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 was born in a small tourist town in Maine. It was nestled in a very beautiful national park. I never knew how beautiful the place I grew up in was until I actually left and saw the rest of the world and realised I was very lucky. I had a wonderful childhood, I had very supportive friends and family but I never confronted the fact that I was gay when I was there. I’m sure it was obvious to a lot of people based on the TV shows that I watched and the things I was obsessed with. I loved ABBA, I thought that was a dead giveaway.
I remember growing up, I definitely thought about my sexuality. When I was about six, a boy held me down in the playground and I actually didn’t mind it so I knew something was going on inside. When I was about 12 years old I went into my parent’s attic and they had all these old books, this was my most vivid memory I have about my sexuality as a child; I had found this book on psychology and I looked up homosexuality and immediately tried to find out what the cure was. That was my first thought, ‘what is the cure for homosexuality?’ This was an old book from the 50’s or 60’s so it talked about how you could go to a psychologist and I kept thinking that someday when I can afford it, I’m going to go and get rid of this.
It’s strange because we weren’t a very religious family or anything, a lot of my friends who grew up in the south were particularly told how bad homosexuality was but I didn’t have that experience. My parents never overtly taught me that it was bad, it was just from a cultural perspective, watching telly, you knew that it wasn’t accepted.
I wanted to be a writer and that is what I’ve done my whole life. I say to this day that I was so scared of confronting my sexuality that I focused on writing and ended up becoming a successful writer very young, writing for television and all of that. I knew that becoming a success would make my parents really proud whereas coming out as a gay man wouldn’t – in my mind anyway. This also comes from my grandmother, my father’s mother, whom I absolutely adored and worshiped; she was giving the limp wrist when she knew somebody was gay. The limp wrist action is this thing they do in America when they know someone is gay and their wrist goes limp and their fingers point down. So I remember thinking, ‘well if she doesn’t think it’s right, then I certainly shouldn’t think it is!’
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It wasn’t until I moved to New York City when I was 18 for college that I was faced with a thriving gay community. This was the time when the AIDS epidemic of the 80’s was happening and it was very frightening because at that point we didn’t have all the information. So that cocooned me even more in terms of facing my sexuality and coming out because I was so afraid of what was happening in the big cities.
NYU is in Greenwich Village which at the time was the heart of the gay scene.
I would walk by these bars and glance in but not look for too long because I didn’t want anybody looking at me thinking that I was staring into a gay bar!
Yet I never entered a bar during the entire time I was there, because I was so focused on my work and my studies and I just kept pushing that out. Plus everywhere you went there were signs warning you about the AIDS crisis. There was this fear in me that made me never want to act upon those feelings. It wasn’t until I moved to California before I acted upon any feelings. New York was great for me in terms of being exposed to the gay culture that I had longed to explore. Even if I wasn’t sexually experiencing it, I was within it and it really made it easier for me. I think California was far more instrumental for me.
I actually had my first sexual experience with this girl in college when I was 19. She was very catholic, so I was surprised. She said, “I want to have sex with you,” and I remember that this was my way to prove that I could have sex with a girl, so I was all for it. I ran back to my roommate in my dorm room and asked, “got any condoms? I’m going to have sex!”He was this big African American guy and he had been with all the girls, so he tossed me a condom and I went down to her room and I remember getting through it. All these things happened – I didn’t ejaculate, I didn’t get the condom on and her roommate walked in at one point! The next day, I go into the cafeteria and I see all her friends sitting there but not her. I asked where she is, they say, “oh, didn’t you hear? She’s in the hospital, she had an appendicitis attack over night.” I thought to myself, I’m too strong, I put her in hospital, I can’t sleep with girls anymore. I felt terrible and I sent flowers to the hospital. Of course I had nothing to do with it, it was just bad timing but I thought it was a sign from the universe that I shouldn't be sleeping with women.
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I remember this horrible story, I still feel bad about it. – there was this gay organisation at school and even though it was much more accepted in New York than the rest of the country I wouldn’t even dream of attending any meetings. I just partied a lot with my roommates. I had tons of friends and there was this girl from Greece and I liked her, we hung out all the time. This one time I must have said something or acted in some camp way and she looked at me and said, “oh my God, I didn’t know.” This was in front of everybody in the room and I go, “didn’t know what?” She says, “I didn’t know you were, you know, gay!” I never spoke to her again. I ignored her and I went on and I never spoke to her again, I was so afraid.
