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 am from Warrnambool in regional Victoria. I grew up there but I now live here in Melbourne in North Carlton and I am 19 years old. Growing up in Warrnambool was good. I like Warrnambool. It’s a good place to grow up but then you reach a certain age and you want to get out; well, I did anyway. There’s about 30, 000 people with four major high schools, so it’s quite big, or at least it’s not tiny. So I lived there pretty much all my life except for one year where I lived in Ballarat but we came back when I was in about grade one. However Warrnambool was a little bit isolating because I was really into the arts and drama and performing and there is a little bit of that stuff there, but I knew that I would have to move to Melbourne to pursue that kind of stuff.
It is pretty much the safest liberal seat in the country
In terms of growing up gay it was also pretty isolating. There weren’t many openly gay people at my school and there was a bit of bullying and homophobia. It is a fairly conservative area. It is pretty much the safest liberal seat in the country. But then again, I was very lucky as I had lovely parents and very nice friends so for me personally it was ok, but I can certainly see how it would be rough for other people.
I went to primary school with a core group of friends and moved with a lot of them into high school so that was nice. I actually really liked high school. I was quite an academic and was really quite into that stuff and was always very busy and getting involved in extracurricular things like public speaking and drama. I liked learning. I wasn’t really into sport as such but toward the end of school I tried to get a bit more balanced with that and tried to get a bit more physical, but it wasn’t really anything I was passionate about.
At the start of school there was a bit of bullying as I was a bit of a nerd but that had all sort of been resolved by year 12. Year 12 was a great year – I really liked year 12 and really did quite well and got on with my teachers. I guess I was a good boy, not really a rebel. Outside of school, I had a good relationship with my folks although I was an annoying adolescent for a while, like anyone was.
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High school was really around the time when I started to think about my sexuality. Up until about year 9, for all intents and purposes, I thought I was straight, and I was genuinely attracted to girls, although I hadn’t had a girlfriend. But by the time of about year 9 or 10 I started to think casually about guys and realised that this wasn’t really what everybody else necessarily did. So then I went through that phase where I did loads of research. I researched information about the gay community, and watched Queer as Folk, secretly. Living in Warrnambool meant that my sources of information were quite limited. I mainly used the internet and got some books out of the library but I didn’t really feel comfortable enough to talk to my parents about that kind of stuff because we hadn’t really talked about anything like that before. So really, I just did research on it and pretty much kept it a secret. I think by about year 11, I sort of knew, well that this feeling wasn’t going to be going away but I wasn’t really ready to talk about it at all.
In Year 11 though I joined an anti-homophobia group but that was before coming out or talking about anything which might have been a bit of a clue to my parents I guess. I met some other gay people through joining that, but I didn’t come out before the end of year 12. The first person I informed was my cousin, who I wrote a letter to. We were about the same age and very close and she was in Melbourne and had quite a few gay friends who generally seemed a lot cooler! So anyway, I sent her a letter and she was great, as always. I asked her if it was a surprise and if she had thought about this and she said, “Well, I never assumed you were gay, but you never seemed to talk about girls or have a girlfriend”. So I think she suspected, but a lot of my friends were very surprised. They were very supportive. The worst stuff I experienced was before I came out to people, like when people just assumed that I was straight and people would talk about being gay as crap, and generally don’t stop to think that there could be someone sitting there who is secretly in the closet. So that was what made it so hard to come out. But once I came out my friends were great, I was really lucky.
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I think my parents had a very good idea I was gay because, like I said, I joined an anti-homophobia group and I actually started going out with my first boyfriend before I told my parents I was gay. So, he was at the house occasionally and I would be hanging out with him. I probably did a lame job of telling them, but one time I just couldn’t really hold it in anymore and I said to them, “Look, I want to tell you that I’m gay.” My mum said that that was fine and then she went to her room and brought back a book with her called My Child is Gay, so she clearly had an inkling. But yeah, they were great. My parents are very smart people and liberal minded. I think Mum is a bit...well...almost fascinated by it! She just doesn’t get it. Which, I think, is totally fair enough and I completely understand. I think in their minds it totally cancels out the idea of me having kids or raising kids, which is sad because I think they think that I would make a good father.
I told my older brother that I was gay a couple of weeks after telling Mum and Dad and again, he was great about it. Growing up we weren’t super close but now we’ve really bonded a bit more. And two of his best friends are a gay couple so yeah, he was totally fine with it. It was a bit awkward telling him because I guess we have never had an intense relationship. We’ve either been annoying, fighting brothers or just been getting along fine. There have never been any deep discussions about girls, or about anything like that. It has been more about what we were going to get Mum for her birthday. So that was a bit weird but he’s been fine and we’ve been great ever since. It wasn’t exactly a deep and meaningful though, it was basically me saying “I’m gay” and he said “Oh yeah, ok”, so it wasn’t bad, and there was a hug in there so it was all fine. It was probably a bit different telling my parents, but really, if that’s all that happens when you come out, then it’s pretty good. I mean, it’s always going to be awkward and there’s no way that it’s going to be ‘cool as’, you know?
