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 grew up in a little country town in the NSW Hunter Valley. I came from an established family so we’d been in the area a long, long time. I’m related to about 35% of the population which made the coming out process really easy - no one was particularly bothered. So it was just like “Oh yeah that’s Scott, he’s my cousin”. There was always some link to everybody in the town. I’d been there all my life! So when I trotted home with my first boyfriend and brought him back to live in my apartment nobody seemed to blink an eyelid. I was pretty lucky. I’d led a very sheltered life until then.
I have early memories of ‘You show me yours I’ll show you mine’ as early as grade one. I guess consciously I would have been fourteen or fifteen when it really started to become an issue that I needed to sort through. I think the realisation I was gay arose when I developed a crush on the milk tank driver. I didn’t have one of those classic moments where I was like “Oh God, I can’t possibly be”. It was never really a struggle for me. I had a very loving and supportive family. If I really wanted to discuss something I never felt like I couldn’t. So I quite openly talked about it with my family at the time, not necessarily with my parents, but other members of my family. So I was kind of blessed. For a lot of people growing up in country towns, especially small country towns, it’s a struggle.
I got teased a little bit in school but I wouldn’t say a great deal. I was such an over-achiever academically that I was respected on a different level. I liked to push myself as far as I could. I was also involved with the musical society at the school as well as the country musical society. I was mixing with people where sexuality didn’t matter. I’ve always considered myself really blessed because I didn’t have those tortured tragic teenage years that so many people have to go through.
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When I went to uni I got a part time job at a service station in the neighbouring town. It was a serviced petrol station where someone would come out and put petrol in the car for you. It was a very butch job. I changed tyres, checked the oil etc and I can still do all those things; but I don’t though.
One day this car pulled up with a gay couple in it who I knew had moved into a house down the road. One was a chef whose parents had bought a hotel in the vineyards. So they pulled up to fill up the car with petrol and I didn’t think much of it. I thought one was cute. Later that same day one came back by himself and started chatting me up. I was flattered but not interested. He then obviously went home and told his boyfriend what he had done because the next day I had the other one come around and chat me up. A week later they broke up, and another week later I was dating the one I thought was attractive. I was twenty at the time and I took him to my 21st for all my relatives to meet. We were living together within three weeks and stayed together for six years.
I wasn’t looking for a relationship and I’d had sexually tense relationships with other boys in that high school romance kind of way, but he was my first boyfriend. It happened really quickly and really unexpectedly. I was completely head over heals in love (as you are when you’re twenty years of age). He was probably a really good first boyfriend to have. He’d grown up in Sydney, he’d had a lot of experience, he was well educated, and he knew a lot of things and that’s where I started to get my education. So the choices we made were responsible choices so I guess I’d kind of thank him for that.
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There was no real sex education where I grew up. In the country it’s about getting older, getting married and having children who can start working on the farm. Clearly that wasn’t going to happen for me. So the mechanics of gay sex and safe sex weren’t taught at all in school. I started high school just as HIV was starting to be really known publicly. They were finding a name for it and understanding what the disease was about. So my boyfriend had been part of the Sydney scene and had seen friends get ill and was aware of the issues. So it was on with the condom from night one. It was very different from the mutual masturbation or the suck and go stuff I’d experienced growing up. Sex education
Penetrative sex was an amazing experience! I remember it vividly and I’m grateful that it was done correctly from the start. I was very naive and anything could have happened. I really wasn’t aware of what I was getting myself into and there are people that I’ve spoken to since whose experiences were nowhere near as nice or respectful.
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I didn’t really come up for air until six or eight months into the relationship because every experience was a new experience. I lost an enormous amount of weight. Love does wonders for your waistline. I was also studying which was very important to me, so I had a few things on my plate. It was difficult to maintain a level head. It was that whole giddy first love kind of thing. He was three years older, charming, blonde and six feet tall. I didn’t really understand where I was at until a good 6-8 months into the relationship when I had finished uni and had had a chance to have a break and go “Wow look at what’s just happened to me”.
There were some tensions around that period between me and my parents. In an effort to give them space and let them come to terms with everything I stopped communicating with them. Whilst simultaneously they were trying to give me space to grow into my new relationship. So we stopped communicating altogether. Then we realised that we weren’t talking to each other anymore and went “Oh I miss you” and so we made an effort to sort out new lines of communication.
