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 fifty one years old; I was born in country Victoria in Bendigo. I have an older sister who’s about 7 years older. She moved out when she was twelve so in many ways I grew up as an only child. We were living in the same house until I was 12, then, as she was 7 years older, she moved to Melbourne. I went to school in Bendigo, both primary and secondary and then started at university in Bendigo too, but then moved to Melbourne when I was 18 to study graphic design at the Caulfield Institute. I had to move as the graphic design course was relatively new up there and it was marginal so I decided to apply for either Swinburne or Caulfield both of which were the best schools of the time. I was accepted into Caulfield so I moved to Melbourne as it would give me better opportunities.
I was quite comfortable going from a country town to Melbourne as I’d been to Melbourne often. I travelled quite a bit as a kid overseas with my parents, they used to take me to Europe and stuff. My brother in law used to race cars so I was always running all over the countryside playing car racing. It was sort of interesting because you’d go back to Bendigo, and Bendigo was very football centric. So on the weekend you’d be mixing with the car racing kids, going for rides in flash cars like Grosser Mercedes’ or you’d be having a run around the block in a Lamborghini - things like that. Then you’d go back to Bendigo and you’d just kind of say “Yeah I had a nice weekend”, because they just didn’t understand. So I sort of had a second life that was fun apart from Bendigo.
I think I’d always been aware that I was attracted to men even in my teens. It’s quite a conservative town, Bendigo. So I just assumed it was one of those thought processes you go through. But it probably wasn’t until I got to Melbourne and was going to university that I really noticed my attraction to men. I noticed that I had a lot more fun going out to gay venues than I did going out to straight venues. So I think it was in my late teens that I really noticed that there was a difference.
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Although I was very excited, it was a little bit difficult coming to Melbourne, because when you come in at 18 everyone’s already built up a circle of friends through school, and it’s very hard to break into a circle. So you have to create your own. I was involved in Citroëns right from the age of 15 when I bought my first Citroën. So I was involved in the car club and it became my entry into the social scene, and I had a big circle of friends of all ages through that and some are still friends. I’ve always had gay friends in the mix, since I moved to Melbourne.
Whilst I was still at university I was also exploring my attraction to men. I had a lot of good friends and we went out dancing but there wasn’t anything terribly serious. I didn’t have any boyfriends as such. I think also because we were fairly young there were a lot of nerves, it was hard to really understand how the gay world worked, unlike now where you’ve got the internet and magazines, so you can look things up and kind of know everything before you even start. Certainly coming from the country there was not a lot of information on anything straight or gay. My sex education as a kid was my mother saying “Oh there’s a book on the bed. You should read it”. That was it! It was about rabbits! Very useful... not!
I’ve had girlfriends too which is really interesting. I’ve got a number of friends who wonder how you could actually go out with a girl if you now identify as gay. But I think back then I wasn’t really sure. It was terrific. I probably had three long term girlfriends, all of which I’ve maintained a really good friendship with.
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I probably met and started dating my first girlfriend at university but I was also busy working long hours. Being in advertising you tend to get swept up in the crowd and you just sort of go to lunch, go to dinner, and just have that sort of fun time in the ‘80’s in advertising where you did everything at about 120%. After uni I wound back and stayed involved in the car club and got busy doing other things so I probably became a little bit asexual. Moving out into the working world I think I lead a bit of a slightly extravagant straight life.
I entered the workforce as a finished artist then art director for advertising agencies. I soon started my own business and it developed to a point where in my 30’s I teamed up with a uni mate and opened an ad agency. We had major accounts such as Holden, Honda, and Amcal chemists Agfa Geveart etc. This went on until I was about forty when I began to feel a little bit burnt out by it all. I was just a bit over being in Melbourne, the corporate life and the pressures of running an ad agency and so every weekend for three years I was running up to Daylesford. So I bought a property up in Daylesford in ‘97 and I just decided one Christmas that I didn’t really want to come back to Melbourne. So I sold my half of the business and ran away. I’d always loved the area so after I bought the property I just decided that with the internet coming in I could run my business from there. I realised I didn’t have to be in Melbourne. I think in advertising there are a lot of people who hit forty and go and buy apple orchards and just have a break.
