About Staying Negative

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.

Picture of Zen

Zen

From Bogor, Indonesia

I asked God for death because I’d rather that than face what I had to.

Chapters

This story relates to: Suicide, Religion and sexuality, Disclosure dilemmas

1

I am Happy

Chapter:

1. I am Happy

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I’m from the rainy city of Bogor, Indonesia which is a city near Jakarta. I’m the eldest of four boys. Growing up, I was really skinny, ugly and a bit of a bencong or sissy because I was a naturally quite a feminine child. Bencong is a local slang people used to describe guys who didn’t conform to the typical masculine male gender stereotype.

I got bulled a lot when I was younger, probably because I was seen as a weak child. I was also a bit of a teacher’s pet which the other students didn’t like. When I was about 11, I started to have these feelings where I realised I may have been gay because I had a secret crush on my male friend. I didn’t respond to it at all because it is just not an option and I came from quite a religious Muslim family too.

When I got to Junior High, the bullying got worse. (Bullying)I started to change my persona in my high school in hope of changing the miserable school life that I experienced and it worked. I started to act more masculine and became a lot more religious. (Religion and sexuality) I went to a school that was very religious; we prayed five times a day and did many religious activities. I was very dedicated to my religion, even my family started to get a bit annoyed with me. I also joined a military-like organisation, which helped me to become more like another normal straight boy.

I even tried to like girls and didn’t pay attention to whether I was gay or not.

I ended up making a lot of friends and I was really happy in high school. I loved myself and I believed that everyone loved me for me.

2

Shame

Chapter:

2. Shame

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After high school, I went to university close by. I had real problems making friends and I missed my high school life so much. I tried to join many Muslim organisation at uni to fill the holes in my heart, but I still felt like something very important is missing. I knew I was gay, but I started to really think about it and it frustrated me. During that period, I couldn’t help myself, so I would watch some gay porn and masturbate, but every time I did it, I felt very sinful and regretful. (Religion and sexuality)

In my daily praying, I remember asking God for death because I’d rather that than face what I had to. I was gay, but I would be forced to marry a woman and have children – I would be miserable in my entire life. Perhaps I will end up getting divorced and ruin the life of the people whom I was supposed to love.

I wished death upon myself and it got to a point where I really wanted to kill myself, but as a Muslim, you cannot kill yourself. Killing yourself will send your soul straight to hell. (Suicide)

I didn’t have any friends I could talk to about this and in such a religious environment, it wasn’t easy. I tried to give slight hints here and there to my parents without actually ever admitting I was gay. I clearly told them that I didn’t want to have children of my own, but to them, this was completely unacceptable.

3

There Is Another Way

Chapter:

3. There Is Another Way

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In my second year of university, I actually changed uni’s and started studying philosophy. In philosophy they teach you to be open-minded and to see that there are other religions and other ways of life. I started to accept this a little more as I became less strict with my religion and less conservative. I still tried to not be gay in my actions, but at least I didn’t have any suicidal prayers anymore. I started going to the gym and gaining weight which led me to have more self-confidence. I felt like it was time I really wanted a boyfriend but I had no idea how or where to begin. I was still living with my family at the time too, so I had to be discreet.

I had an Android phone and typed “gay” into my app search and found a gay app called Jack’d. I downloaded it and saw somany gays there. I thought, ‘wow, there’s so many people like me!’ I ended up going on my first date on my 22nd birthday. We ended up dating each other for a while but because it was my first relationship and I was trying to deal with so many things about being gay. I was very excited and confused at the same time. (Relationships)

It was also my first sexual experience and I didn’t even know how to have sex. (First time) Even for straight people, there is no kind of sexual health education in Indonesia, let alone having a chance to learn about gay sex, which is so different! You’d watch porn, of course, but when we tried to have anal sex, you need a lot of preparation, like lube or douching or trying to relax. I didn’t even know anything about using condoms.

Neither of us knew how to make it work - bottoming hurts so much and I thought, ‘why do people do this?’

We broke up not long after and so I put myself out there again. From there it was a string of short term relationships of about a month-long. There wasn’t much information out there, except a vague idea that we needed to practice ‘safe sex’, whatever that was. I heard about HIV somewhere but didn’t know anything about it, so I was constantly worried. (Sex education) I didn’t take any action though, because I was too scared.