There was a similar situation when I was hired to write for a show called Golden Girls. At the company in New York where I was working before moving to California to start my writing career, the wife of the CEO was a great woman and a big drinker. At my going away party she goes, “Rick, when you move to California, where are you going to live?” I said, “Oh, I don’t know, I’ve only been there once,” and she said, “I think you should live in West Hollywood, because that’s where all the gays live.” Again, it was one of those awful moments.
The whole issue with coming out was that I was afraid of rejection, I was afraid of losing my friends, I was afraid of all the things I enjoyed.I had a great life – I just wasn’t having sex. For some reason, I thought I wanted to focus on my career path and I wanted to be an accomplished writer. Little did I know, once I got to California, half the people I worked with were gay.
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It was a lot easier once I got to California. Part of me knew that my creativity, as a writer, was somehow connected to my sexuality and my cultural experiences. I used my gayness to get ahead in my career in Hollywood, because everyone wanted the smart funny gay to write for them. The irony was I was burying it when I was trying to get into the business and once I got in, everyone knew. I had a straight writing partner and everyone knew me as the gay writing partner – I used it, I almost flaunted it.
After I had moved to LA, I was making new friends and met so many women who were trying to introduce me to their gay friends. They were trying to get me into that world because they knew I was just wallowing in a way. I had a friend who I had known in New York and also moved to LA who would always try to get me drunk to admit it so that she could fix me up with somebody.
I wasn’t even admitting it to my closest friends and honestly, it was my mother who was the first person to actually come out and ask me. When she asked I wasn’t fully ready so I said I was bi-sexual. You always take the half step. She said, “okay,” and we went and had some Italian food. She’s not like P-flag or anything but she’s been very good.It’s been in her face a long time because my first novels were all gay and my hometown did a huge spread in the local paper. Even with the very gay show I do now – I don’t think she ever expected it to be as popular as it is, so now when I get recognised it just boggles her mind.
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I was about 27 when I came out and I jumped right into a relationship because I thought that’s just what you’re supposed to do. Although, four years is the longest I’ve been in a relationship. I long ago became comfortable with the fact that I loved being by myself. I love my friends, I love sex, I love all of it, but I think I’ve kind of carved out this life for myself where I’m extremely happy. I think it’s wonderful we’re all heading in that direction, especially with gay marriage in the States, but I don’t think it’s something for me. I applaud, support and do whatever I can do to make it happen though.
So as soon as I came out I got together with my first boyfriend and boom, we were living together within the first few months of meeting him. My first sexual experience with a man was with him. We had gone on a couple of dates and then he invited me over to his apartment for dinner, he was a damn good gourmet cook, which is why my mother loved him so much. It’s always the way, through the stomach! After dinner, I knew it was coming and I was so scared. This was our third date, we were at his apartment, he cooked me dinner and in the back of my mind I was thinking, ‘I’m going to have sex tonight, I’m having my first real experience.’
He was very good looking and I was automatically very suspicious because this guy is too good looking, why is he with me?
He started making the moves and I remember I started shaking because I was so nervous about whether I was going to do it right.
He told me later, that’s the moment he fell in love with me, because he saw such vulnerability. He had been so experienced because he was with an older man when he was 16. He taught me a lot in that first relationship even though he was only two years older than me.
I had never experienced anything beyond my experiences with him. I just thought the whole monogamous relationship thing was what you were meant to do. I saw so many gay couples around me too. I reached my thirties and realised I hadn’t experienced anything yet.
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After my first boyfriend I had several hook-ups but only one other monogamous relationship. Well it was monogamous on my part, not his. He was based out of New York and he was a lot of fun. He showed me a lot of new things and I was a little bit smitten. We’re still good friends today. Other than that, there wasn’t much else. I think sex is great and I have wonderful times with people that I know I’m never going to be in a relationship with, who sexually hit upon all my fantasies and some of them are in relationships themselves.