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My first boyfriend was a nice guy. I knew him ages ago, as we went to the same primary school and we did musicals when we were really small together. He is quite an obviously gay guy, as he is quite camp and so I knew he was gay even before I knew that I was. I met him again through this anti-homophobia group and we started hanging out. We were pretty much “the only gays in the village”. I mean, we got along well and we had fun but we just didn’t really have much in common. We’re friends now and he’s also moved up to Melbourne so we catch up now and again. I think it was really just a matter of “I’m gay, you’re gay, it’s Warrnambool. Let’s kill some time!” So that was a bit of a weird thing, but it happened, and I have no regrets, as it was fine.
He was also the first boy that I had a sexual experience with. Classically, the sex was weird and awkward but sometimes great but generally pretty awkward and odd. He had had a bit more experience than me with other people, but it was generally really good, and very liberating and a big relief as I am sure a lot of gay men find their first sexual experiences. I think I knew a lot about HIV and sexual health at that time. Well, I think sexual education is pretty lacking in those areas, but I think I was pretty well informed. And I had watched a lot of Queer as Folk at that point and there’s a lot of sex in that and they often use protection. Also, tied in with the anti-homophobia group was a lot of sexual health info. But certainly, I think the sexual education in our school was lacking for everyone, particularly for gay people. I mean, I can’t believe that they just have one semester on sex education in year 8 and that’s it! It seems a bit lame. They had sexual health days now and again, but they were always really weird. And sometimes we would get a guest speaker come and talk to us, like someone living with HIV but you could feel the tension in the room and people said afterwards “God, they didn’t have to go into so much detail about how the guy got AIDS!” But really, I think I was pretty well informed and we were safe.
I finished year 12 in 2007 and then in 2008 I deferred a law course that I got into at Monash for a year. I had applied for a load of acting places but didn’t get in. The idea behind deferring was to move to Melbourne and to work and I travelled overseas in that year as well.
Unfortunately, I didn’t really get much of a sense of the gay scene when I was overseas. It was part of that feeling of thinking, well, I wouldn’t go there by myself and couldn’t really just leave my parents. Birmingham has a big parade that is like a Pride March and we got there when it had finished, so we just missed it. But even that would have been weird with Mum and Dad. So no, I didn’t really explore the gay scene when I was over there.
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When I moved to Melbourne, I was very excited about gay clubs and being in the gay community. It’s weird though as since then, I haven’t really been out much at all. I did go to Barry’s on Smith Street – that was the first place I went to. And that was great – it was really, really fun. It was everything that I thought it would be and I had a really enjoyable night. My housemate is gay, French and quite a bit older than me so he has been on the scene and knows it really well and has been going out for quite a while so that’s been good. I actually picked the ad for the house out of the others that were being advertised, as one of the things it said was that it was queer friendly and I thought ‘Oh, ok, that’s helpful’. So that was good to move in there and move in with someone else who was gay along with the other really open minded sharehouse dudes.
One night, my housemate and I went out to a nightclub, with the sole ambition of picking up, and we even went to The Peel! Can you believe it! I didn’t even pick up at The Peel! I mean I just don’t know what happened! There were attractive men from wall to wall, I was drunk, and having a lot of fun, but still – no dice. But that’s alright – I guess it’s just part of the game. Since then, I guess I haven’t been going out much at all. I have mainly just been going out to comedy nights when I do go out, and catching up with friends for dinner. I don’t seem to have much ‘party time’ and, well really, I should rearrange that because I don’t have much to do during the day.
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My career is really important to me. I always really wanted to be an actor, and that was really the dream and I would still really like to pursue that but currently comedy and the radio is really happening for me, so I am really happy to ride that and enjoy that. It’s a lot of fun and I hope to one day do something really special. I think being openly gay is important to me as well, when moving into the public eye. I have actually had people say to me that it is refreshing that I am an openly gay man, but it isn’t all that I am. I am not a “screamer”, not that there is anything wrong with that, but I’m not using the fact that I am gay as my “selling point”, so to speak. The last show I did really covers the last 12 years of my life, and now I feel like I have sort of dealt with that. And I think being gay will inevitably come up in my comedy because it is a part of my life, but I don’t talk about it all the time. There are some comedians who I think are just marketed to the gay community and that’s all they do and I just think that can become a bit tired and I don’t want to do that. Comedy is a very open minded industry and there are a lot of gay people involved in things like arts management and comedy itself but I really don’t see a lot of people pigeon holing me and putting me in just gay events which I am really, really happy about. In the same way, I think being openly gay on the radio is important because if I want to talk about something that is happening with a guy or my boyfriend or something it allows me to do that. And I think that’s really important to do that. I just like the idea of people not actually even assuming that I am gay and then finding out and saying “Oh, right, cool”. I think that’s kind of refreshing.
