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 came out when I was 22. I probably didn’t have my first sexual experience with a guy until just before then. I guess I was into girls at the time but I only did that because that’s what most of my friends were doing.
I was out at a dance party with one of my best friends, who’s a lesbian – it was a gay party – there was a group of us, straight and gay. I remember this one guy following me around and kind of smiling. It totally freaked me out and my best friend came up to me and said, “I think that guy’s into you”. I didn’t know what to do; I was just scared shitless.
Part of me just wanted to see anyway, so I just walked straight up to him and after some really nervous small talk I asked him to kiss me. He probably thought I was being this super-confident kind of gay guy and it was quite the opposite - I just wanted to get it over and done with and see what it was actually like. We kind of fooled around and had a pash. Afterwards he wanted to exchange numbers and I was like, “What are you talking about? Phone numbers? No way!”, and he ended up giving me his.
‘Look what was that all about?’
And after about two weeks of doing my head in about ‘What was that all about?’, I didn’t know if it was because I was off my face or if it was because I really enjoyed it, but something about it felt OK. So I ended up calling him and I just kind of sat down with him and said, “Look what was that all about?”. I explained that it was my first time and he was OK, he was pretty nice, and we ended up going home and exploring a little further and that was kind of it.
After a brief period of doubt I made up my mind. I knew I was gay.
I’ve always been a pretty assertive person. When I make up my mind about something I just go headfirst. I came out to all my friends really quickly and said, “If you don’t all like it then fuck you, too bad, this is who I am”, and kind of did the same thing with my parents. That didn’t go down so well.
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I come from an Italian background, pretty Catholic, so it was a bit scary initially. I went along and did Young and Gay at the Victorian AIDS Council. It made a world of difference. My lesbian friend heard about it and said I was doing her head in and it was time to go. I wasn’t sure if I was gay or bi so I tried dating a girl again and that wasn’t right. So I went along and sat down in this group and thought, ‘I can’t be gay, I don’t really connect with anyone in this group’ and then an hour later another guy rocked up - he was running late or something - and we got chatting and he’s still one of my best friends today.
That was five years ago and that worked out really well. I ended up moving in with him a few months later and we just became really, really good friends. I was lucky, I had amazing support from all my friends and made some really good new ones. I still have a fantastic circle of friends that are always there for me.
My lesbian friend kind of went down that coming out path for me first, so any reservations anyone had about having a gay friend had already been sorted out. Because of her we did meet a lot of other gay people, but I never really related to any of her gay friends and I just needed to meet some new people - and when I did it was all good.
‘She was a mess..’
I grew up over in Altona. I accidentally told my Mum I was gay. She overheard me talking on the phone. I always thought my Mum would be fine with it because although we’re from an Italian background we’re pretty liberal, but she was a mess, a total mess. I ended up moving out of home - I couldn’t be in the situation where Mum and I were fighting because we’d never fought before. It was all my fault. She was trying to understand and I didn’t have the patience. I kept asking myself, “If I can accept this, why can’t she?”, but she couldn’t. She just needed more time.
She also found out that I was going out and partying too much and dabbling in the things that go with that. This hurt her more than the gay part. So about a month later I moved out of home - and she agreed to go and do some counselling for a little while, which did her the world of good. As soon as she felt comfortable and OK with it, we agreed to tell my Dad and he was fine about it too.
‘He started asking a lot of questions..’
My Dad’s a bit more traditional than my Mum. She was six years old when she came here so she was pretty much raised in Melbourne and is a little more open-minded. My Dad was 18 when he came here from Italy, so he had a different mentality. Mum really softened him up a little bit but I was just totally blown away when he started asking a lot of questions.
He started ringing me up and saying, “What’s going on with you and your Mum?” Mum wasn’t really saying anything, but of course he could see there were things going on and as soon as he’d come home we just wouldn’t talk to each other. We had this talk in the backyard one day and I told him I was gay and he said, ‘Of course, I know. I’m not stupid, I know what’s going on around me’ and he was totally accepting from the word go.
‘My family are a pack of deviates...’
He gave me a big hug and said, “Now, are you going to move back home?” I said, “No, I think I need to find out who I am a little bit more and grow up”. I have an amazing relationship with my family now and pretty much everyone knows that I’m gay. We’re a big family and very close, they’re all amazingly accepting and sex has always been something that’s been talked about whether you’re gay or straight. My family is a pack of deviates really!
