About Staying Negative

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.

Picture of Jeff

Jeff

From California, USA

It could remove the stress, stigma & pain for an entire community.

Chapters

This story relates to: Violence, Relationships

1

Coat Hangers

Chapter:

1. Coat Hangers

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I was born in California but moved to Texas when I was five, which was the first time I met my father – when my mother sued him for child support. It was my grandmother who raised me as my mother was working so much.

Baby Jeff - 1969

Leaving my grandmother when we moved to Texas was really traumatic, especially as I suffered a lot abuse from my mother after we moved.

She would use coat hangers, break broom handles on me, and cornered me down hallways with no exit and beat me.

This wasn’t child rearing. She was taking out her emotions and frustrations on me because, for example, I was being beaten for one dirty plate in the sink. (Violence)

Christmas with Oliver Franco - 1971

This went on from five years old until I was 16 and stood up to her. I took the broom out of her hand and said, “You’re not going to hit me anymore.” She told me, “I can’t control you anymore. Get out!”

As an adult, I had tried multiple times to include her in my life, but she's no longer a part of it now. It took a lot of self-realisation work to accept the fact that I don’t like my mother and just because she’s my mother, it doesn’t mean she deserves to be in my life. The last time I saw her was seven years ago and it was a relief when I finally made the decision not to try anymore. We are no longer in contact.

At the beach with my father - 1971

2

Beaten & Battered

Chapter:

2. Beaten & Battered

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When I was in Year 11, I started going to Montrose on the weekend, which was the gay area in Houston. I’d go see the Rocky Horror Picture Show with friends, then go and pick up guys in their pick-up trucks to make some cash.

It was during this time that I got kicked out of home by my mother. I missed a midnight curfew and when I came home, my mother beat me up.

- Wow, I nearly said wife then, instead of mother.

Turning tricks was fun at first and kind of a thrill, but I also saw a lot of hypocrisy because there are these tough-acting southern cowboy ‘straight’ guys, or even some married guys, that were game to play. It got a little dangerous though, as I was beaten up twice whilst doing so.

These guys who are supposedly heterosexual would freak out in the middle of everything and go, ‘What the hell am I doing letting a guy sucking my dick?!’ (Internalised Homophobia)

The second time I got beaten up, it was pretty bad. I looked like a battered wife and I decided to stop turning tricks after that.

After getting kicked out of my mother’s home, I went to stay with my dad and his new wife, my stepmother.

She had the mentality that you should teach people not to be gay, like you teach people not to steal

– that it was a bad thing and you just shouldn’t do it.

When my step-sister came out, my stepmother blamed me for being a bad influence and making her gay too! She thought it had to do with me bringing gay magazines and books into the house.

Rubics cube competition - 1981

I have always been physically attracted to both sexes equally but I decided to identify as gay because my emotional relationships with men seemed so much deeper and meaningful than with women. I’ve got a lot of emotional minefields when it comes to relationships with women and considering my history growing up, I’d have to say that’s not too surprising. (Relationships)

I find there’s a natural language barrier between men and women because they talk about and see the same thing differently. I tend to be emotionally reserved around women and the emotional depth of my relationships with them remain shallow and ultimately unfulfilling.

When I realized this pattern, I started to identify more as gay as opposed to bisexual.

3

Leap & Learn

Chapter:

3. Leap & Learn

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I had met my ex-wife, Jessica, who’s from Australia, at a business seminar in Hawaii - a very beautiful, large-breasted woman who was also a former gymnast and in great shape. I was 27 at the time and she was a bit older than me. Jessica was running the logistics for the whole seminar and we ended up sleeping together on the last night of the event.

After the seminar, she went back to Australia and we kept in touch with a lot of texting, writing letters, emails and phone calls. Within a couple of months, I made the decision to move to Australia even though I’d never been here or met her children or her extended family. She was recently divorced, with two kids, but I figured, ‘I’m either going to be immensely happy, or I’m going to learn a hell of a lot. And either of those two things are a good result.’

I decided to just go ahead and leap.

In the park in Houston - 1983

We got married because it was one of those situations in order for me to stay here, I needed to prove it somehow, so I bought her a ring to prove the intention of getting married so they’d grant me a Temporary Visa.

I was either all in or all out; we either got married if I wanted to stay in the country or go back home again, which was absolutely not what I wanted to do. Although it was a genuine relationship -

I actually couldn’t tell you how I was feeling at the time about marriage because the government took that choice away and made my decision for me.

Turns out – I learnt a hell of a lot.

4

Moved & Married

Chapter:

4. Moved & Married

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Ultimately, Jessica wasn’t looking to start a new relationship; she was looking for someone to fill the missing spot of her husband and father to her children. We lived a block away from him so the children could visit often. We all got along fine, but she wasn’t emotionally available to me.

As with my own issues of moving into deeper emotional territory, it worked out for both of us that the relationship wasn’t progressing.

