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 a migrant from China. I’ve been in Australia six years and I’ve adapted very well to living here. I didn't really have a nice childhood or teen life because my mum was really tough on me. My life was always school and homework, that’s it. I didn't have a social life; I didn't have access to the internet and I didn’t have a computer. So my childhood was very plain and I just kept to myself, that’s kind of typical for a Chinese kids. I have lived that way all my life as my mum wanted to control me. But at school I was different. I was a totally different person. I was more outgoing. I’d get along well with all my friends and teachers. I was school captain and I did things which my parents didn’t think I would do. They thought I was such a quiet kid but I’m not; at home I didn't really talk much.
When I was 16 years old I came to Australia. All of a sudden I was in a very different country with a very different culture. But I didn’t find it confronting. I felt like this is where I belonged.
The openness, the freedom, the multicultural thing: I just got it. So I started high school here without much English. I worked very hard. I achieved well, academically, but socially I still wasn’t that active, compared to my life in China. I was still living with my parents while I was a student.
My parents moved here before I did, so in China I lived with my grandparents. My mum came back to take care of me in China when I reached the third grade. So I’ve been living with her on and off. When I came here I lived with my mum and my step-dad and things sometimes got very nasty as I had different values to them. Especially as I grew up here and was exposed to western culture whilst my parents are very traditional Chinese people. So it was sometimes really stressful. My home life was always more difficult than my social life.
I got good marks in school so I thought I’d focus on my social life and making friends. I knew it would be hard because I just arrived as a new kid in Year 10. I didn’t expect to make any deep connections with others who had known each other from Year 7 or even earlier, like primary school. I was also different because my school wasn’t very academic. To me as a traditional Asian kid I was brought up with a very strong attitude of ‘you have to study and do well’. So whilst I did very well academically it sort of alienated me from others. They were respectful towards me. The fortunate thing about my high school was I wasn’t bullied at all, that was a real surprise. I heard other students got bullied and I was in a boys’ school, so I was like wow! It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I just didn’t have many close friends.
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I always knew I was gay. The first time I was introduced to the term ‘gay’ was when I was 16 and I arrived in Australia. The first time I saw the Mardi Gras parade I was so excited about it. My parents and my grandma were with me. We were in Hyde Park on Liverpool Street, Sydney – and the parade was marching down Oxford Street. I was so excited; I wanted to stay the whole night. But my parents were making some negative comments so my instinct was ‘There might be trouble if I say I want to stay and watch’. The whole point was to show my grandma who was visiting, what’s happening in Sydney. But we left after five minutes, I was so disappointed.
Anyway at that time I realised, “Oh shit! That means I’m gay!” I think I always knew because when you’re young, you don’t know what sexual attraction is. I always used to hang around with girls. They called me a playboy because I was so popular and outgoing when I was young. I dated all the girls in my class. I thought that’s just something you’re meant to do, that’s just something a boy should do. But when I think back, there’s one thing I remember clearly: it’s the first time I kissed a boy. I was like six or seven years old, but I still remember that day. It was a sunny day in the school yard, and I kissed this boy full on. I don’t know where I got this idea of how to kiss a person from. How could I know how to French kiss back when I was six or seven years old? Now I think ‘Wow, I should definitely have taken the hint’. But, when you grow up in China, it’s so conservative. You have no idea what gay means. You don’t even know the term.
I never denied it. I never had any emotional trouble over it. I was always confident but it doesn’t mean I would tell other people or say I’m gay. I never told anyone unless they asked or the close friends that I have, they know. Back in high school, people always suspected because the way I act is different. I’m not flamboyant but I’m not a boy’s boy. I don't do nasty things. And I do well academically. I dress well. So people suspected but they didn’t make a fuss about it. They didn’t want to annoy me or anything like that because I was this authority figure in the school.
Funnily, after I graduated, I found out my maths teacher is gay, my principal is a lesbian, my deputy principal is another lesbian. I was like, “Oh hell, what kind of school are you running here?” There was another Chinese student in my year and we were kind of close so I told him I was gay, he was in the process of coming out as well. The first parental figure I told was my maths teacher. We went out to have dinner and chat about me being gay; his intention was to make sure I was okay with who I was. He was amazed I was so confident about my sexuality. We’re still in contact because we have a deeper connection than teacher and student: we’re now friends. Especially after he told me he was gay.