If there was a sex scene on TV or something of that nature, we were never really told to turn that off. It has always been an environment where any question could be asked and they’d answer it. My parents always had an extremely loving and affectionate relationship in front of us while we were growing up. They were always quite affectionate with us and with each other and still are. I’m the oldest of three sons and I have a good relationship with my brothers, but sometimes I feel like they don’t care about my personal life. I guess it’s hard for them to talk to me about things that they don’t really understand.
I initially struggled with being openly gay around my family, especially when love and sex is so openly discussed.
Even my grandparents are still extremely affectionate with each other and with us. Not to mention all the dirty jokes around the dinner table - it just makes everything so much more light hearted. I love that we’re not boring and don’t take things too seriously. It has allowed me to be who I am and I find that I can talk to my parents about relationships and stuff because of it.
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I started seeing that first guy for a little while but that didn’t really work out because neither of us knew what we were getting ourselves into. I was still a little bit unsure and didn’t have all that many gay friends. I went to the saunas a couple of times and that kind of freaked me out a little - I guess because of some of the people that went there. I didn’t know how to behave. I didn’t know the etiquette and things like that. Obviously I went and participated and had sex with a couple of guys, but once I made a group of friends and went out and we got into the party scene a little bit it was alot easier just going out and having fun and meeting people. I’ve had a few one-night-stands and things like that along with a couple of significant relationships, but at the moment I’m single.
I remember everyone telling me when I first came out, “Be careful, be careful!” I heard those two words all the time, you know, my Mum was always going, “Please be careful” and I’m like, “Don’t worry, I haven’t got anything”, so I guess I’ve always had that in the background to make sure that I do always have safe sex. Safe sex was always using condoms, making sure, if you’re having penetrative sex, to use a condom.
‘Assume that everyone is positive..’
I guess once I went along to Young and Gay I was taught a little more about HIV and some of the facts made me think, “Omigod, HIV is probably a bit more of a reality than I had initially thought; It could easily affect me”. From then on I just made the decision – I don’t think I’ve ever once in a one-night-stand situation asked someone their status. I just think it’s safe to assume that everyone is positive and there are certain things I will do and I won’t do in a one-night-stand situation.
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A couple of times I’ve let that lapse. One particular time I was seeing this guy, we’d been seeing each other for a few weeks, and one night we got pretty drunk and I remember the next morning both of us waking up looking at each other and thinking, ‘Oh my god!’ I think I diagnosed myself as having HIV right then and there and although we really liked each other and I trusted him we both said, “OK, lets just go and get tested”.
He was a little bit older than me and he was like, ‘Look, that’s fine, I trust you’ and I was a little bit shocked at that. I kept thinking, ‘How can you trust me - you’ve only known me for three or four weeks; you can’t take my word for it’. I think it was probably me thinking I can’t take your word for it. So I was the one who said we were both going to get tested for my piece of mind. We did and it was all fine. I remember back then you had to go back after a few weeks to get the result I think it’s a bit quicker now.
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A good friend of mine had just told me that he was HIV positive about that time - he’s still a good friend of mine today - and that was a bit of a shocking experience for me as well, to find out that had happened. It happened quite easily. It was a one-night-stand and they didn’t use a condom. He’s extremely healthy and doing well, but it is something that he needs to take care of and be on top of and it’s scary. The way I see it, there are a lot of things I wont do on a one-night-stand until I earn the trust of another person and vice versa.
‘Are you into barebacking?’
Obviously barebacking’s a big thing at the moment, and some people that I’ve gone home with have said, “Are you into barebacking?”, and I’m like, “Absolutely not”. Barebacking and fucking without a condom are exactly the same thing: I guess it’s just become more of a fetish thing now, which is kind of a bit scary. I’ve always used a condom and if there’s no condom around then it won’t happen. I’m pretty diligent with that.
I’ve had a series of short relationships, maybe two or three, and then one more significant one. We were together for about a year and then it was on again, off again but that’s probably my longest relationship to date.
‘We stopped using condoms..’
Sexually I’m a lot more adventurous in a relationship, I guess. With my ex-boyfriend, we spoke about it and we stopped using condoms for a while. We made sure that we were both tested and we waited for the required amount of time before we got the results and waited a little bit longer as well and then we agreed not to use condoms and that was fine. We trusted each other; it was a monogamous relationship.