It just isn’t working
In terms of being straight I started realising in my early thirties that it wasn’t working for me. It wasn’t really happening with women and it wasn’t doing anything for me.
I wasn’t on the chase to find anyone. I didn’t really go out to a lot of gay nightclubs at that point. There was a period of about three or four years where I just didn’t do anything. I knew I wasn’t happy with girls but I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with boys. I had thought about it and decided to keep an open mind. If the right person came along then that would make me jump.
When I moved up to Daylesford I was introduced to someone up there who I’ve had an eight year relationship with, but I left that relationship 18 months ago. There’s not a lot of choice when it comes to resident single gay men in Daylesford. You do find there’s a lot of ex party people from Melbourne who go up there and settle down, have a picket fence and grow a few roses and become in many ways very, very straight. However, there are a very small handful of single men up there who are eager and on the alert shall we say.
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I had never really discussed it with my parents because it was never raised, sex at all was never raised. So I actually phoned PFLAG and said “How should I approach this? My parents are a little bit older generation” and their advice was basically to do what I was doing and let them ask the question. So I actually lived with my partner at the time in a house that only had one bedroom and it was a year and a half before they asked the question “What sort of relationship are you having?” They used to visit all the time so when they asked that I said “Let’s go for coffee”. I sat down with them and explained it and they said “Well that’s fine as long as you’re happy, but don’t mention it to the extended family”. I was expecting this as PFLAG had explained that it’s one thing to come out but then your parents virtually have to come out again to their family. So its best to let them do it at their own pace and quite frankly all the family had worked it out anyway. I think this strategy worked really well.
It’s a bloke
So it wasn’t really a stressful moment for me, it was on my mind, but I guess it’s one of those things where the thought is worse then the reality. I knew my parents were usually supportive of decisions I’d made in the past and I had a gut feeling they’d still support me. It was certainly something different to what they had expected but I had also not shielded them from any of my gay friends. So a lot of my friends they knew and really liked so they’d had a very positive experience with gay people leading up to me coming out. I’d also never modified my behaviour at all in front of them although I have to say my parents aren’t publicly affectionate people so one wouldn’t hug and kiss in front of them anyway because they wouldn’t do it. They’re very sort of Church of England straight down the line.
I told my friends when I hooked up with the guy “Look I’m seeing someone new and for something a little bit different it’s a bloke!” and they went “Great! We always thought there was a good chance you were gay”. So nobody had any dramas and in fact I have a running joke with one of my old girlfriends who’s now in Queensland and I told her that she’s the one that turned me gay. From my perspective if people get really upset about you being gay you’ve really got to question why you’ve got people like that as friends. I think also if you are relaxed about it then people will be relaxed about it. If you’re screwed up in a little ball there’s a lot of tension there, and that rubs off onto people, and so you might let that information out at the wrong time and upset people. I think you should try to relax and do it at your pace and answer any questions they ask honestly.
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So my partner and I were living together in Daylesford and he was another country person as well but from farther out in Victoria. He’s a lovely guy but there were a couple of issues. I could see that he wanted to move back to the family farm which was in an area I wasn’t particularly keen on. It’s fine if you like isolation, but I knew that if the relationship was going to continue I would have to compromise and be a housewife in the middle of nowhere and that wasn’t me. We also had a friend who worked for us who committed suicide which really threw my partner into quite a rollercoaster of depression. That was quite difficult to cope with and got to the stage where it was really impacting my ability to earn and function and I didn’t want to get dragged into that.
We had opened a restaurant together in 2002/2003 which we ran for almost four years. My partner was a chef and it was a half hour drive from Daylesford where we lived. The food we served was very simple food but also quite interesting. We got listed by The Age as one of the top three eateries in central Victoria and got the maximum score for the region in the Cheap Eats Guide. It was fun but exhausting.
How do you plan a funeral?
When our employee died I felt it was a bit of a waste. He had a lot of issues he had trouble dealing with. He was really worried he was suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). He was taking stuff for this and stuff for that. But he did not recognise that there are a lot of very bright people in the world who have had ADD. Probably some of the most intelligent people there have ever been, like artists, painters and leaders but he didn’t accept that and I think it got a little bit too much for him. So he was supposed to come to work and he didn’t turn up. It took some time to locate him, but a friend of his worked out where he was and by the time we got there the police had found him. He didn’t have any relatives here so we all got together and planned his funeral. We had his wake at our restaurant and all of his friends around him were amazing and we formed a strong bond just from going through that process together. It was the first funeral I’ve ever actually sat down and planned. How do you plan a funeral? His brother flew in from Scotland as well so there was a lot of stuff to sort out and organize.