There weren’t a huge amount of fights or anything, she was just very tense and after about 3 years, the sex broke down too.

The catalyst for the break down was when I got headhunted for a job in Sydney. They were going to pay me nearly three times the amount I was currently making; it meant I could provide for the whole family and even live somewhere nice, close to the city. I could start being successful.

When I was excited and came home to tell Jessica, her response was, ‘well, you can do what you want, but I’m not moving.’ That was the end of it. She never brought spoke about it again.

That’s when I realized, I had sold all my belongings, moved half way across the world for this woman and she wasn’t even willing to consider moving interstate. I was a husband only as long as I lived the way she wanted and did what she wanted.

I tried to address some of these concerns with her, but she didn’t want to go to counselling, she didn’t try to loosen up or change, or want to put any effort into improving the relationship. My confidence was really down from passing up some top professional opportunities and I had a lot of resentment towards her that wasn’t getting resolved. (Self esteem)

We separated a year after that and I’ve never had a relationship with a woman since.

1st time I grew a beard - 1991

5

Australia & Austin

Chapter:

5. Australia & Austin

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After the marriage, I ended up in a three-way relationship -

- with two guys, living in Prahran, which was perfect for a while. The other two, who were together originally, ended up breaking up. I was left with having to choose one, or be with neither of them, and I chose the one that I had gotten closest to. (Relationships)

I had always connected to one better anyway; he had a lot of heart and a lot of passion. It wasn’t just sexual passion, although there was a lot of that – we came together every time we had sex – he had a passion about life that made everything colourful.

In year 2000, we really wanted to adopt, but it’s near impossible for same-sex couples to adopt here, especially back then. We wanted to really have a child of our own and not feel like we were glorified care-takers because of the hurdles here in Australia.

We decided to move back to Austin so that we could adopt there with less constraints and conditions imposed by the state.

He couldn’t work as he was unable to get himself a proper visa, so I was the sole breadwinner for us both and there was some big spending. I think he may have got caught up in the whole American consumerism thing where you buy everything that’s bigger and better than your neighbours and ‘life is perfect’.

I travelled six days a week for work the entire six years we were there, which was really tough but we knew we wanted to adopt kids and start our own family.

6

ADHD

Chapter:

6. ADHD

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We ended up adopting two boys aged five and seven, who were relocated to Austin from a different state. We were told that their mother had just died of an overdose and their father was arrested for something, but we didn’t know what. There was no one left to care for them and that’s how they ended up in the system.

It wasn't until after these kids had been relocated interstate and placed in our care that we were told -

- these two kids had been sexually abused by their father. So when they were put in a home with two father figures, they totally freaked out. (Child sexual abuse)

One of them had attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and they both had gone through such trauma at so young, they were seriously unstable. We had to lock up all our knives and one of them even tried to throw his brother through one of the large glass windows in the front room. Neither of us were equipped to deal with this; we were both new parents and were seriously thrown into the deep end with these kids.

We tried everything with them and all of it reached its peak when we took them shopping one day, which is a task in itself with one kid. We had two kids - one of them with ADHD, trying to control them both in a shopping mall environment with all that stimulation and temptation, parents all trying to give us advice on how we shouldn’t give in or how we should have done this, which resulted in a total breakdown.

In the grocery store, one of the kids had a total meltdown, so my partner picked him up to put him in the car, whilst he was screaming bloody murder. The kid ended up trying to kick the car windows out with his feet.

Some guy even tried to call the police on us because they thought we were abusing the children.

On top of all that, the guy calling the police hears my partner is not from the US, which makes matters worse. We realised that he could end up being deported, we would have to split up because of the situation. The stakes were just too high. Upon arrival back at home, one of the grocery bags broke open -

My partner ended up having a total mental breakdown from all the pressure - battling within himself - walking down the street talking to himself, not knowing where he was.

We just couldn’t do it. We took the kids to a safe house, said our goodbyes, and we had to give them back within the first month.

That was heart breaking.

It was during Easter when the Bluebonnets in Texas are in full bloom. Every time I see pictures of blue bonnets I remember this loss.

Blue bonnets in Texas

7

Facebook Satus

Chapter:

7. Facebook Satus

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One of our other major goals was to buy a house, so we bought a really nice house and worked on fixing it up together. It was a new project to work on together at that point and hopefully move on from the loss of the children. He was still unable to work, for the whole six years we were in the states. He went to school and the tuition rates kept going higher and higher, which made things a lot tighter on us with money.

The build up of everything, especially after the breakdown with the kids, was too much. There were some fights between us, not a huge amount, but he decided one day he was done with school, done with the whole ExPat thing, and done with me. He decided he was done with America and was moving back to Australia without me.

So we started working on shipping all his things over and I bought him a plane ticket back to Australia.

On the day I took him to the airport, he said, “I think I’m making a mistake.”

