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 originally from Brisbane, Queensland and I’m the youngest of five, The three of us in the middle are gay, whereas both the eldest and youngest are straight. When I was in primary school, my parents got me into a modelling agency as a child model doing TV commercials and catwalks. I was really quite pretty as a kid and was often mistook as a girl.
When I got into high school, that’s when the bullying started and it was bad.It turned me into such an unhappy, angry child and I really disliked my family. I think it was because I felt like I didn’t get any support from them and they just didn’t know me at all.
I remember overhearing my mum telling my sister how to put in a tampon when she was menstruating. She said, “you just put it in and it’s gonna hurt, but it’ll all be fine.” I didn’t know what they were talking about, so when two boys from school came over I said, “let’s put a tampon in our butt,” thinking it would be funny! The next day, the boys had told some other kids and it just spread like wildfire. I was then called “Tampon Boy”.
When I was quite young, we had this family friend, Cam, that I used to fool around with but nothing really happened when I was about 13. I actually had some good experiences with him because I felt safe. I then started experimenting with older men because a lot of them were so drawn to me, like I had a power over them. They were attracted to me, being that pretty, effeminate kid.
I remember when I was 14, I knew the bus driver wanted me and I would tease him by opening up my legs in front of him. I went up to him and he straight up put his hand on my crotch. The next day he drove around in his car and found me so I jumped in. He played around with me, but I didn’t really know what I was doing, just that I kind of wanted it and he wanted me.
I think I wanted the love and attention from older men because I wasn’t getting it from my father.
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The first time I tried to have intercourse, was with this guy in my trampolining class who was a bit older. He was about 18 and when we were hanging out one day, he pulled out this sex toy that was meant to give you head. I watched him put it on his penis toy and have a play, then he was like, “you try it!” I was younger than him and underdeveloped, so clearly my penis was too small, so I just pretended to do it.
Then he said, “why don’t you do it to me and I’ll do it to you?” So we ended up going down on each other for a bit but it just felt yuck. I’m not sure why, but it felt wrong and I didn’t enjoy it.
He tried to fuck me but it hurt so much and just wasn’t working. He tried to use spit and lube but it just wouldn’t work. It all made me feel a bit gross and nauseous.
When I actually managed to have sex, it was with Cam and it felt really good.When you’re growing up, you’re taught that you should love a woman and sex education was always about a man and a woman. No one teaches you how to suck dick or have sex. With Cam it was nice because we could experiment together and would have oral sex all the time. When I was 15, he actually managed to fuck me for the first time and we both blew properly and had an orgasm. His penis wasn’t too big and it actually went in and was pleasurable – good first start.
I was having a lot of sex with girls too, from about 16 onwards. I actually really enjoyed it! I remember going down on a girl at the beach and giving her an orgasm. I thought she was peeing but she was just a squirter and she squirted on my tongue as she came. I was really lucky as I had a lot of really good, hot girlfriends. I remember I had this girlfriend Tara, she was so beautiful. I really loved her and we had sex a lot. We’re still in touch now and she knows about my life now and that I’m gay.
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Whilst I was going to gay clubs a lot and had lots of gay friends before then, I didn’t officially come out to my parents until I was 21. I was an angry kid because I never really got to talk to my parents about my sexuality because they were homophobic and had to deal with it all on my own.
I remember when I was about 16, a team of us went to Tasmania for a trampolining competition and I ended up getting really drunk one night, so I went into the senior boys room and started feeling them up. We were all drunk and it’s not like they stopped me, but the coach caught us and saw that I was drunk too, so I got kicked off the team and sent home.
None of the other parents wanted me around feeling up their kids and when mum picked me up from school after the trip, she’d say stuff like “you better not be gay!” If I ever brought someone home, she’d say, “they’re not a boyfriend, they’re just a special friend,” because they didn’t want others to know they had a gay kid. It’s just bad parenting and stuff like that is so damaging. There were very constricting conditions put on us and we were made to feel that being gay was so wrong. I never felt safe and I was never made to feel it’s okay to be gay. I was an angry kid because of the bullying I went through, angry at my parents because of the lack of support and just angry at everything.
From a young age, I wanted to kill myself.In high school, I’d always go to the toilet crying, thinking I ought to be a woman.
I was even considering having a sex change but in hindsight, I know I don’t want to be a woman, I’m a gay man! I thought that if I got married, that would fix me.
It was so instilled into me that, “being gay is wrong,” that even when I was walking down Chapel Street not long ago, it just did not sit well with me that some guy who looked like he was from the outer suburbs, called out at me, “you fag!!