‘I just became this jealous thing...’
I’m kind of a Dr Jekyll Mr Hyde; when I’m single I enjoy meeting new people, but when I’m in a relationship I’m monogamous.
We experimented once with bringing a third person home and it did not work! It was pretty messy. I just became this jealous thing. I was quite surprised, I never thought I had any jealousy in me at all. I didn’t like it and neither did my boyfriend so I just kind of said, ‘OK, this isn’t going to work. You’re going to have to leave’. So he got up and left and we just had a good laugh about it and that was it.
I have friends who have open relationships and they’ve been together for years and they’re strong and it works for them and that’s great. I don’t judge, I think I have the morals of a reasonably well brought up Catholic Italian guy - but one who is gay and lives in the middle of today’s society.
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I think I contradict myself alot but when it comes to relationships. I look at my parents and I look at my grandparents and aunts and uncles who have great long-lasting relationships and that’s what I want. I don’t want to share my partner with someone else just because the sex is getting a little bit boring. I haven’t reached that level with a partner. That could change, obviously, as I get older and a little more mature, you know, never say never, but at this point in time I know I wouldn’t do it. So I guess I’m an all-or-nothing kind of guy.
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One of the things I learned from Young and Gay, I guess - because at the time I wasn’t very confident – is that there’s a lot of protocol when you’re out on the scene. I hate that word ‘scene’ - I don’t even go out that much any more. But I did go home with a lot of people to kind of feel like I’d achieved something at the end of the night - and drugs and things like that do kind of mess with your head a little bit. I’m definitely now at the stage where I know how to say no and I don’t go out and take drugs all the time - and sometimes I actually feel better not going home with somebody. There’s this thing that some friends and I say, that after a certain time hanging out at a certain place you’re just doing laps for scraps, so what’s the point of going home with everyone else’s scraps?
‘I’m pretty self assured...’
I guess now I kind of know who I am and what I want and I’m pretty self-assured. In terms of meeting other people, I find that I’ve dated people my own age or a little older who find that a little intimidating, just because I’m a no-bullshit kind of guy.
I’m pretty focused on staying HIV negative. I don’t think I’m going to put myself in a situation where I could get infected. God knows, I’ve been in plenty of situations where, if you’re going to have unsafe sex, then getting HIV could happen. But I’ve always made sure that I’m safe, so I feel pretty confident.
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Friends are probably the most important thing you can have. They’re my gay family and it’s a pretty strong network. There are probably four or five of us who hang out quite regularly.
We’re always there for each other and we always talk to each other about sex and what’s going on. If one of us has been in a situation where we need to go and get tested or have relationship issues or something, we’re always there for each other.
I remember at last year’s Midsumma Carnival my friends and I did this really funny survey and it was like, “How many people have you slept with? 1-10? Or 11-50?”, and I think we were just a little bit disgusted with ourselves when we checked our results. We were showing each other what we’d ticked - so we decided to all get tested. We mostly go to the same clinic – the Gay Men’s Health Centre – so we all just made sure that we made appointments and we were on each others backs about it ...
‘We’d all be Samanthas!’
Are my friends all the same? Well, if it was ‘Sex in the City’, we’d all be Samanthas! But it is that kind of network, we’re not actually that similar. Obviously we have similar interests. We like doing the same things and hanging out at the same places, but I guess we all have different careers, come from different backgrounds and have different personalities. I’m probably the loud one and a couple of the others are a little more reserved. Then there’s the angry bitter one... just kidding!
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At the moment, almost everyone in my circle of friends is in a relationship. That’s really cool. I think we’re on the same wavelength; sometimes one of us may want to party a little bit more, so we all tag along. Can’t let the team down. I think the reason we’re so close is because we’re all so focused, just on life in general. I mean, there’s so much more to life than being gay and partying.
I have a really good mix of straight friends as well that I integrate really well into my gay circle. And that’s really important to me because I sometimes feel like six years ago I was totally different to the person I am today. Six years ago I never, ever thought I was going to end up gay and living out here and doing what I do.
I’m a big believer in surrounding yourself with good people; people that understand what you’re worth just as much as you do. Make that happen and the rest will be easy.
Carl grew up in Melbourne.