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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Andrew married and had two children, largely to please his parents. After an encounter with a man in Switzerland, he realised he could never settle for less and had to end his marriage. He explains why, newly single and gay, he had unsafe sex, and how he later developed the confidence to look after himself.
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My first sexual experience? I was raped.
I don’t know that I would even call it a sexual experience, but it was my first physical experience at age eleven. It was unpleasant and disturbing. It occurred after some other instances of that nature had happened with him, but they were less intrusive, shall we say? It was one of my teachers.
This was in London. My parents thought the world of this teacher. He used to take me out to concerts and things and they felt he was a positive and encouraging influence on me. One day he picked a friend and I up on the street. He was going to give us a lift to town but said he wanted to show me something at his place first.
Now I just hate him
We got there – it was a dark, gloomy house – he put my friend in the front room and then took me to the back room. He touched me for a while and then stuck his dick in me. It hurt and I was crying quietly. He asked me if I was enjoying it and I said, ‘No’. And so he stopped. For a long time I was actually grateful to him because he stopped at that point. Now I just hate him...
He thought I’d been murdered
When we came out of the room my friend was holding a poker, ready to defend himself: he told me later he thought that I’d been murdered. My friend went to a different school so he didn’t even know this man.
From the age of about seven there were actually a number of these guys – teachers mostly – who were fondling me and fiddling with me. Looking back, I must have had something tattooed on my forehead to attract these people.
I suppose my first sexual experience was one, therefore, which confused me about sex entirely.
From that point on, it was rather a difficult thing for me to work out who I was and be what I was.
I was terrified my parents would find out. I assumed it was my fault and so for twenty odd years I’ve had all this guilt about it. Later, when I had sexual feelings that were different from the ones I wanted to have I thought it was because of the rape.
After that, I had a difficult adolescence but I was pretty good at looking OK, and looking OK in those days was very much about finding a girl and being popular with the opposite sex. I think I always wanted to reassure my parents that I was OK - not that they ever knew about the unfortunate incident, well not at that time.
I never got any counselling or help about the rape. By the time I accepted that it wasn’t my fault and stopped feeling ashamed about it I didn’t feel any need for counselling after that point.
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My parents were quite worried about me being a little different, I think, so I endeavoured to be successful with girls. I didn’t become physical with a girl until I was about 16. I was on a train on a school trip and found myself in a different school’s carriage. It happened to be a girl’s school and one of the older school girls there showed me what was what.
I don’t think it was really so much pleasurable as adventurous. I think I felt quite proud of myself, even though I actually hadn’t anything to do with it. I mean I didn’t do anything really, since she sort of put the thing in - and that was more or less that. However, I felt quite good about myself because I could boast about it.
I think it took some pressure off too because, having had a heterosexual sexual event I thought, ‘Well, I can always rely on that’, in terms of being OK with my friends who, of course, were running around calling everybody faggots and poofters and all that kind of stuff, as schoolboys do.
Queers and poofters
We didn’t use words like gay, we had queers and poofters and they were laughable figures. I mean, the only gay role model I ever had was Mr Humphries on ‘Are You Being Served’! My parents would sometimes talk about ‘one of those’, you know, which was an unpleasant way of saying ‘confirmed bachelor’, or ‘so-and-so are life-long friends’, all that kind of stuff.
So I had a great fear of being gay - a huge fear of being gay - and yet I found myself looking at the underwear pages of the mail order catalogues and then telling myself I was only doing it to imagine myself looking like that. By and large I pretty much buried my feelings. Through the ages of 16 to 19, before I went to university, I endeavoured not to give it too much thought - or to try not to.
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When I told my mother I was gay, she wrote me a letter and she said, ‘I just remember the small boy who came running in with a knee that I could kiss better, but this isn’t something I could kiss better, and all I can hope is that after so many years of living someone else’s life you feel free to live your own’. It was a lovely letter, I still feel quite choked when I think of that.
On the other hand, my father first told me it was a phase that a lot of people go through when they’re adolescent and I just obviously was a late developer, being in my 30s. But he said, ‘That’s OK, I still love you’, meaning ‘despite this’, which I see as not great.