4

Lying to Survive

Chapter:

4. Lying to Survive

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I tried to come out to two of my best friends separately. They seemed to listen, but they really disagreed with is and wished me to change. They were also very religious and in Islam teachings, homosexuality is a taboo subject and people feel shameful talking about it.

My parents knew there was something up with me at the time because I wasn’t a very good liar.

I remember thinking to myself, ‘if you want to continue being gay, you need to become a really good liar if you want to survive.’

Whenever I used to go out and meet guys, it was so obvious something was up because I just looked so scared. I started practicing how to lie and for the next five years I just kept lying to them.

It was hard because I just had nobody to talk to and at the time I just needed someone to accept me. I had a cousin living in Melbourne whom I eventually told and she was very accepting about it all. I also randomly ended up chatting to a Melbourne guy on a gay app who was visiting Bogor to see his boyfriend. He told me, in Melbourne you can live freely as a gay man and that I should move there. I thought a lot about what he said but at the time I was very introverted and I didn’t like travelling at all.

I didn’t like planes but I was also a very spoilt and sheltered child, so I didn’t like new places either. It’s a completely different lifestyle in Indonesia as I am from quite a well-off family, so I rarely cooked, cleaned, did the dishes or washed my clothes. I decided I had to go though, so I told my parents that I wanted a better university than the one I was attending in Indonesia. They were okay with that and so ended up sending me to Melbourne.

5

Too Much Change

Chapter:

5. Too Much Change

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I was very insecure when I arrived in Melbourne because everything was such a change and so new. My English wasn’t very good so I found it hard to talk to the locals. Even really basic things like doing my own laundry, finding food to eat, and life admin stuff.

I was a bit adventurous and started sleeping around with different guys. We always used condoms but I had never been for a sexual health check up or anything. (HIV testing)I remember the first time I heard the term “undetectable” was whilst I was in the middle of having sex with this guy and he told me he was undetectable. (Undetectable Viral Load)I wasn’t really sure what it meant and I probably wasn’t really listening at the time. A week later we sat down and talked about it and he said, “I’m positive, I already told you that, but I’m undetectable so you’ll be fine.” I wasn’t angry at him but I so anxious because I just didn’t know.

I ended up going to my first sexual health check-up at Melbourne Sexual Health Centre (MSHC) and the nurse could see that I was so, so upset.

I was feeling depressed because in my head I had basically gotten HIV, I had to start paying for my medicine which I knew was really expensive because I didn’t have Medicare and I thought my visa would get cancelled.

The nurse could see my distress and suggested I see a counsellor at MSHC. I got tested for HIV but they said that I had to come back in three months due to the window period.

I learnt a lot of HIV and STI basics from that consult but that three months I had to wait felt really, really long. During that time I started thinking about what people living with HIV feel like. I went to the VAC website and said to myself, “I will become a volunteer and help people who are living with HIV.”

Volunteering at JOY FM

6

International Students

Chapter:

6. International Students

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I started in the Relationships workshop which really changed my perspective on a lot of things. At first, I imagined that I’d come to Melbourne, get together with a boyfriend, settle down, get married and live happily ever after. After realising that this wasn’t necessarily how it would pan out and learning the about the whole new world of the gay scene in Melbourne, it completely changed my way of thinking. There was so much change and so much re-adjustment, I found it really tiring. This was whilst I was completing my Masters, which was full on enough as it is, I also experienced depression which was very difficult. (Depression)

I started my Masters in International Development because I wanted to do something about the overpopulation in Indonesia and the issues that come with that, but after working in many HIV and LGBTI NGOs, I decided to change my focus to LGBTI rights and PLHIV. I ended up doing a project about gay international students and HIV with Living Positive Victoria

I had to read a lot of research about gay international students and reading their stories really got me down because it reminded me of happens amongst many gay individuals in Indonesia.