I was also running my advertising business at the same time and I was doing about 110 hours a week. I was absolutely beside myself with exhaustion. Everyone thinks you go to the country to wind back but you actually work harder in the country. It was also difficult with my partner’s depression as there were days when he couldn’t get out of bed. So you’d only be given half an hour of warning and so you had to go and grab food and drive 30 kilometres and feed up to 140 people for lunch. So you never quite knew what was going to happen. It was quite a strenuous period and there was a lot of strain on me and the relationship. So we decided to shut down the cafe. I was wanting to actually last that last few months and finish off the year but my partner didn’t want to do it, so by then I just said “Fine lets just give them some warning and go”.
I tried a couple of things over the years to help our relationship but I think we’d both acknowledge now that whilst it was difficult at the time we’re both better off not being together. We still get on quite well and it’s nice I’ve had that pressure taken off me as well. Before I left him I knew there wasn’t anything there and I decided I’d get a circle of friends organised. Because we ran a restaurant for a few years it cut into our social life. So I thought I’ll go out and make some more friends so I actually went onto Recon.com to find some like minded people. Recon is an American based worldwide dating area for people who are into bears, leather, rubber or whatever it is and you can chat online or catch up with them for a drink.
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So from Recon I’ve got really good buddies between 80 and 24 years old from absolutely every walk of life. It’s really interesting, my friends and I were talking about this and saying it can be very difficult as a gay man, you go out there, and there’s this dating thing and you don’t really know what people are into. It’s almost like straight dating in lots of ways, you’ve got to go through all of those games. I’ve currently got a flatmate in Daylesford who’s going through all of that relatively vanilla dating process. But it’s really quite good to have a dating process that everyone knows what you’re into so you know what areas need to be negotiated and not negotiated. All you have to do then is work out if you like the person. You actually get a lot of honesty, people are very upfront, and you can pick the ones that aren’t. Also word gets around in this reasonably tight community.
I think that when you come to sites that are based around fetishes like leather, bondage and rubber and all that sort of stuff you need to negotiate safety limits.
You also need to negotiate the main thing which is safe sex. Some people will say that sex without condoms is negotiable but that’s somewhere I don’t go. It’s either on or it’s not on basically.
I use a philosophy that even if people tell me they are negative I always assume they are positive. Even if they were tested yesterday and that comes up negative, the test does not pick up any infections from the past 6 weeks. Better safe than sorry.
The exit plan gone wrong!
I met a whole lot of people through Recon and actually met my current partner through that. He contacted me and mentioned he was visiting friends in Maldon and he said he might pop in on his way back to Melbourne. So he came over and we were having sex within about 5 minutes and then he went back to Melbourne and we kept in contact. So the next time I was in Melbourne I visited him and we realised there was something more than just sex there. So we saw each other on and off as I was coming to Melbourne once a week for work. So I then made a decision to leave my then partner and pursue a relationship with my current partner.
The exit plan didn’t exactly go the way it should have, but then does it ever? I had lots of friends and lots of support and my ex partner did as well. I didn’t know what his reaction would be because of the depression he’d been suffering but it was OK, all things considered. We get along now. I left our two cats with him and I go round there and feed them I’ve still got a key to the house. I think he doesn’t want to be seen socially out together but I think that’s a matter of time. I think basically there’s a friendship there and I’m happy to go at whatever pace he’s comfortable with. If he decides he can’t handle a friendship then that’s also fine. It’s a two way thing.
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I was given my first piece of leather sort of as a bit of a joke probably 20 years ago and it was given to me by a friend of mine and his partner (who subsequently died of AIDS a couple years later). It was a cock and ball harness and I quite liked it. In fact when I won the title for Mr. Laird I actually talked about that and I said “I’m wearing it now” and then did the big reveal on stage in front of far too many people.