I had some close friends who were staying stuff like “We haven’t seen much of you and when we do see you you’re different”. In hindsight I think that happens with anybody who falls head over heals. You do withdraw from your normal social circle and there are significant personality changes. I’m ok with that, but the realisation of exactly what had happened and the relationship I was in was fairly astounding. You spend all those years thinking “I’d really like to, I’d really like to” but I was in a town where I was related to almost everybody. It’s not like I’m going to come home with someone from my town. Chances are they’d be my cousin or some other relative. So I’d met who I thought at the time was the man of my dreams and for quite some time we were very happy. It was almost a bit fairy tale-ish, but the fairy tale wasn’t all silver linings.
About a year into the relationship I came home and noticed something was wrong. Something didn’t feel right. So I talked to my boyfriend and got it out of him that he’d been having an affair with his ex.
He was a chef and he was working nights and I was a writer so we only got to see each other on his days off. He would leave the restaurant at about 2 in the morning and he’d meet his ex somewhere and they’d have sex in the car before he came home to me. It was a bit hard to cope with but we managed to get through that.
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So my attitude had changed significantly. I was like “Well fuck you, if it’s good enough for you to screw around, why should I be missing out on experiences?”
I started going to a beat I knew of in town. This was a bit of a risk because if I wasn’t related to them I would probably know them through work or socially.
One time I realised that somebody who I had interviewed that day was on the other side of the glory hole. That was interesting, considering he had a wife and three kids. I did that for a little while and then I met somebody. GAMMA
The town also has an army base, so I met this guy who’s father was in the army, and I had a full on affair with him. He was a gorgeous boy, but I’m a fairly honest person at heart so I couldn’t go through that without telling my partner. I guess I felt that since my boyfriend had been honest about what he had done it was only fair that I do the same. So I did... What transpired though was a black eye and a bloody nose for me, a broken phone and several other smashed pieces of furniture and crockery. Then he had a nervous breakdown as a result of that, and at the same time so did my boss. Coincidently they were placed in the same hospital in adjoining wards, which was fucking creepy. I had to schedule my visits so I didn’t see my boss and I was only allowed to go to certain parts of the hospital. I didn’t know it was my boss at the time it was only after everything had panned out that I found out who it was. That was about four years into the relationship and it was fairly confronting for me and the relationship changed significantly from that point onwards. We stayed together believe it or not although there was a lot of counselling. Same sex domestic violence
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So he came out of hospital and changed jobs. He decided to stop being a chef and to get a day job because I had a day job. I couldn’t cope, seeing him every night of the week for three months drove me insane. It was too hard for me, so I switched to the afternoon shift, which was 3pm – 11pm. The relationship was essentially over but I just couldn’t end it. We’d been together so long and I’d become financially invested in the relationship. I was the chief salary earner and everything was financed by me because cheffing pays like shit! I had worked my way up in the company I was in and I was earning a very good salary. So I made the decision at that point and I started squirreling money away and building a network of people to give me the strength to break the relationship off. That took two years! Two years of hell, but I learnt a lot of lessons, I learnt to become much more self sufficient. At the time, as a result of the whole first love thing I was totally emotionally dependant on him. So I learnt to be emotionally independent. I learnt that my friends could be my friends and he could have his friends and that was okay. I started exerting some independence. He wasn’t a social person and there is a gay bar down the road in Newcastle. So I would go there with my colleagues because I was spreading my wings. I had come out and fallen in love straight away and I’d seen nothing of the world other than him and one affair. The thing that finally broke us up was Kylie Minogue!
I’m a Kylie fanatic! I adore Kylie. Kylie is everything to me, so as part of this independence process I had decided I really wanted to go to Mardi Gras. He didn’t want to as he’d done it all before so he was like “It’s not that much fun. You’re not going to enjoy yourself”. So we didn’t go and of course in the papers the next day who had performed at Mardi Gras? La Minogue.
I sat him down and said “Look I’m not particularly happy. I haven’t been happy for a long time and after this I just don’t see any future for us anymore”. So Kylie Minogue is the reason my first boyfriend and I broke up after six years together. I’d pretty much choose Kylie over anyone, well not my current boyfriend of course, but I chose her over everything else at the time. I have a lot to be grateful to Kylie for, in hindsight it wasn’t a good relationship for me. I certainly shouldn’t have stayed after the first violent attack which damaged my sense of self worth and my self-esteem. However, I also drew a great deal of strength from that further down the track. It took a long time for me to come to terms with the fact that I’d been a victim, that I’d allowed myself to become a statistic. I’d always considered myself to be a stronger person then that and I guess I had to deal with the fact that I wasn’t.
I think I only lost two friends over the break up and they were the only other gay couple we knew at the time. They had helped him move his stuff out. I got home from work one night and the house was empty and they were the ones who had helped him get it all out. Everything but the fridge the dining room table, the spare bed and my CD collection – Kylie is still intact!