Am I to understand?
When it transpired that I had a partner he wrote me a letter and said, ‘I’ve just got three questions. One: am I to understand that you’ve formed some kind of attachment? Two: am I to understand this is an attachment to someone of the same sex? Three: am I further to understand that this relationship involves some physical signs of affection?’. To which the answers were obviously ‘yes, yes and yes’, and I felt like adding, ‘And by the way, how often does ________ (your second wife) go down on you?’, you know.
So it would be fair to say that my father still talks to me and that he accepts that I’m homosexual - I suppose he can’t deny otherwise. But he doesn’t really want to know anything about it, about what’s involved. I think he thinks homosexuals spend most of their time in public lavatories or in women’s clothing, so it’s strange for a doctor. But my mother, on the other hand, is fine. She comes and stays and in fact still communicates with my former partner too, so she’s all right.
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I was born in New Zealand but I grew up in the United Kingdom and returned to New Zealand with my family when I was 18 and went to university there.
At the time, my expectations were pretty much to do with what I thought my parents wanted. I was pretty much worried about what they would want, although, to be fair to them, they never said I should be this or that or a doctor or anything. But I was looking at the prospect of being married and having kids and an OK job and all that kind of stuff.
After university I found there was a lot less pressure to have sexual conquests if you had a girlfriend, and there was a girl there who I was very friendly with. We went out, but we didn’t have any sexual - well, not much - sexual activity at all. So, for about three years, we were boyfriend and girlfriend. And, because we were friends, it was easy to confuse that with something else, and finally she asked me to marry her.
She suggested we get married, which I suppose is the same thing. I did actually say to her at the time that perhaps I wasn’t as much the marrying kind as many women would like their husbands to be - I expressed some doubts about my ability as a husband. We had a platonic relationship by this time but she sort of brushed over that and it was convenient for me to brush over it too, so we duly got married. I think I was 22.
A year or so after we were married we moved to Sydney where we effectively lived for all our marriage. We had two children and, when they were one and three, I think it was the children coming that exposed the hollowness of the marriage. Although we broke up in the end because I was gay, we needed to not be married anymore.
We weren’t able to fulfill each other’s needs, I don’t just mean physically but a whole range of things.
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Once we had children I seemed to be a little bit redundant in the household, so I had much more time to myself. I was travelling extensively for business – this was early 1991 - and I was a very early person on the Internet. I found a thing called Compuserve, which was like AOL. They had a thing called HSX, which stood for ‘Human Sexuality’. So I had a look at that and in there were a whole lot of groups you could join.
It wasn’t interactive in a sense of chat, but you posted something and then people posted, so you had the threads of conversation. I joined this thing called ‘Mentalk’ and I saw the topic there that asked, ‘If two guys jack off together, does it mean they are gay?’ I joined that and put in my two bobs worth.
My two bob’s worth was to pick holes in the arguments of the other people and sit on the fence. But I found the whole thing quite a bit of a turn on. Anyway, out of that I met a couple of people that I then began corresponding directly with in email. They told me there was another group called ‘Bi-ways’ so I went off and joined that. It was basically a group of gay guys who were more comfortable, as indeed I was, to consider themselves bisexual, at least as a transition.
Out of that I started to become very conscious of the idea that I was gay. In fact, I became convinced that I was gay. Although not to the extent that I thought I couldn’t continue to manage living as a heterosexual. I had never had a physical homosexual experience up to that point and certainly would never have contemplated it while I was married.
Once I had accepted that possibility, a number of other events and feelings I had had towards guys over the preceding five or eight years suddenly seemed different; things like intense friendships. I had employed some gay people by this stage so I could see that, in fact, gay people were relatively normal, and still quite human. I wasn’t as unfamiliar with homosexuals as I had been but, even so, what I can now see were very strong physical attractions had I always put down to being intense friendships or meetings of minds or those kinds of things. I was great at making excuses obviously!
Finally I decided I’d tell my wife that I had doubts, which I did. She was not that surprised. She was pretty OK really. I told her I was going over to a men’s group in Switzerland - this was with the people I’d met through the internet forums. So off I went...