Leather had always been something I’d kept to myself and didn’t really explore with any of my previous partners. I’d played with it by myself and just sort of explored. I’m one of those people who reads up on things to understand them beforehand. For instance if there’s a party I haven’t been to before then I’d ask around a do research on it to find out what’s the right thing to wear and what’s the right way to act etc. So by the time I came out I knew what I liked but my partner who I was with for 8 years wasn’t really into it. We had a couple of goes but it just didn’t work for him which was a bit disappointing but I guess if he’s not into it, he’s not into it.
My current partner is 7 years younger then me and is a lovely and very smart man. He’s also into leather, rubber and bondage so there’s lots of common ground that we enjoy. He’s got some terrific friends and others we’ve met independently through recon. We go to dance parties and we’re both exhibitionists, but occasionally we look at each other and go “It’s not a competition”. We’re not ashamed of us, our bodies, our sex or our fetishes. If you’re with someone who takes it way too seriously then it stops being fun. You have to have a damn good laugh and relax. So we’ll play with people and then the next night we’ll sit on the beach and have dinner with them. There are people who we play with sexually but they’re also really good mates.
The leather competition
It’s interesting going through the leather competition at this stage of my life because I’m on stage, I’m bald, 50 and fat (Well not that fat; a bit rotund) and being confident enough to do that. There are some very attractive people out there and I certainly wasn’t the most attractive. In fact on one of the websites someone actually wrote a comment “If this was a pageant, what was that balding, fat, middle aged man doing up on stage?” I read this and thought ‘you poor bastard.’ It wasn’t a pageant it’s about what people can do in the community and what you put into the community. If you’re not involved in the community and you go over to Chicago you’re eaten alive over there. I was actually half relieved not going to Chicago because it’s a really tough road. I also thought how sad will that be when that person gets middle aged fat and balding (and I assume it was a younger person who made the comment). He’ll be so uncomfortable about his life. Let’s hope he resolves his issues because I know that as a fifty one year old I still feel like I’m 23. I look back and remember the people who I thought were old and decrepit, and who were actually only 36 and 37 and now I’m 50 but I’m so not 50.
The competition itself was absolutely terrifying. It was really stressful. It was 2 days where you had a round of interviews which was the easy bit! The good thing was you met people from all over Australia. We did a day of public speaking training with a coach. In lots of ways it would have been better to have had that a week before because we had spent a month or so writing speeches and she was going through it saying “No you can’t do that. Got to shorten that”, and we were hours away from having to talk in front of 300 people. So that was a bit terrifying. It was quite manic behind the stage and you had to come out and look very calm. When we got to actually do the speeches a third of people froze and the rest of us kind of forgot the speech entirely and then worked our way through it. Some people found it quite difficult, I took it on board as a bit of a performance and if they didn’t like me then I didn’t really give a fuck. So I just went out there and had a bit of fun, and maybe that’s why I came second in the competition. Certainly the catwalk jockstrap section was fun. Everyone was walking down the catwalk and doing the pseudo Bruno waggle. So I just thought ‘Well stuff it’ so I did the catwalk down the end and saw one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in a nuns outfit.
I was wearing a harness, a jockstrap and a lead just for a bit of fun. I gave the lead to the nun and started dancing, and then on the way back did some pole dancing.
Then I stood right in the middle of the town hall and - this bit was pre arranged - I bent over and my partner came out and licked my ass and then we turned around and had a big pash and then I walked back on stage. The crowd reaction was quite vocal as you can imagine.
My partner and I have negotiated not using condoms and we have a very honest relationship. We get tested regularly at the Melbourne Sexual Health Clinic. Any other partners we have it’s absolutely with a condom on. As it’s worked out now we don’t really have sex with other people unless we are both there. It not really a rule but a preference. We actually quite enjoy the both of us having sex with people. We had a situation at the gold edition of Club 80. It was a piss party and I was there barebacking my partner and someone came up and thought ‘Oh there’s someone who likes barebacking’ and he wanted to have sex with him too and I said “No if you want to have sex you’ve got to have a condom on”. We both look out for each other, because there are times where you can’t always see what’s going on so the other person is sort of on guard. We both absolutely trust each other on that.