I said, “Well, it’s a bit late isn’t it! The time to have decided that was before the shipping and plane ticket was paid for. There’s no money for your school tuition now. How about we have a trial separation for some space and see how things work out.”

When he got back to Australia, he changed his mind and wanted to come back to America. It cost so much to ship all his stuff back and pay for his trip that we couldn’t just change our minds because I didn’t have money for his tuition anymore.

I told him, “you can’t. I can’t. We have no money to do that. You’ve made it impossible.”

Within two weeks of getting back to Australia, he started dating another guy -

I found out because he changed his status on Facebook, to single.

His family who had known me for 14 years was asking, “what’s going on with him? He’s made the biggest mistake of his life and he’s freaking out about it.”

We had initially moved to America on his insistence, because he really wanted that for his life, whereas I really wanted to stay in Australia. Six years later, I was left in a house that was decorated the way he wanted, surrounded by his things. I knew I wanted to leave after he left back to Australia, which is what I did, not long after.

When I got back, we tried to give it another go, but I wasn’t trusting him very much at that point anymore. The relationship was pretty much over. We broke up and we tried living together in different bedrooms and two weeks later, I met my current partner. I’ve never looked back.

At first, I thought, ‘oh, this is definitely a rebound situation.’ He was very sweet, caring, attentive, loyal and just the most amazing person. I kept pushing him away for no reason, other than the fact that I had just been through a break up.

I told myself, ‘you have to get over this fear of being in another relationship. He’s a wonderful man, give it a try.’

We have been together ever since, which is seven years now. He’s got a 12 year old girl and nine year old boy who is slightly autistic. We’re their weekend dads every other weekend.

1st date with my current partner and kids - 2011

8

Walking Miracles

Chapter:

8. Walking Miracles

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In my lifetime, I have had my fair share of unprotected sex, so when I first found out about PrEP, I thought it’s stupid for me to not be on it. After all this time, there was finally such thing as PrEP and I was on a salary where I could afford to import it. (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)) Imagine how I’d feel if I had the knowledge of how to get PrEP and I ended up seroconverting. (PreP Access Now)

It made me think back to when the AIDS epidemic was in full swing and I was doing volunteer work, bringing food to patients at an AIDS service in Austin.

Those years felt like I had been through a war or something as I was going to a funeral, and saying goodbye to a close friend every month for about two years.

I had to stop, I couldn’t do it anymore, I didn’t have it in me.

Now I see these people walking around me who are living with HIV and are on medication and are undetectable; they’re like walking miracles. (Living with HIV) These are all the people I had to say good bye to back in ’85. I remember the fun times spent before their seroconversion. Then I remember visiting with them when I brought them food, often knowing it was the last time I’d see them and it was heartbreaking.

9

PrEP Me

Chapter:

9. PrEP Me

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I started taking PrEP and after seven days of taking it, you are essentially protected from HIV. What I didn’t realise, was the psychological difference it would make. At the time, I still had such a stigma towards HIV positive people where I’d think, ‘they’re just not for me.’ Back then, I wouldn’t even consider getting into a relationship with a positive guy.

When you remove the basis for that stigma, all of a sudden, those thoughts don’t have an anchor anymore.

I realised that PrEP could bring such an alleviation of stress, stigma and pain for almost an entire community.

It’s not just an HIV prevention tool - it has the power to majorly impact the course of people’s lives and how they feel about themselves and the community. It’s actually a beautiful thing.

That is why I knew I needed to do everything I could to help people who want to be on PrEP get access to it. (PreP Access Now)It removes the stigma, it’s a real life-changing thing.

As Vinegar Douche - 2017

We need to make PrEP more accessible to everyone, not just gay men who can afford it. There are a lot of splinter groups such as women who want to be proactive with protecting themselves, people in the indigenous community, international students who don’t have access to medicare and whatnot. (PreP Access Now)

I just want to say that if anyone is considering being on PrEP, the best thing you could do is not to hesitate.

Don’t give in to all those hesitations and negative thoughts. Go ahead and try it, because you can always stop taking it if you change your mind. (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)) Many times I’ve heard of people who were contemplating taking it, hesitating and researching forever, then they go in and get tested and find out it’s too late – they’re positive. Quiet your fears and take the step.

Sircuit's employee drag show - 2017

It’s your fear that is holding you back.

Usually, in my life, when I found something I’m afraid of - I’ve ran towards it.

It has served me well and I’ve had quite a lot of adventures because of this mindset. I’m 51 years old now, I’m coming to terms with the fact that I can probably see the majority of my life behind me. I’ve lived it to the fullest extent I could and so far, it’s been one hell of a ride!

Bring on the next 50 years!

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Come and tell us your story! We would love to hear from you! If you want to find out a little more about how it all works, give Jessie a call at VAC on (03) 9865 6700, or email staying.negative@vac.org.au