There’s one right now that I’m not smitten with but I would say I’m sexually smitten with him. He’s with a partner whom I adore and knows about it - they have an open relationship. I only sleep with one of them and I’ve never been happier, at least sexually. It’s funny how different couples have a different take on their relationship, it’s interesting. My friends who have been together the longest have an open relationship. If you have the rules down and are on the same page, you can make it work.
For myself, because I’m predominantly single, I want to connect with somebody and have a conversation. Out of the guys I’ve hooked up with, the most satisfying ones I am still friends with. I travel a lot, that’s my passion, so most men I meet are on the road like in England or Spain. I know they are not marriage material, but they are friendship material and so I can see why couples want anonymity when it comes to these hook-ups, but for me it’s not as enjoyable. I’ve tried that on occasion and it’s been okay, but I like a connection.
Somebody asked me the other night when I was in Sydney, “you must get lots of sex now because everybody knows you, they all come running up at the bars?” It’s actually inhibited me in a way. There’s a little voice inside your head and you can hear somebody go, ‘oh that guy from the show is hitting on me,’ or whatever. So I actually don’t make the first move. At this advanced age, I’m still very shy around men that I’m attracted to or men I want to sleep with. Nine times out of ten they have to make the first move. I’m still wondering, ‘is he really interested?’ I don’t know if it’s the fear of rejection. You know, I get rejected in my professional life every day, I’m used to that, but I guess sexuality and acceptance is a little different than professional. It’s personal and I know I have my own issues with my body and my weight.I guess everybody is like that, some days I’d walk into a bar and I’m feeling really good and other days I just want to be in the corner or not there at all.
I have this crazy story from last Summer. I can’t believe I’m going to tell people this! Last Summer we were invited on a cruise to Europe for the show and we went to Italy, France and Germany. My friends and I decided that we wanted to go to Tel Aviv, so we met up there. We were out one night and this guy came up to me, he recognised me from the show and he was really cute, much younger Israeli guy. He goes, “let’s go swimming at the gay beach.” It was a beautiful Mediterranean beach and as we were walking down he says we can go nude but I’m like, “it’s a public beach!” He says nobody cares. I was looking around and it wasn’t a gay beach, it was a religious beach. There were all these Hasidic Jewish men, you know with the curls and they were all hovered around this beach. I was like, “we can’t swim here!” He says, “after dark, it’s practically a gay beach, nobody cares.”
So we go swimming out nude into the Mediterranean and I’m telling you, it’s the most romantic setting with the moon and the weather was perfect. He starts kissing me and the waves are washing over us, it was like that movie From Here to Eternity. I look up and this man is on the water’s edge and I said, “what is he doing?” The guys I was with responds saying, “he’s jerking off watching us.” This Hasidic Jewish man! Then one swam by us just staring at us because they’re all closeted gays. They were watching us and they were getting excited. I’ve never done it in front of an audience. After that I said, “we have to go back to my room and finish, because I can’t have these guys with curly hair watching me.” He said this happens all the time.
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I’m very envious of the young people today, especially in my own country. There is still a lot of prejudice, hatred and violence, but I applaud the movement and the forerunners that really fought to make this happen. The acceptance now is so wonderful. What I’m doing now is actually reaching places, because of the internet and having an effect on people. Our show is not the typical gay show, it speaks to an audience that aren’t always accepted by the gay community, people who aren’t the perfect bodies. So much of the gay culture has reflected that and so when I get emails from people from small towns who can see this world it’s very touching. I hear people say, “I wish I was friends with you, I wish I lived where you live.” That’s really moving and I think growing up in a small town, it resonates with me far more because I was that kid. My little home town now was the first town in the United States to pass a gay rights ordinance because it was a tourist town and they wanted the gay dollar. It’s a very liberal state and my town is very liberal, but back then of course, it was a different time.
I know even here in Australia and other countries, there are these hamlets and villages where it’s still a horrible thing and it’s challenging. In the middle east you can see cracks, tiny cracks and they still have so much longer to go. Religion really tends to slow things down. I’ve never been more hopeful at this age for the gay community and where we’re going.
Rick went to college at NYU in New York.