At the time I was travelling to Europe eight times or more a year anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal. I decided I’d throw in a week of what’s known on the scene as a ‘crystal adventure’, and there I was, in the remote Alps of Switzerland with these people. Some of them I had actually met at this stage, because of my trips through to Europe - I’d call in and see them in Switzerland or other places.
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The marriage bed was pretty cold. It was pretty cold from the time the children were born. So off I went to Switzerland and we met up at the Zurich Railway Station – the collection point for getting on the train for going to where this men’s group thing was. There was a guy there who I hadn’t met before, a Californian. He sort of looked at me and I looked at him and you know we smiled and chatted very easily straight away.
Up in the woods
We all got on the train and he sat next to me. While he was sitting there talking to me, he would put his hand on my knee or move down toward, you know... And every time he did that I started to feel an incredible sensation. Once we got there - I won’t go through the whole week - but we went off for a walk and had a bit of a fumbling experience up in the woods behind the lake.
I have never had an experience like that, nothing had ever felt as good as that, and I was, deeply, deeply, deeply, madly in love with him. I’d had a mystical experience, but to him it was just sex, really. So I was somewhat surprised when he didn’t sit next to me when we were gathered in a group. In fact, he sat next to someone else who was massaging his shoulders and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s a bit strange’.
We finally had more physical interaction during the course of the week, nothing of a very exciting nature, it was just hand jobs and cuddling and stuff. It was all very nice. Then at the end of that week I was supposed go off and do some business and he was going off to see his father’s grave somewhere in Germany. I ended up cancelling my business and we went off together. At that stage I paid all the bills. Nonetheless, it was a very nice time.
What it might be like
For me it was fantastic because we’d check in a hotel and ask for one room and then we’d go upstairs to discover that it had two beds. So we’d go back down and say we wanted a room with double bed and it was no big deal.
So I got this feeling of what it might be like to just be yourself. I was quite confident in terms of being, you know, clearly with him in a romantic sense.
The big one
It finally culminated when we were sitting down at dinner and he said to me, ‘If you’re very good I’ll let you do the big one’, which turned out to mean he was going to give me permission to fuck him. I was deeply moved and very flattered and all the rest of it, and duly performed, which was kind of, you know...
I knew how I could feel
But after that night I suddenly realised that I’d kind of explored the depths of this guy and that was sort of it. There wasn’t a lot more about him I wanted to know. So when his train went off in one direction and my train went off in a different direction the next day I thought that was appropriate. What had happened to me in that week was that I knew how I could feel and I knew that I could never settle for less than that in the future. I knew that there was no way in the world that I could continue to be married.
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I think of that as my first true sexual experience. It was quite a long time ago now, but it was very powerful.
So, anyway, I went home and said, ‘Baby, I’m gay’ and that was that. Two weeks later, I moved out. There was no way I could be married and be unfaithful, but there was no way I could not seek the intensity of feeling both physical and emotional that I’d experienced that week.
We had two counselling sessions; we endeavoured to go to counselling as a couple. She didn’t blame me for being gay - I was lucky in the sense that she was a social worker, so she tended to be able to see things from another point of view. However, this was very personal for her. It was like all her little dreams were shattered, even though they might have been dreams that on reflection, she could see were a bit false.
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Once we separated, she and the children wanted to move back to New Zealand to be near her family. I was flying to Melbourne every week anyway, so I moved to Melbourne. This was around 1994.
When we lived in Sydney we had friends whose son was gay and lived with his partner in Paddington. He was the loveliest guy. I wasn’t really attracted to him but I was attracted to how he was able to live as himself and be so sort of free. He was a very successful business guy, he wasn’t a hedonistic kind of person and he just knew how to enjoy life.
All of a sudden he got sick and his family were the first who didn’t run away from the fact that it was AIDS. They saw nothing untoward about it, it was a death, as tragic as any other kind of death for them. I was quite shattered when he died because he was somebody I think I would have been able to talk to, rather than have to use the Internet. I didn’t particularly know what AIDS was, or much about it. I knew it was there and I knew that it affected predominantly the gay community.
