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 the NSW town of Wagga Wagga; it was basically a very conservative country town. My childhood was good because I didn’t know about my sexuality, so growing up was pretty easy-going. When I was a teenager and started having an attraction to guys, I was unsure about my sexuality. I think it was hard to seek support back then because of homophobia.
You can’t tell your mates you think you are attracted to guys and that sort of thing. So I tended to keep it under wraps. Growing up in Wagga Wagga was good but you could see that there was nowhere to turn for support for the Gay and Lesbian community. So you sort of go, “I’ve got to go with the way society’s going and I’ve got to get a girlfriend, and act macho and be one of the blokes”.
I think realising I was gay was a gradual thing but it was also an attraction thing. I think if you put a girl and a guy in front of me, it’s like, 'I know which one makes my heart beat faster…' When you question yourself, you go through that whole process of, “Why am I getting these feelings by looking at this guy and talking to this guy? Why am I not getting them with the girls?”
Most of my friends were girls. It was like “Why do I prefer to hang around with girls at school, when there’s no attraction?” When I look back at it now, the signs were there.
But I never really felt like I had any issues because subconsciously I was suppressing my sexual feelings and going, “No, this is not right. This is not me. It’s just a phase I’m going through”. My mum and dad started asking “When are you going get a girlfriend,” I wasn’t really sexually attracted to girls, they didn’t really do anything for me but I just thought, “It’s just me being a virgin, and that was normal”.
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It was about when I was 17 that I started to really question my sexuality and wanted to look for answers, but I didn’t know where or who to turn to, this was when I experienced my first encounter with homophobia. One night I was at tennis and there was a guy there that had come out. I was actually good friends with him so, this particular night I went to approach him to talk about being gay. As I was approaching him, I got told to stay away from him because he was gay, they used terms such as faggot, poof, homo, so I decided not to talk to him and never to discuss my feelings in reference to my sexuality.
I suppose the saddest thing about it was that there were a lot of rumours about this person being gay and the fact that he was actually married and had children. To put an end to these rumours he came out publicly and it started a media attack on him, through the local newspaper.
They were campaigning for him to leave town. He refused to go and stood his ground, but it was tough for him. Looking back at it, I admire him for that.
My first gay sexual experience was with one of my best friends. We decided to go horse riding and camping one weekend. We were setting up camp on the first night, I think we were 17 or 18 and we’d taken some alcohol. The first night we just drank and just talked, the second day we rode out a bit further and we camped by a dam. That night we got a little bit drunk, and then we started talking about what if we were gay. I suppose it was a bit of a truth or dare game. For some reason I said, “If I was gay I wouldn’t have an issue with it,” and I said to him I actually found guys more attractive than girls. Then he dared me to kiss him, which I did, it lead to us kissing and fondling, and then to my surprise, he gets lube and condoms out of his bag!
I was nervous and excited at the same time; I don’t think I was this hard in my whole life. The sex was not as I expected. As it was happening I was thinking to myself, "What am I doing, this can’t be right" and it was hurting, but I kept going until I came.
We never, ever brought it up again. It was just this hidden secret language between the two of us. We never even sat down and had a conversation about it, even to this day.
We just went back home that weekend, but for me it opened up my eyes a bit. I think that was when I started to really question myself. So while I was going through that, there was this whole homophobic reaction going on in reference to the person who came out. I didn’t want that to happen to me, so I just suppressed my feelings even more and tried to get on with my everyday life as if nothing ever happened.
I got married at the age of 23. I met my wife through some friends at a pub. Our relationship was what one would expect for a heterosexual. About three months after we got married we moved to Melbourne.
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It was probably about another six months after that, that the sexual urges started to come back again. I wasn’t myself. I knew that there was something missing, but couldn’t put my finger on it. I started getting on the internet and finding out what was out there and I came across Gaydar. I started to meet some guys through there on a casual basis. This was probably the most guilt-ridden thing I did to my wife. I had this whole cycle of going out, sleeping with a guy and then coming home and being a husband.
This went on for about 12 months and then we had our first child where I thought, “This is not right, I have to be faithful and really knuckle down and to be a good husband and father”. But I was still trying to work out where I belonged in society, where I fitted in. Where did I fit in with my family? Where did I fit in with work? Where did I fit in with my friends and everyone else in my life? It was two years between the birth of my first child and my second child in which I suppressed my sexuality. It continued for about another one-and-a-half years and I was feeling pretty good about myself and my life, or so I thought.
Then one night I was at a party with some friends and this guy came up to me and started chatting to me. Just the normal chat, there was no inkling of anything. Then at the end of the night after a couple of drinks he came up to me and he said, “The way you have been looking at me all night, there is obviously something going on, you wouldn’t happen to be gay would you?” I blurted out before I could think of anything, “Well I could be but I don’t know.” He invited me back to his place and I spent the night with him, it felt so right and it was the first time I had woken up in the morning with a guy next to me, it was magic.