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The first crush I had at university was a straight friend of mine, he was Italian. That’s what actually triggered my coming out process to my friends in my first year. It was a very embarrassing memory but it’s kind of nice. So I had just started university doing pharmacy. It’s very challenging academically but there are not many western kids or white people in the course. I think there was only one Italian guy who happened to be in my circle of friends. So I saw him and felt this attraction to him immediately. It was like ‘Gosh, this guy’s so breathtaking’. So I had this idea that I really wanted to spend time with him but I didn't know if he was gay or straight. He was a good-looking and confident person so it was really hard to tell if he was gay or not. So one afternoon in the library, we were doing an assignment together and we were joking around. I was saying, “Oh, somebody’s got an eye on you”, and it was sort of true because this girl told me she had her eye on him. So I was just joking around. And then he asked, “Who?” And I thought, ‘Damn! I shouldn’t say this because I shouldn’t tell other peoples' secrets.’ So I said, “Oh, no, I’m just joking around.” All my friends were pressuring me asking “Who is it?” I thought, ‘Damn! How can I get out of this?’ Because the person who told me was one of my really close friends. So I joked around and said, “Nobody. It’s just me.” ‘Damn! Why did I say me?’ It was sort of true and I hoped they would realise I was joking.
Then things got a bit hazy because after that I had some personal issues, family trouble and my own personal issues so I wasn’t with my group of friends in university for three weeks, so I disappeared from their eyesight. They thought they had upset me because they thought I was gay but then they didn’t react very well; they just sort of joked around with it, so they felt bad. After the third week, two of my good mates came over to see me while we were walking to university and they were talking to me. They said, “Steve, we know who you are, it’s okay, you don’t have to feel bad about it”. The guy I had a crush on felt really bad because he thought it was him that caused all the trouble. And I said, “Oh my God! It’s not like that. I knew you guys would be fine about it and I never tried to deny it, you guys never asked anyway. I knew you guys would be pretty cool about it. But it’s not the reason I disappeared. It’s because I have some other issues going on.” So for me it was really nice. I never thought coming out would be like that. So that gave me confidence to come out to other people. So when I got back to my circle of friends and my friends asked me, I said, “Yeah, I am gay.” And all my female friends are really interested in my personal life right now. They always ask “Have you seen anyone? Have you found anyone interesting?”
After that day I thought I couldn’t let the guy who felt bad about himself be worried, because he didn’t do anything wrong. So I messaged him. I said, “Can we talk tomorrow at uni? I think we need to talk.” We met up on the oval. And I thought to myself ‘I have to tell him the truth. And it doesn’t matter how embarrassed or how scared I am because I’ve never told a guy I love him before’. I was sweating. I said, “I love you and there’s no shame in it. I don't want to hide it.” And he said, “I’m flattered because you’re such a nice guy.” I said, “I know you’re not gay, but I just can’t help it. So I said “I wish we still could be friends but if you feel uncomfortable about it then let’s see.” But it turns out he was really easy. He took it very well and he even invited me to meet his family and have dinner, and meet up with his sister who studies fashion. So that’s great. We are still good mates. So that’s how my coming out process started.
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I came out, initially to all my friends. The only people I wasn’t out to were my parents, but they sort of knew. I like movies a lot so I was drawn to any new movies, especially gay-themed ones. So when the movie Milk came out, I loved it so much because it is such an inspirational story. So I referred to it in my end of year speech. One day I needed to get my speech for university printed out, so I asked my dad to help me because his company has a very fast printer. So I accidentally gave my university speech to him, on a USB. The movie Milk was also on the USB, but I had forgotten about it being there. So that afternoon I came home and everything seemed normal. Suddenly after dinner my parents called me out to the living room to have a chat with me. That’s when I became alarmed, as every time they wanted to chat with me it was because I did something bad. So we sat in the living room and we began what became a six hour conversation. It wasn’t actually a conversation: it became an interrogation. So my parents were interrogating me, saying, “What’s all this about? You know, those movies, on your USB”. I freaked out because I knew they were so opposed to this idea and they were very traditional. My Dad is still living in a 1960’s Chinese way of thinking. It’s very hard to bend him or convert him, there’s no way I can do that. So at the end of that conversation I wasn’t ready to disclose myself to my parents. It would not be a wise decision at that time as I had just gotten into university. Also I hadn’t sorted myself out yet with all the other things happening in my life. So I didn’t deny it and say, “I’m not gay,” to my parents because I knew that would be lying. I would be lying to myself, lying about my sexuality, plus lying to my parents, I didn’t want to do that. But on another hand I couldn’t say “Yes” because that would be very hard on me whilst living at home. So I didn’t deny it but I did say, “I don't know.” And it was sort of true at that time because I hadn’t had any intimate relationship with a guy before. I told my parents, “I don't know, these things just happen. You really can’t control it.” And my parents really went off the roof. My dad was threatening me, he said, “If you ever turn out to be gay, I will chase you down,” and all sorts of nasty things. I didn’t reply or anything, I was just silent. And my mum was really sad, and my Dad said, “You’re going to die from AIDS or things like that.”