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I think for a lot of guys, because their sexuality is often so repressed because of other people’s homophobia or because of disapproving parents or whatever that when they get the chance to come out then part of them is finally released and maybe their sexuality becomes a really big part of their identity. Whereas for me, I’ve never really been seriously discriminated against or, now that I have come out, I don’t really feel like that limits me in any way. It’s just a part of who I am and I just sort of take it in my stride, I think. It’s part of who I am, but it’s not all that I am. And even in terms of attraction, I am occasionally attracted to women and I like to think that...well, I wouldn’t like to die without having tried it with a woman – I think that would be a shame.
And that’s one thing that I have learnt: it’s so not black and white at all, and I think that most people are somewhat bisexual to a point, but just totally close off the idea. Maybe some men close off the idea of having sex with a woman because they feel like they have burnt their bridges there or something, I don’t know. And some of my friends say stuff like, “Oh that guy’s really good looking. If I was gay I would go out with him” and I think to myself that I don’t actually know what that means. If you find someone attractive, you find someone attractive. So sometimes I wish people just broke that down a little bit and I think that’s very hard for my parents to understand as well, because as I’ve mentioned, occasionally I’ll find girls attractive and I imagine they’d be like “Well, you know, we’ve been through this”! It’s just that we have those words: gay, straight, bi and that seems to be it.
I’m currently not single. This is somewhat complicated! I have a boyfriend who I love and I am very happy to be with but he’s not fully out so I can’t mention his situation at the moment. He’s really actually bi, in that he’s been with girls before and I certainly don’t think he’s exclusively attracted to guys but it’s bizarre, because I knew him quite a while ago and had quite a crush on him and I thought ‘Man, wouldn’t it be great if...’ because he’s sort of, well, I think people wonder if he’s gay or not as he talks a lot about girls. And then one night he made the move on me and it was a very big surprise! But we’ve been together for about four months and it’s very nice.
It’s quite tough to date someone who is not completely out, especially as I have been for some time. His close friends know and quite a few people do know, but he’s certainly not out to his Mum, Dad or his older brother. So yeah - that makes it tricky.
But I do feel that he feels the same way about me as I do about him. He’s just very...sort of independent and does what he wants to do. He doesn’t get caught up in labels and that sort of thing. And realistically, if he did openly come out there would be a bit of a thing and I can understand why he doesn’t want to go through that. But, at the same time, I would prefer it if he were to tell his Mum and his brother! I definitely think that he feels the same way and think we’re pretty serious at the moment. Having said that, he thinks people only ever like each other for a maximum of 10 years, so that’s the deadline he’s put on it which is both very funny but could be depressingly true. His parents went through a very messy divorce, and I don’t think he has a lot of faith in marriage and he definitely doesn’t want kids but that could change, I have no idea. It’s weird thinking about our future together as we’ve only been together for four months and we’re both young and having fun so it’s not worth worrying about, you know. He’s great.
I would like to adopt kids and raise those kids when I am in a position to do that. I think it’s a very noble thing to do and I think more people should adopt – I know it’s very hard, but I think generally more people should adopt. I don’t think we need more babies.
I love just ‘going gay’ sometimes, and going to IQ and jumping around to the Spice Girls and stuff like that. Or Beyonce – because I work for JJJ, there is a little bit of music snobbery, but I’m like “Man, if Beyonce is on, it’s a party!” I also really like having good relationships with girls and I know that the old ‘fag hag’ thing is a stereotype, but I really like the company of girls and I really love my female friends and they’ve been awesome since I’ve come out.
One thing though is that it amazes me how many actors are gay. It really is amazing, the high percentage that I’ve met in the theatre. Sometimes though, I find gay art to be embarrassing and annoying. A bit self-indulgent. Other times it’s just great though. I’m trying to get more into cooking. My boyfriend’s an awesome cook and just loves food and I even got caught up in Masterchef. I just wish I had the gay powers to be domestic. I’m just not really interested in shopping and clothes and stuff, so I have to try and get into that. I like to be somewhat grounded though, and not just flashing money all over the place – maybe it’s the middle class country boy in me.
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Next year I’ll be continuing with radio and comedy and I’m really looking forward to it. I always saw myself going to Uni, and I started going there at the start of this year and went for about 6 weeks and I did the law course which I really, really liked and I really liked the people I was doing it with. It was a really good thing, but it was just time as I was doing it during the comedy festival and so I was doing comedy, radio and uni and it was just way too much so I had to drop out of that which I think was a really good move at the time, but yeah – one day I would really like to go back and study something, some time.
Tom grew up in regional Warrnombool.
Tom now lives in Melbourne working in radio and comedy.