After that I started going out, catching up with guys again. I was in my element again, but I would still carry the guilt and shame every time I went home. I liken it to someone taking drugs, getting high (having the sexual experience) and then having that crash (the guilty feeling).
It was quite upsetting and quite daunting to live my life in two personas. Eventually I had to do something to distract myself from this lifestyle, so I thought having another child would help me become a better person. Five months prior to my third child being born in October 2005, I attempted to take my own life and finish it for good because I just couldn’t deal with the way everything was going.
The urges came back, and came back a lot stronger and a lot harder, and a lot deeper. It was really mentally draining. I was sick and tired of playing these mental games with myself and having to deal with the feelings of guilt and shame. I felt I had nowhere to turn to; the pressures of being a good husband, a role model father for the children and having to deal with my own sexuality were too much. I felt it was my only option. I am grateful I pulled through it and started going to counselling. It was about twelve months into counselling that I finally came out to the counsellor, but I was still not sure. I was still questioning my sexuality. This was the starting point of discovering who I really am.
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In June 2006, I met this guy through Gaydar and he was one of those guys that give you that wow factor. You just go, “My God you’re the one!” I spent the night with him and we talked about me being married and having kids, and the things I had been through. He said to me, “Why don’t you come out? What’s your issue? I’ll be here for you. I’ll support you”. So the week after I met him I started the whole process of coming out.
The good thing about having him was that he got me into the scene. He took me to the gay nightclubs, pubs, and introduced me to other gay people. He was there to support me and to get me through. But I wanted more from him, I was so in love with him that I wasn’t really looking at what was really out there.
This went on for a couple of years, and then I asked him “What’s going on? I know there’s chemistry between us to have a relationship but you’re not reciprocating.” He told me that I was not ready for a relationship and I need to get out there more. I was shattered, but I knew I had to get out there and discover myself as a gay person.
The guy that I met who helped me come out, put me onto the Victorian AIDS Council . I think he wanted me to get out there and look at other support networks besides him. I think when you live in the heterosexual world you look at the gay world as being so stereotyped, for example the Gay Mardi Gras, you only get to see a glimpse of the real gay community, through mainstream media. I think he was trying to get me to open my eyes a little bit more and to broaden my horizons of what the gay community is about. So I attended Momentum and the guys that were there were amazing. There were no set criteria; we were from different age brackets, at different stages of coming out and going through different difficulties. It really opened up my eyes.
They all had their own stories as to why they were coming out. That made me realise that the gay community is no different to the heterosexual community: it’s got communities within the community and I can fit into one of those communities. I don’t have to be one of these people that come out and have to go to the Mardi Gras or go to The Peel every weekend. I’m still friends with most of the participants of that workshop.
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I would describe coming out as being the hardest and also the easiest thing I’ve ever done in my life. The weight of the stress and anxiety that lifted off my shoulders was just enormous.
The first person I told was my mother. I told her over the phone and her reaction was, “About bloody time.” So she obviously knew that I was gay. My father, a man of few words, did not say much, I guess it was a case of the news needing to sink in. The next person I had to tell was my wife.
My wife’s reaction was in the lines of, “We can go to counselling and sort this out.” I told her that I couldn’t be in a relationship with a woman, when my feelings are for men and it would not be fair on both of us. I have an inkling that she knew I was gay and was happy to go along with the lifestyle that we were living.
I also had to tell my best friend from Wagga Wagga who was also living in Melbourne. His reaction was the biggest kick in the guts I ever got, I was staying with him at the time. We were sitting down for dinner one night, and I told him the reason why I was leaving my wife, he asked me to leave straight away. So I packed my bags and caught a taxi in to the city to find accommodation. Whilst in the taxi, my boss rang to see if I was ok, as I had taken a few days off work. I told him that my friend had asked me to leave their house and that I was on way into the city to find some accommodation for a few days to sort myself out. He offered to pay for my accommodation for a few days. I told him what had happened when I returned to work few days later. It was about three or four months after that, before I could actually sit down with my family and actually discuss it. They have been very supportive.
I obviously had to move out of the family home, so I got my own apartment. I had a conversation with my children about two years after I came out about me being gay. I’ve never hidden the fact that I was gay. I had gay friends, and they would come around while I had my kids over. But to actually say to them that I was gay is different to them seeing gay people around me. So I took them to the park one day for a picnic and I asked them if they know what gay meant. My eldest said “When a boy kisses another boy” I asked if he would have a problem with his dad being gay, he said “No”. He was eight at the time. My kids had amazing resilience to the changes in their lives.