I understand where my mum’s point of view comes from because one of her former partners turned out to be gay in China and she found out, so it’s sort of like a shadow in her life. So I understand when she found out her only son might be gay, that it would be really devastating for her. So whilst I understand that, I am still very upset with my parents in the way that they’ve been here so long, they’ve been exposed to the media so long; they still haven’t accepted the idea that their son might be gay. Being gay is not something you choose: it just happens. And I didn’t tell them, “Oh I kissed a boy when I was five,” because they would kill me.
I didn’t tell my parents because I wasn’t ready to explain my sexuality yet, but I didn’t deny it either. So now my plan is after I graduate, my parents are going to leave so I will live on my own in Australia – I’m not leaving here. So I will have my own life. I think ‘Let time take its toll’.
I think from my parent’s point of view they always knew. They always knew that their son was different from other kids. I don't play sport, I’m not into computer games and I’m into fashion, obsessively, so there must be some clues they can pick up. I just think ‘Let time do its work’ with my parents. But I’m out and proud to be gay in my friends and social circles. So it’s not a really big problem for me.
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The first time I touched a boy it was not really a hand job, it was at that age when you’re still exploring your body. I was reaching puberty and started to notice, ‘Oh what’s going on down there?’ I don't remember how it all happened. It was in class in China. We were sitting together; our desks were next to each other. I was in Year 7. So this guy’s sitting next to me, he was a bit girlie and I used to bully him. So that day we were sitting next to each other, I don't know how but I just got my hand down his pants, and literally he had an erection. I stayed there for about a minute or so and suddenly I thought, ‘What the hell am I doing?’ And he was smiling and enjoying it, but then he said, “What the hell are you doing?” We sort of talked and blocked it out. It was so weird, but afterwards I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t even feel embarrassed. It was an exploring yourself kind of thing, but I didn’t even think any more about it. That was something memorable and a bit extraordinary. I thought I would never do that, but it was like instinct.
As an adult I have to prepare for my independence, prepare for my future first. So the relationship or the guys issue isn’t my main concern even though sometimes I really want it. I think a relationship would be so nice. I would have somebody to talk to at night and have hour long conversations on the phone, which would be nice. I think I’ve been too picky. My friends say I’m too picky.
Actually, the first time I went up to a guy I know who was gay to say “I’m interested” went like this. I asked my friends, “Should I get his number? I think I should because it’s worth a try. I mean what’s the worst it could be?” So I went and got his number. When I got home, I messaged him. I said, “I really liked you. Do you want to go out with me so we can have a deeper connection?” He replied that he wasn’t looking for anything at the moment. I was okay with that, I’m not rushing into sex. I am more of a relationship person. When it’s the right time then things will happen. So I’m waiting for the right guy to come into my life rather than just a random hook-up.
Another time I met this guy at an event. The first time I saw him he was with a friend but I wasn’t paying much attention to him because I was with some others, but he looked really pretty and gorgeous. Plus I was talking to another bunch of friends and couldn’t pay him much attention. The second time I saw him I thought he was the type of person I would like to develop a deeper connection with. So the whole night I was trying to find a way to talk to him. He was waiting for his friend to get a drink and he was standing on the side and I approached him and initiated a conversation. I was talking to him and later on his friend joined us. The three of us were talking but I sensed he wasn’t really interested in me and the evening just ended. But I didn’t say, “Oh, I like you. I want to do more things with you.” I didn’t say it that time. But at the end of the night I think I should have had a go.