You grow up thinking there’s something wrong with you - "you’re going to get AIDS and die because you’re a homo." Sometimes you can get triggered and you regress back to when you were in school and being bullied. You internalise all of this and it’s definitely something I still fight with as I’ve had depression that I come in and out of. If I could be straight, I would be. It would be easier to be straight, like girls and want to have a baby and settle down.
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My siblings hadn’t come out yet, but I knew my brother was fooling around because I caught him. My sister didn’t come out til much later, but the three of us used to have fun and go to gay clubs together.
After my 21st, I said to mum, “I’m gay, I don’t care! It’s who I am!” That’s pretty much how I came out to my parents.
My siblings and I had fun together when we were younger but we’re not close anymore - I think there was a lot of jealousy from the middle brother because I was better looking and got a lot of attention, as well as being a child model. He had middle child syndrome, on top of being gay and having to deal with his sexuality was difficult. He’s also a little bit awkward and not the best communicator, so was also troubled himself.
As an adult he developed a very serious drug habit with intravenous cocaine.It started before my father died, and after he died, it got so much worse - he became angrier and angrier. Things were so shit for him, he even rocked up to mum’s 60th and was completely off his face, just a fucking nightmare. He had a drug problem and we knew it was the drugs, so we tried to reach out to him but nothing worked. It’s been seven years and we haven’t seen him, but I’ve heard he ended up hitting rock bottom and managed to work it out himself. I think he’s ashamed of who he was and what he became, so it’s easier to stay away.
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In my 20’s, I was a still really angry and was one of those narky, bitchy, aggressive, cunty queens. I was a dancer in the entertainment business and I was so arrogant, but it was all a defence mechanism I put on. I put on this bravado of, “I’m so great,” just to protect myself, but I was pretty nasty at the same time.
This was during the ‘grim reaper’ times, so I was very safe around that time and having a lot of fun, but I also lived in a lot of fear. I moved all over the world to places like Taiwan and London to dance in shows and cabarets. When I was in London, I wanted to experiment with drag, so I got involved with Madame JoJo’s. There was a big heavy drinking and cocaine culture that I got sucked into.
When you dress up in drag, you attract a certain type of male. It wasn’t until after I dressed up in drag that I fully understood the transsexual culture. I certainly understand how challenging and how marginalised they are, with no voice to really speak up, or opportunity to do so. It’s so difficult to understand what it’s like to have a soul of a woman inside and a penis at the same time. When I dressed in drag I felt like a woman and you take on that identity, especially as you’ve go the fake boobs, the hair, the makeup, the nails and the high heels.
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This one time I picked up this really hot guy in a club. He was so fucking hot, like “Oh my God,” hot. He picks me up, we go back to my house and I’m totally off my face on drugs and alcohol. He fucked me first and I was saying, “put a condom on, put a condom on.” He wouldn’t put one on and he tried to put his dick in and I said, “put a fucking condom on!” I was so off my face and he kept trying to put it in me.
I was so drunk but I still asked him THREE times to put a condom on, but he put his dick in me anyway, so I thought, ‘fuck it, you know what, fine! I’ll just do it this one time.’ Then, not only that, he blew in me and, *click*, just like that, I knew something was wrong.
I went to the toilet and there was cum and blood coming out of my arse. Up until that point, after about 15 years of living as a sexually active gay man, I only had condomless sex a few times. I thought, ‘fuck, what do I do?!’ I didn’t even know there was PEP out there at the time because this was 1998 and it had just come out in ’97.In my head I figured, there’s nothing I can do, I’m going to get AIDS and die anyway.
I went back into the room where he was and he wanted me to fuck him but he forced me to put a condom on. I thought that was really weird, so I fucked him with a condom on, but I knew straight away. It was really odd and that was that. He came back to the club a few weeks later and said to me, “I think you should have a test,” even though I was going to anyway.So, I got tested and that’s when I found out I was positive.
I was so scared. I was diagnosed on World AIDS Day, on the 1st of December 1998.
He came back a week later after the first time and pressed me again to get the test. I had just found out the night before that I was positive and I knew he was the one that gave it to me. When he asked me whether I’d had the test, I told him, “I’m still waiting on the results.” I just didn’t know what to say to him. I was not a capable enough human being at that point to have a conversation with the person that infected me. I didn’t know how to say it, I was so scared that he may come kill me or bash me. I was just so scared.
I think he knew the whole time, even when we fucked. Why else would he come back to the club weeks later, twice, insisting that I have the test? Why would he insist?
When I got back to Australia, things were really hard and I moved back to Sydney for a bit. It was during this time that I believe he came to me in a lucid dream. I wasn’t quite asleep nor was I quite awake, it was that in between realm and it felt like an out-of-body experience. I really do believe this to be true – his body, or his soul, came to me when I was in Sydney and he apologised. He said he was sorry and that he’d killed himself.