I now have a partner and we have been together since July 2009. We live together and the children live with us every second weekend and during the holidays. I think the thing with me when I was coming out was to never lie. When you do that you’re not only cheating on other people, you’re also cheating on yourself, so I made a promise when I came out, to never lie and to be honest, open, and frank about who I am and what I am.
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I met my partner through a dating site on Facebook. We met up face to face at Federation Square the day after my birthday. We went out to a small café in the city for a coffee and chatted, and decided from there that we would see each other. I invited him back to my place that night and we’ve been inseparable ever since.
We had both (individually) gotten to the point in our lives that we could not be bothered looking for a relationship. We were happy to be single. I was still struggling with the terms of being gay plus being a father. I felt that I needed to devote more time to my children. But obviously things change and he has been a wonderful person in my life and my children’s lives. He has also been out since he was 16 and was one of those who would say “I’m gay. Get over it. I’m out. I’m proud. I’m loud.” So he was coming from a completely different spectrum from what I was. So for him to come into an instant family would have been quite daunting for him. But he has been an amazing person to my children and me, and I would not change it for anything. My children adore him as much as I do.
I was getting tested every three months prior to meeting my partner and then I got tested three months after I met him. At the time we were having protected sex. We decided that we both would get tested and we are both negative.
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I had a great doctor in reference to sexual health and being tested, and, staying negative. I did have a few sexual encounters where I had unprotected sex prior to my current relationship and the risks were a lot higher, but when you’re in that moment, you just don’t think of the consequences. For me, it was about getting off and having great sex, I never really thought about the risks of STI’s and what would happen if I did contract any.
My doctor didn’t push the consequences onto me, but it was about me realizing, he said having unprotected sex is like Russian roulette, you are taking a risk, it is about you, your life and your health. He also said to me “If you want to go down the path of playing Russian roulette, that’s a decision you have to make but bear in mind you’ve got children, you’ve got family, and you’ve got friends that care about you.” That was quite a bit of a scare. So I made sure that I had safe sex and used condoms all the time.
If I met guys who wanted unprotected sex I would say no. I was in a position to be strong enough to say it’s not happening and to be able to walk away from it even though I was wanting and needing it. It was better for me to walk away from it knowing that my health was intact.
I never connected with GAMMA. I think I didn’t really need GAMMA at the time. It could have been just my delusional assumption of what GAMMA actually meant. I was under the assumption that GAMMA was for married men that still had sex with men and did not identify themselves as gay. I identified myself as a person who was coming out as a gay person. That’s what I wanted to be and I didn’t really think that GAMMA was an organization that I needed to go to. I’m probably a little bit disappointed that I never really got involved in GAMMA, just to see what it was like. It’s another part of the community and I think you really need to have a bit of exposure to all the communities within the gay community to see how they operate and where they fit. At the end of the day it’s all about inclusion, not exclusion.
In 2007 I started up a website www.Comingout.com.au for people that needed to find organisations in reference to coming out on the internet. It is to give people a way of knowing that there are organisations out there for them and they are there to support them. It’s quite interesting when you talk to people that have come out and they say, “Oh I wish I’d done it earlier.” The main aim of Coming Out Australia is to help people who are coming to terms with their sexuality to be able to feel comfortable in their journey towards their sexual identity, whether it is gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer. I have noticed in the four or five years since I came out how it’s more acceptable in schools and it’s more acceptable in workplaces now to be gay. It’s starting to become more acceptable in society. So hopefully, one day, there will be no such thing as coming out. You’re either straight or you’re gay and there’s no questioning or justification of one’s sexuality.
When I was coming out, I did found it difficult trying to find resources and help on the internet, particularly being a married man. You can’t really go and get a gay newspaper, open it up, take it home, and read it. I wanted people to be able to Google coming out and to have comingout.com.au there with all the organisations there for them at their fingertips. The concept of Coming Out Australia and the website happened when I was in bed asleep and I woke up about four o’clock one morning and thought, 'I wonder if the domain for comingout.com.au is available?' So I got on the computer and searched and it was available. The original plan was for a website for people that needed to be able to research information on coming out in the comfort of their own home without judgment, assumptions and fear. Since then I’ve been able to, in the last 12 months, run Coming Out workshops for guys, lesbians, and for parents and friends, because I believe who is coming out is about inclusion. It affects everyone associated with the person coming out, it affects families, it affects work colleagues and it affects people in the social environment of the person that’s coming out. It’s the ongoing support that is needed the most, and I am proud that I have been able to give back to the community that has provided that support to me when I was going through that journey.
My Staying Negative message is for people to remember they only have one life and one journey, use it wisely. Contracting HIV is a life changing event and it can not be reversed, but can be prevented by using protection and common sense.
Where Wayne grew up
Wayne moved here with his wife
One of the first gay bars Wayne went to when coming out