I am now in my third year of uni and my social life is getting better. I go out more often. Of course I’ve been on the scene few times and had my fun, but nothing outrageous or risky, mainly with friends. I met a guy recently at a uni event and we kissed. We went out once and I was hoping something might happen from there, but I was hardly head over heels. So in the end, we decided to take things slow and not define it. He is fairly young and still in ‘exploring life as a freshman’ mode, whereas I’m looking for someone more sophisticated and mature. I’m a bit of a romantic/relationship guy.
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If you live in Australia I think that sexual education is very limited and behind what other nations provide to their students.
I remember the first time I was told about sexual health in high school, in Australia, was just one time in Year 10. And that was a very silly lesson; many of the students didn’t take it seriously.
But most of my friends already had sexual relationships. So I think the media plays an important role and for me if I’m ever going to get other information, I would go on the internet. The good thing about being gay is you have a lot of information on the internet already. I don't know whether it’s the media pressure saying if you’re gay then you can get AIDS. Being gay actually made these things easier. I assume I know more about sex than all my straight friends. And for me another good thing is that I learnt what a STD is. I learnt what causes the various STD’s and how to treat them. I know what HIV is and how to prevent it. So for me it’s actually easier. But for other friends I know they would access this information from the media, from the internet, from word-of-mouth, from their parents. I think the big issue is to be consistent in using protection, as people will tend to slack-off. It’s mostly being consistent with protection.
As a health science student, I maintain my own health and it doesn’t matter whether it’s general health or a sexual health issue. Plus it’s sort of my job to teach other people about it. So for me it’s second nature because I study it. But in practice there’s no way I would do something reckless. In terms of this campaign, I wasn’t expecting to be involved. But it hit me in an instant that I should reply, as I was impressed and appreciate other peoples' stories. It’s encouraged me a lot. I thought ‘I’m not the only one feeling the way I'm feeling. I’m not just gay. It’s all about the growing up as a gay person, the process of coming out, family issues, personal issues’. So it really explained a lot of things to me and I became more comfortable and confident about myself. So maybe there's other Asian kids like me or just general kids like me who are 19 or 20 years old, still in this process and their family are not really happy if they are gay. I think that my story offers hope to those kids and that they can learn to be patient, to wait and let things fall into place. And don’t get anxious, don’t be reckless, and don’t get depressed about it because things take time.
It has taken me 16 years to realise I’m gay, two or three years to be confident and say I like myself for who I am. Plus another one or two years to confide to my friends and then to actually tell somebody I love them, so it takes time. And that’s why I wasn’t really sad that I’m 20 years old and I haven’t had my first sexual relationship or a real relationship. I think I’m waiting for the right one, so I just hope other kids realise this, just be comfortable with whom you are. You have all the choices. You don’t have to say, “I am cheating myself because I didn’t tell everyone.” You don't have to tell everyone; it’s your own business.
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In two or three years I will, hopefully, finish my degree. Once I finish that, career-wise I want to explore something I’m really passionate about. So I was planning to move into design. Either do fashion design or work in a magazine like GQ Magazine. And because of what I’m learning right now as a pharmacist, I think it’s not easy for me to just switch to a different career. So I thought about writing a health column for a magazine first and then moving onto something else. That’s what I’m hoping for. But obviously it will be challenging, there will be financial issues and other personal issues, but I’ll see when I get there. Relationship-wise I will open myself to a lot more by putting myself out there. I hope there is somebody who will click with me and share the same values as me. I hope he will be a similar age, but I tend to like older people. My colleagues and my friends say, “You don’t act like a 20 year old.” So I think that will play a major role in my possible relationships with others. I’m sort of this older person, mentally, and that’s why I don’t click that much with people my own age. So a relationship is just one thing that I want but hasn’t happened yet, but, you can’t have everything you want. I feel fortunate though as I have this new life and the opportunity growing up in Australia to do well. Millions of people in China want to go overseas and make a future but can’t. I think I’m fortunate enough, I don’t intend to become a really demanding person.
I think in the future I should let myself go a little bit more and enjoy myself. So I hope in the next two or three years I will find somebody and have my first relationship. I’m just hoping somebody turns up and that I feel comfortable with them, that’s my dream.
Stephen grew up in China
Stephen moved to Australia when he was 16