I do believe that’s what happened to him. Whilst I don’t know for sure as I could never find him afterwards. I didn’t even know his name or ever hear about him again, but that’s what my psyche, my intuition and my soul believe. I believe that he knew he was positive, that he knew he’d given it to me without telling me, that he felt so guilty about it as well as having to deal with his homosexuality or whatever internalised homophobia he had and he just couldn’t deal with himself.
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I brought myself back to Australia to figure things out and when I told my parents, my father was just horrible. He said I should’ve kept it to myself and that I wasn’t a man. There was a lot of fear going round and mum did a lot of crying.I ended up getting some help from Queensland Positive People (QPP) and managed to get a job and start dancing again.
It was a long process but I made it and managed to go overseas, which was so much better, because I could be more myself as it was less homophobic.
The hardest part about being positive is the internalised stigma and those torturous thoughts. I hated myself so much that I tried to commit suicide twice.
I had become that person my mum feared the most. I had become that person that I feared the most! The branding was true!
You’re gay, you’re getting AIDS and you’re going to die.
Of course it’s not just internal, there were so much fear of disclosing and then the reactions to you disclosing, as well as so many rejections.
I remember telling someone who I thought was a friend, but we ended up having a fight about something else and rung me and said, “I hope you die of AIDS, you AIDS little cunt!” He was also a homosexual and it just shows how much stigma there is even in the gay community, sometimes even worse. There was also a time when I had met this boy, but turns out, he didn’t want to date me because he’d have to wear a condom when we had sex, so he ended up calling it off after I told him.
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If I could change being gay, I would. If I could take the HIV out of my body, I fucking would. Some People with HIV tend to say, “this has made me a better person.” I may be doing things I probably wouldn’t have done before, I don’t think it’s great to have HIV, it has kind of made me who I am though, but it’s not the best thing that’s happened to me, it fucking sucks.
However, I decided to just own it and say, “fuck the world.” Now I’m a publicly out, activist and I want to make the world a better place.
Through my live theatre, I can tell a story that changes people’s lives because I let them truly see what it’s like to live with HIV. It helps the community understand better and relates to people who are living with HIV and have similar stories.
My Theatre work S_T_I_G_M_A on in September.
Living with HIV is so complex. You have to take your pill every day, which reminds you of your HIV. You have to get your blood tested, which reminds you of your HIV. Seeing the condom packets with “safe sex”, on them, or the PrEP campaigns, or even the PEP campaigns.It’s all a reminder for someone who’s living with HIV, that you’re different.
You have to deal with that internalised stigma and I find that through my story-telling, it helps me. It’s a cathartic process, being able to share really beautiful, powerful, entertaining and extremely emotionally provocative process with people.
I see people are blown away through this work and it feels like I’m getting out there and not being a brand that says, ‘HIV is wrong,’ but that I’m still a resilient and capable human being.
I can manifest through my fucking awesome theatre work and I’m not defined by the virus in my blood and it doesn’t stop me from being great.
Achieving something like that, as well as being involved with LPV as a board member and on Tex’s Outreach program, has all helped me become a stronger person.
Things are definitely getting better and there isn’t as much stigma. I met a beautiful boy last week who was about 24 and he barely cared about my HIV status. Even with my nephew and niece who are 10 and 15, whom I love dearly - I was so worried about what would happen when they found out. When it was brought up, they said, “so, what’s the big deal? Mum told us ages ago.” That was a beautiful experience. There’s a lot of love from my mum now too. She’s certainly changed a lot and we have a good relationship. Things are also better with my gay siblings, we don’t talk much but we get along.
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For those reading my story and who are living with HIV – I want you to know that it’s okay.Living with HIV is not that bad, it’s not all doom and gloom. For those of you who have recently contracted, or who’s currently not dealing with it well – there is help out there and you need to talk to someone, because it will make a world of difference.
You can be safe, you can still follow your dreams and you can achieve your goals as a capable human being.
There’s times when I find it hard, knowing there’s PrEP and PEP out there and I missed it. I find myself wishing I had it! I certainly do commend all those people who globally fought for HIV/AIDS activism, who have passed it on, who have died from an HIV-related illness or who are now dead because of the virus. If it wasn’t for our elders advocating, I probably wouldn’t still be here, so I am very grateful for the fight they fought.
It hasn’t been easy, it has taken me time to get to a better place and be more comfortable in my skin, but I have gotten to a place where I can be out and proud HIV activist in the public eye, put my face and name to it and not being ashamed anymore.
I don’t want to be ashamed of myself and I certainly don’t want others to feel ashamed.
There is so much stigma, anger and violence in the world that we don’t need, because we’re all just people in the end. Gay, straight, Asian, black, white, people with disability, people with HIV. Underneath it all we all have souls and we are all human beings.