I then met someone on the Gay Melbourne chat room, which had just started. We hit it off there and then, we met and had dinner. Then once a month we’d have dinner and then go back to his place and have sex. It wasn’t a relationship, but he took me to Three Faces, the Xchange, and to opennings etc.
He was very useful for me because I was very timid and still am a bit, so it was hard for me to get into anything. I also joined a thing called GAMMA, which is a Gay And Married Men’s Association. I went to that and some of my oldest friends are from those days. There are really no friends from before my coming out.
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Sexually, in the beginning, I think I was pretty unsafe.
I’m not sure why that was, I can only guess, but I tended to meet people from the Internet and it turned out that I was quite keen on anal sex.
But when you have a quick thing from the Internet, this doesn’t always culminate in anal for whatever reason. So I didn’t particularly think in advance of taking precautions and there were times when I didn’t. However, I always picked up ‘safe sex packs’ whenever I was out somewhere. Yet, there were times I didn’t want to use condoms either.
I think part of the reason I found it difficult to use condoms was because I was very under-confident. If the other person suggested it I would be very happy, but if they didn’t suggest it, I didn’t like to ask them to. I didn’t know anything really about what expectations were. So, if I met someone at a club and went home with them, or they came home with me, I really didn’t know what to do next.
I’d meet them on the Internet or the chatline or something like that and they’d come round. I didn’t know whether I should offer them a cup of tea or whatever. It was all awkwardness sitting on the couch and then usually, hopefully, they would say, ‘Do you want to go to the bedroom?’ or whatever, but I could never be very confident initiating that. I was in a very passive situation.
So, when sex would happen, and all the groping and licking, sucking and stuff would be done and it might move onto rimming and then there’d be a bit of a prodding at my bum and stuff like this, I’d be inclined to just let it pop in without saying, ‘Would you mind putting a condom on?’.
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After that early period of my developing gay existence, I then got into a relationship that lasted pretty close to six years and was one hundred percent monogamous. When that ended, it ended nicely. I was suddenly back out on the market again, but I was probably emotionally stronger. This quite young guy picked me up, which was very nice, flattering, and we went home and when we were about to have sex he said to me, ‘Oh, by the way, before we got into the bedroom, I do insist on safe sex’ and I was really impressed.
Well, how hard is that? It sounds ridiculous, but I was so impressed. I thought, ‘So young and so sensible’. Later, when I thought about it, I just felt, well, how hard is that?’ How hard is it to say, “Well, that’s my standard”.
It made me think, what have I been saying about myself to have not cared enough to just say “No that’s my limit; I don’t want to put myself at risk?”
So, from that moment, I’m not saying I haven’t slipped occasionally, but very rarely. Other than that it has always been safe and I’ve been quite happy with it. Which is not to say that I like condoms, not at all. But I’d rather have a slightly less satisfactory sexual experience and live to have more of them than not.
Go and do it
I went to the VD Clinic: that first friend of mine who introduced me to the clubs and everything took me along. He said, ‘You should have a test, it’s not a big deal, go and do it’, so I did. As a result, I had a doctor, and I told the doctor that I was gay, and it was OK. Since then I’ve had at least an annual one.
When I was in the long-term relationship we got tested pretty early because we didn’t want to use condoms. We had two tests. We had a test early in the relationship and we had another one three months later, then after that we decided we could dispense with condoms.
The long term
I’ve never been to a beat, never been to a sex-on-premise venue, wouldn’t know how to. Sometimes I feel it would be quite nice to, but I’m a romantic. I don’t think it’s only because I trained as a heterosexual that I’ve become a home-loving homosexual. I do think that, for me, I prefer long-term partners, people that I have sex with regularly and I have for a long period of time. I’d like to have a long-term relationship. I think I would very much prefer it to be a monogamous one. You can’t guarantee things though; it depends a bit on meeting Mr Right, doesn’t it?
Andrew was born in New Zealand, then returned there when he was 18 to go to university
Andrew grew up in the UK
Andrew moved to Sydney after he got married
After an encounter with a man in Switzerland, Andrew realised he had to end his marriage
Andrew moved to Melbourne after his marriage ended