One friend in particular, a lesbian I had worked with very briefly, was really incredible. We’re still really good friends and I owe a lot to her. She helped me to see that I shouldn’t be defining my self worth by the failure of my relationship and my failure to stand up for myself in a situation where I thought I’d be stronger then what I was. I will always be very grateful for her doing that for me.
We’re still friends and it’s been 12 years since we split up. We still see each other occasionally. I went to his 40th birthday party and because it was a Kylie theme I did the music for him, but we really don’t play nicely together. He is extraordinarily jealous of the relationship I now have. We still have a lot of shared friends so we can’t avoid each other, I just sort of smile sweetly say hello and then move on and find someone else to talk to.
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So after we broke up I stayed in the house and I went and bought new furniture. Fortunately I had been saving so the first thing I bought was a stereo. The second thing I bought was a new bed and then I went out and I got myself a bit of trade and had a bit of fun, all in the one weekend! I woke up that Sunday morning and I’ve got trade in the bed next to me and my ex boyfriend in the car asleep out the front of the house, waiting to see who came out. Talk about confrontational. So I moved him along. I decided it was going to be untenable for the future. There were issues at play there that were much bigger then me. So I decided to start looking for a position in Sydney. At that stage I was almost 26 and I’d lived in the country all my life, and I thought let’s see what it’s like in the big smoke. So I got a job with News Limited in Sydney and I packed up and moved.
Wow! What a world! I rented a spare room from a friend of mine in Parramatta for 2 weeks and then in the third week I moved to Newtown. I was one of four gay people sharing a terrace, the oldest of whom was a 40-year-old lesbian whom I learnt a lot from. She was very much the den mother taking care of her boys. She used to sit up and wait for us to come home and make sure we were okay which was nice. The night I moved in we all went down to the Newtown Hotel.
I don’t remember coming home and I don’t remember the boy’s name, but it was the start of a really incredible growing experience for me sexually.
It was like learning stuff all over again. I was in a position now where I had to actively negotiate sex for the first time in my life and I wasn’t really prepared for that.
My knowledge of safe sex practices was very limited when I first came out. Initially I learnt it all from my first lover, but Sydney’s hectic scene taught me a lot. I found out very quickly that if I didn’t expressly point out my expectation they weren’t necessarily going to be safe. I had to go “Where is the condom? Where is the lube? No you can’t do that. No I’m not happy with that.” It happened five or six times where I was like ‘Are they or aren’t they going to use protection?’ I learnt to have condoms and lube in plain view of my bed and would automatically reach for them as things developed. That took a little while to learn because I was completely sexually naive. Fortunately I figured it out reasonably quickly but it took time to build up the confidence to ask for a condom - especially in the throes of passion.
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My current partner is a country boy, he grew up two hours north of where I grew up. I met him at a lesbian bar in Newcastle. He was one of the two other men in the bar, my brother was the other. My brother’s wife was 8½ months pregnant and she wanted to go somewhere where she would feel comfortable. So we were out at a lesbian bar dancing up a storm. I was dancing with my brother when I looked across the bar and saw this man and thought ‘God, you’re gorgeous!’ So I marched up and offered to buy him a drink, he said no. However, it turned out that the people he was there with were also people I knew so we ended up on the same table together. We started chatting and quickly established that the other man in the room was my brother, the pregnant lady was his wife and we weren’t having some kind of strange three-way relationship. So after establishing I was free, we went somewhere for a quiet drink before he went back to Tamworth.
We stayed in touch on the phone for the next three weeks until I drove all the way to Tamworth to see him. I did that every weekend for the next three months until he got a job in Newcastle. Thank God! Because a one and a half hour drive is much better then 6 hours. So I then drove to Newcastle every weekend to see him and nine months later he scored a job in Sydney and moved into the share house with me until we could find somewhere to live on our own. We have been together ever since. Not without its problems of course, but life is never hassle free. I strongly believe had I not been through the experiences I’d been through prior, I wouldn’t have been ready for the kind of relationship that I discovered. I went from being the student to the teacher and certainly I think, from his perspective, my past experiences were essential. He was married but had left his wife before we met, and was very inexperienced. I’m pleased I learnt the lessons I did because I think it is part of what helped us form the incredible bond we still have today.
He is an amazingly patient man. I’m a work-a-holic and a Kylie-a-holic and he is neither of those things. I love him more today than I did yesterday and the day before that and the day before that …. We went through the whole gamete of stuff that you go through in those first few years. We discovered serious partying together about two or three years into our relationship. We hit the scene in a big way; Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday nights. Up until then it had been a completely monogamous and fantastic relationship.
