine months. At this point, one of my flatmates, I’d slept with all of his friends and he cracked the shits and kicked me out. I moved into a place in Northcote with two lesbians and two cats. And then I think I met my very first boyfriend after that.
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Being with all these guys I realised I’d all of a sudden become quite a bit of a slut. I just wasn’t turning down anything. I met my boyfriend in mid 1996. I was completely monogamous for the first time with this lovely guy. We saw each other for about nine months or so, except, one night, he came over to my house. I had just prepared this lovely three-course meal, the lights were low and it was beautiful and he came over and dumped me. His reason was that he just didn’t know why. But he felt that he simply had to break up with me.
‘we ended up sleeping together..’
I was absolutely distraught. I was such a mess. He said, ‘Look, if you want to give me a call, I’m going home now, so if you want to talk about it you can call me’. So I waited enough time for him to get home and then I called. He wasn’t home. He actually decided to go over to his friend’s place. I got onto his flatmate and his flatmate said to me, “Oh come over. I’ll take you out and get your mind off it”. He and I went out, got smashed and ended up sleeping together. So I ended up back in their apartment in another room. My boyfriend then decided that he wanted us to get back together again.
‘the trust was gone..’
We actually did get back together, but the trust was gone. It made it very difficult. I was kind of walking on thin ice every time. I guess that was the end of our relationship and our friendship, because we stopped talking for a while.
That was the beginning of my three-monthers. I’d have a boyfriend for three months and for some reason it would end and then two days later I’d have another three-monther. And then that would be followed by another three-monther, and another three-monther, and another three-monther... Always looking for the one. Occasionally I’d find one that would last nine months or a year.
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I had also started working at the medical clinic that my doctor worked at so, HIV, I was kind of surrounded by it. It was always there – and access to testing was so in-my-face. And so, as I would break up with a boyfriend every three months, I’d have a test.
And I guess because of the regularity of my testing, it put me in a position to negotiate with my partner to stop using condoms.
‘we stopped using condoms..’
Particularly with the longer ones – nine months or so – we certainly stopped using condoms, but it was all based on a negative test in my hands and trust. Yeah, and they’d have a negative test result in their hands as well. The understanding was that we were completely monogamous and that was the end of the deal. There was no negotiation around that. We all wanted the same thing.
‘if only I hadn’t slept with his flatmate..’
Looking back I regret what happened with my first boyfriend and I. I think, if only I hadn’t slept with his flatmate, we could have actually had something. It was me that broke the trust. One thing I did learn from him and I breaking up and then trying to get back together was that once trust is gone the relationship is gone. It’s always there in the back of your mind - are they sleeping around? – because, they’ve done it before, so what could stop them again?
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I have always had a boyfriend. There may be a total of less than a year in which I’ve been single. I couldn’t be alone, I was so insecure. That’s what I put it down to. If I wasn’t with someone it was a failure. If it was Christmas and I was the only one without a partner at the family Christmas table then I was a failure. You know, I quite distinctly remember my mother telling me that I would be old and lonely when I grow up and that also played a huge role in it – I did not want to end up old and lonely and better lay the groundwork now and make sure I do get someone there.
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I have slept with a few HIV positive people - people who I knew were HIV positive.
They told me and, yeah, it didn’t worry me at all. I understood the risks and what I could do and what I couldn’t do and so, yeah, sure, it was at the back of my mind. There was one that went for a couple of weeks and another that went on for a couple of months but there were three of us in that relationship: I joined these two who were already boyfriends.
‘One of them was HIV positive..’
One of them was HIV positive but the other one wasn’t. It was kind of weird because it was almost like I got into the relationship for a reason – to wake up the other one because they were having unsafe sex. And I was able to say to the negative one, well, the relationship might not be for ever but once you become HIV positive, that’s forever, so you need to think about that. I felt like it was almost less of an insult to talk to the negative guy about them having unsafe sex together than the positive guy.
Why were they having unsafe sex?
Why were they having unsafe sex? Because they loved each other and they didn’t care. I bumped into the negative one this year and, yeah, they broke up. As far as I know he’s still negative. I’ve got a feeling one of them couldn’t keep it up using condoms.
There was one time when I think we might have been drunk and the HIV positive one tried fucking me without a condom. It was only in and straight out again but I freaked. I went to the doctor. I didn’t know about PEP then, I think it was only available to health care workers at the time.
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As I got older the relationships seemed to get longer and more involved. I ended up getting a mortgage and that sort of thing. I moved to Darwin. I wanted some quiet time to myself. I didn’t want a boyfriend. I figured I’ll be away from my friends so I’ll need to be a little more independent. I wanted to do that because I just found that I couldn’t be single. Because every time I was single, I was depressed. I had relationships where, I guess I knew I could do better, but it was just the fact that I was in a relationship with someone. As long as I was in a relationship I was happy.
I was up in Darwin for a week before I met my current boyfriend! I haven’t really accomplished what I set out to do, which was to be alone for a while, but I justify that because he isn’t in my life all the time – he’s a flight attendant. We speak to each other quite often but I still have so much time and I still get so alone up here. He’s actually someone I went to primary school with. The relationship’s going really well.
Adam grew up in Melbourne.
Adam recently moved to Darwin for a bit of quiet time to himself.