This is the first open relationship I’ve had which is really interesting because to do it properly you have to be 100% honest and 100% trusting. You need to negotiate through things and talk through situations. So in lots of ways having a true open relationship is actually quite healthy because everything’s on the table. My partner had ended a relationship a year prior to us meeting and he didn’t really want to commit to settling down with one person and it just happened that I came along probably a little bit too early and so we’d go out partying and there would be other people involved because he didn’t want to settle down. So we’ve just carried that through.
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I think my understanding of HIV started over twenty years ago with my friend (who gave me the cock and ball harness) who died. It was in a period where getting HIV was a death sentence.
Some people even thought you could catch it from other people coughing on you. It was all a bit difficult. One of the most interesting things was with the Citroën car club. There were grandmothers and kids in the club and everyone knew that he was quite sick. It was to the point where some of the last events he went to he had to be fed through a tube, and he’d try some food even though he knew it’d make him throw up. Whilst it was in a time where people didn’t talk about HIV because they got scared they might catch it, everyone was incredibly supportive. I was really inspired by how accepting people can be if they presented with a human face of the disease, not just all the crap that was flying around at the time. I used to talk to him quite a bit about safe sex and that stuff. So I think that was an interesting period because that formulated my interest in promoting safe sex and helping people who are going through problems with HIV and AIDS, and my partner and I have friends who’ve currently got HIV.
Certainly for me, I’m an insulin injecting diabetic and there are lots of other issues if I became positive. If diabetics don’t control their condition properly they can have kidney problems and liver problems which would only be compounded if they became positive. So coming from someone who already has a chronic disease I don’t want to get another problem.
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I was involved in the ChillOut festival for a number of years up in Daylesford. I got involved when it was tiny and I brought some commercial reality to it and said “Are you just raising money for the next festival? What are you going to do? Let’s get the community involved. Let’s put money into something.” Rather then putting it into something gay I thought we should put it into something mainstream. We started putting it into the local hospital and ChillOut paid for the gardens to be built there. That started changing the culture and it was great to be part of that. It was great to see it going from a tiny turnover to turning over forty or fifty thousand in a couple of years. The last year I was on the committee and we won an ALSO award for the most popular community event up against big events like Midsummer, so that was nice. This was around 2004 from memory.
I think I was lucky because I came out fairly late so I had a little bit of maturity. I think it’s really difficult for kids who are in high school have to deal with that. I volunteer with a VCAL school in Daylesford which is for kids who can’t really attend a normal high school because of bullying. They may be dealing with issues such as homelessness, coming out, or have family problems. So there’s a school system up in Daylesford that is run from the Neighbourhood House and I help mentor some students there in design and they’re very smart kids. They just can’t fit into the normal school system. So I think that’s important and I also work with a charity as part of the Laird leather man competition called The Alannah and Madelaine Foundation. They run a buddy bear program and fund anti bullying campaigns through primary schools. They teach kids that just because people are a little bit different, you don’t pick on them. They might have issues at home, so maybe look for reasons to be friends with them rather then pick on them. Embrace the differences. Daylesford is very fortunate because it’s a very embracing community, although when I first moved there it wasn’t. We had some problems with the football club and the cricket club and all that, but down the track with the ChillOut festival and everyone’s involvement the sporting clubs are now 100% behind us. It’s now a country town in Victoria where you can walk through holding your same sex partners hand and no one even notices.
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I started mentoring this year. The VCAL School got prominent people in different fields from around Daylesford to come in to talk about what they do. I was asked to come back and follow a project through. So I come in every couple of weeks and help them. They’re designing a logo for their school at the moment. I probably won’t be able to continue this when I move back to Melbourne.
I also think that there’s a lot of good stuff I can do as Mr. Laird at least until July 2010. My partner works in HIV and sexual health so we both advocate safe sexual practices. We’re quite social and on the scene and we without lecturing, sort of make sure everyone’s safe and lead by example. It is possible to have a hell of a lot of fun safely.
I have often thought about becoming a life coach down the track, I guess because I’ve had a somewhat interesting life and had to deal with a lot of issues and it’d be interesting to do that and work with other people. That’s something I’m thinking about for the future. I’m really enjoying the mentoring and the stuff with The Laird, you know - going out and meeting people, talking to people and supporting all the groups. So moving back to Melbourne means I can enjoy being involved in that.
Peter grew up in Bendigo
Peter moved to Melbourne when he was 18 for university
Peter bought a property and moved to Daylesford