A lot of them never came out, dealing with a lot of internalised stigma, acquiring HIV and then AIDS and dying alone, too scared to have sexual health check-up. (HIV AIDS and safe sex) (HIV testing)

This was very hard to prove because they were hiding themselves and not letting any services know about their identity, let alone researching it. They were having unprotected sex because they never had any sexual health education and also were too scared to expose their sexuality. (Internalised Homophobia)

From my research, a lot of these students were from South East Asian or middle-Eastern countries and had mostly older, Caucasian men as sexual partners in Australia who would pass on HIV to them – not the other way round. I believe international students need to be targeted with regards to of HIV awareness, because without any sexual health knowledge and difficulties in accessing services, they are the most vulnerable group in the gay scene in Melbourne.

7

Solving the Allergies

Chapter:

7. Solving the Allergies

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I slowly started to accept the gay lifestyle in Melbourne, and last year I even decided to go on PrEP. (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP))I wanted to include myself in the movement. My doctor started me on PrEP from one of the trials but I got these really nasty side effects where my whole body became swollen, red and itchy. The doctor wasn’t really sure what was wrong and suspected I had an allergy towards something in the medication. I figured I wasn’t really having much sex anyway so I didn’t want to pursue it further.

Marching for Mardi Gras as a puppy

This issue came up again at Mardis Gras this year and I was exposed to HIV through unprotected sex. I went straight to the Sexual Health Centre and told them I wanted PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) but the doctor saw in my patient medical history that I had a problem with PrEP, so they were worried to give me the PEP in case I was severely allergic. The doctors there were amazing and all worked really hard to figure out what they should give me. They gave me a different combination of drugs and said that if I had any issues to come back straight away. I didn’t react badly in any way and I am now still HIV negative.

8

Where I Belong

Chapter:

8. Where I Belong

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The whole gay life in Melbourne was sometimes too much for me. There was too much change and I could not fully immerse myself into the gay community or lifestyle here. I started to make some amazing friends and join many cool activities, but I knew that once I finished my Masters, I wanted to move back to Indonesia to help make a difference. I decided to move to Bali in Indonesia to help the local HIV NGO’s there because it is the safest place for gay men in Indonesia. I also believed that I would have more balanced life in Indonesia compared to Melbourne.

Helping out at the HIV NGO's in Bali

When I moved back to Bali after my Masters, I had some really big arguments with my father about my future. I became very worried about getting too involved in my parents’ business and getting trapped in arranged marriages. It was the first time that I said an absolute “NO” to my father. There are a lot of other details, but pretty much they said that Melbourne had changed me and that I wasn’t a good influence on my siblings. I was so frustrated I ran away and ended up coming back to Melbourne.
With my younger brother and cousin

As soon as I made the decision to come back to Melbourne, I had to rush back because in order to stay, I’d need to apply for a graduate visa to get a job, which must all happen three months after you finish uni. It’s a pretty stressful situation, not being on talking terms with my family, changing my mindset that I may not ever go back, trying to find a job to settle down and just start living life in Melbourne.

It’s been good as I have become more active in the community and focusing on the little things one at a time, like finding a place to live and just generally taking care of myself. I feel really down sometimes, but I do believe this is for the better.

9

Being Myself 

Chapter:

9. Being Myself 

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Growing up in a conservative Muslim family with certain concepts ingrained in to you your whole life can be quite difficult to change. I still have a very judgemental nature inside me but upon addressing this, I found the judgemental part of me was actually a jealous feeling because part of me wanted to experience it too. The judgement was coming from a place of shame, guilt, internalised hatred and internalised homophobia. (Internalised Homophobia)

I realised I needed to change my perspective drastically because it was too exhausting feeling so much guilt and so much judgement, towards others and myself.

I have slowly managed to move past it, after a lot of pain and suffering. I am slowly accepting myself even though it’s hard sometimes. I just want people who are going through the same thing to make sure they get help. (Counselling)Even if it’s just linking into the community through social groups or sports groups, having a support network is so important. Try to make some friends who will be there for you and try to be as open as you can to it all. (Getting out there)

Even though I’m still in a difficult position in life, at least I have an opportunity to just be myself. I can finally learn bit by bit, to appreciate life the way it is. I miss Indonesia and my old easy life, but Melbourne is a home for me now. I’m feeling very thankful for everything I’ve got here and hopefully I can contribute back to the community which I love so dearly.

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Come and tell us your story! We would love to hear from you! If you want to find out a little more about how it all works, give Jessie a call at VAC on (03) 9865 6700, or email staying.negative@vac.org.au