Then we started experimenting with group sex. Everyone else seemed to be giving it a go. We’re an attractive couple and we get a lot of interest when we’re out, so we thought ‘Why not see what it’s all about?’ So for about 6 months we went through this period where we were having regular threesomes or foursomes or moresomes. We were chemically affected at the time and not making good decisions. We were very lax. We’d forgotten the basics. So I can empathise and understand why people fall into that party and play trap and break up two weeks later and have to go and have an HIV check. It is so easy to just not bother, but it’s not wise. I remember one of the people we had a threesome with may have quite possibly been HIV positive. So we were like “Oh shit” and cursing ourselves. We went straight to the Albion St clinic and onto PEP which is still the single most hideous experience of my life.
PEP made me so sick. By this time I was editing a major paper in Western Sydney so I had a fairly high pressure job and I was sick as a dog. I had nausea, vomiting constantly and I still had to work. The most humiliating thing was having to tell a co-worker what was going on in case I ended up so sick I couldn’t work. I had an awful reaction to the drugs. That was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It really shook us up. It's part of the reason why I accepted a transfer to Melbourne. I wanted to take us away from that scene because it was destructive and dangerous. I didn’t want to be that person. I’d always prided myself on being a person in control and who was always going to make good choices.
I met and slept with so many different guys who were doing things sexually that I’d never even heard of. Clearly, the six years that I’d spent in a relationship my sex life was basic, to say the least. It was an extraordinarily dangerous time. I can’t say that I was always perfect because you do discover things that are linked to the scene such as drugs, which of course affects your ability to make clear decisions. So when you’re already like a kid in a candy shop it can be quite confronting. It was almost like being out on the town for the very first time again. This went on for about 18 months until I fell in love with the most wonderful man who I am still together with now. We celebrated our 11th anniversary in April 2010.
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It was really difficult to get out of that cycle because all our friends were from the scene and we’d all been doing the same sorts of things. We were all in the same age bracket and at the same stage of life. It was very difficult to break free. So that’s why we made a geographical change. We’d never been to Melbourne and only knew one person there. By moving, there was no scene expectation. I still credit that move as saving our relationship. I don’t think we would have made it through that period had we not relocated to Melbourne. We woke up one morning and were like “What have we done? What are we doing? Why are we doing this? What might we have just done to ourselves?” For us that was a pretty scary realisation; that we may have just put our lives in danger, which was not something I ever thought I would do.
So the group sex stopped, the scene left us behind, we still went out occasionally but we looked at including other forms of fun in our lives which turned out to be much more fulfilling. Some of the best friendships we have as a partnership stem from that period of our lives. We met two of our closest friends in Melbourne. We love them like we love each other. Had I been in the state I was in prior to meeting them, then that would not be the case today. The relationships we started to have with people after we stopped engaging in the scene became deeper, more complicated, intense and fulfilling. My best friend and I have always been close but the move to Melbourne really cemented my relationship with her. The lesson was a valuable but risky one – that I don’t regret. I’m pretty lucky that I’m not a statistic as a result of our previous lifestyle, because we were both reckless and careless. I am really pleased I was able to pull it up and stop being that person because I don’t think I would have liked the person I became.
We came back to Sydney because my husband wasn’t very happy in Melbourne. We love Melbourne as a city but we both hated the jobs we went to. I was very, very unhappy and it was affecting our relationship. So he said “Look get a new job but get a job in Sydney, I’d really like to go back home”. We’d made some friends in Melbourne but it’s really hard, Melburnians don’t like Sydneysiders very much and I don’t understand why. You can’t compare Sydney to Melbourne, I don’t think it’s fair. They are completely different cities with very different populations. The worst thing you can do is judge one against the other, what you should do is enjoy them both for what they are because they both have incredible things to offer.
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So nowadays I don’t go out as much anymore, I’m fast approaching forty. I work in the community so I get to see all it’s facets from a different perspective. So the party scene doesn’t quite light my fire the same way. I still enjoy a night out... but not every night. Moderation is the key. I much prefer to be sitting around with friends conversing and having just as good a time. However if there’s a new Kylie song out I gotta go to a club and swish my ass to that. Occasionally I will see people from the past still doing the same thing they were 5, 6, 7 years ago. There’s no development, no growth, they’re lost in that scene and I’m concerned for them for that because I know how difficult it is to break that pattern.
I think everybody should be expected to share their experiences and their understandings with others. If you don’t pass information down the line how can people learn from other people’s experiences? By sharing your experiences it might help somebody else understand from a different perspective.
Scott was born in a small town in Hunter Valley.
Scott moved to Sydney when he was 26, and he now resides with his boyfriend.
Scott and his boyfriend moved to Melbourne for a few years.