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 single-parent home with my mum, my twin brother, as well as an older brother and sister, mainly in Northcote and Preston areas. As far as Greek families go, we were very unconventional. We didn’t go to church or a Greek school and we played footy, not soccer. My mum had strong political and feminist values yet my dad is probably the biggest wog I know. Even today, he is very traditional in his beliefs and holds some rigid and sexist views of women. He is fairly reserved and not the sort of dad that talks about emotions.
My mum noticed some very controlling behaviour early on and after her second child she knew she wanted to leave my dad. She was just thinking that she’d get the kids off to school and then she could focus on herself and find the strength to leave my dad. My dad wasn’t around very much when I was younger and there was a language barrier between us as his English is as bad as my Greek. After my parents separated I never saw him growing up because there were family violence intervention orders in place.
When I was 11, I saw my dad beating my mum and it was the most traumatic experience I’ve ever had. When I saw it I went numb as I felt so overwhelmed by what I was witnessing and had an out-of-body experience. I had never seen anything like that before and that image stuck with me for a very long time.
I never imagined that my two parents who I both loved and were my world, my inner sanctum and safe haven suddenly turned into this incredibly threatening and scary image.
I wanted to protect my mum but I didn’t know how to do that or have the emotional resources as an 11 year old to cope. I was the only one that saw it and the fact that there were police involved was very confusing for me as I was very angry because I worried that my dad would to go to jail if I said anything to the police. Shortly after we moved into a women’s refuge and daily life changed dramatically. We went to a different school and were told to keep a lot of secrets. My mum and I never really talked about it my dad again and as a child I could already see she was emotionally and physically beaten so I didn’t want to burden her with my experience anyway. From then on I kept my feelings to myself and worried a lot about my family.
Working in the family violence sector now, we talk about the effects of violence on children and I can see those things apply to me. Having observed family violence first hand, it definitely affected me in the way I connected with my family throughout adolescence, my confidence, self-esteem and capacity to regulate strong and intense feelings were problematic. I can now see how damaging it has been and why I’m passionate about working with perpetrators of family violence in my work.
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Growing up, my friends became more important to me than anything because I felt I couldn’t rely on family. I never took school seriously and got into trouble all the time. My mates always came first, they were so important to me. I would just run amuck, wag school, disappear for days at a time, turning up at home just to grab new clothes and take off again. My mum being a sole parent had no control over her male children so I think she invested all her energy into her daughter.
I was quite an angry kid growing up, just being an adolescent, getting used to life after my parents separation and the violence, but also trying to understand my sexuality. I grew up with some alpha-male, hyper-masculine type blokes who wagged school with me, played footy, were committing crimes as teenagers and some even going to jail. Even though they were like my family, I couldn’t talk to them about my developing sexuality, my reluctance to act on it and the confusion and shame connected to it.
There was one significant moment I remember when I was about fourteen, a guy I went to school with was trying to pick plums off this tree. He jumped on my shoulders so that he could reach the plums and he started filling up this plastic bag with plums. I had my hands firmly on his thighs was trying to balance him and he kept on wiggling around to reach the plums and I could feel his thighs tensing on my shoulders.
Then suddenly I became aware of his crotch around my neck and I could almost make out the feeling of his penis at the back of my neck. I felt so incredibly turned on by him and felt tingles in my stomach. I was surprised and excited at the intensity of my arousal.
It was strange, but I was also really curious, as I had only kissed girls at that point. I never acted on my same-sex attraction and continued going out with girls. I never spoke about my attraction to males but I would often jerk off to images in my mind of the ‘plum’ guy.
About a year later a guy from school said he had some porn at home and invited a few of us over to come watch it after school. Thinking about it now, there was something very homo-erotic about that, it’s a bit strange, all these straight guys sitting there jerking off in front of each other, like it was nothing. Once when it was just the two of us, I remember feeling a bit turned on by him and asked him, “should we take our clothes off?” He looked at me really strange with a ‘what the fuck are you talking about’ kind of look. I got scared and really pulled back, thinking the whole time, ‘fuck, I shouldn’t have said anything!’ Looking back now, that’s probably what it felt like to be in the closet, trying to creep out and then slamming the door tightly shut again.
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Growing up I was very close to my twin-brother because we were both footy-mad and I was obsessed with being involved in his footy world, I loved watching him play. At around 30 years old, I was starting to come out and we ended up drifting apart. He didn’t know anything about what I was going through, I was never going to tell him since I had good practice at keeping my feelings from my family. The footy community he was growing up with was incredibly alpha male. Footy clubs are fiercely homophobic, particularly back then. Homophobia Things are slightly changing now but I don’t think very much has changed in terms of safety for gay players.
As far as my dad, I didn’t have any contact with him for about a decade. There were intervention orders in place that prevented him from having any contact or coming anywhere near us.
In my household he was demonised as a horrible man who did this to my mother, so I never felt like I could ask about him. After I broke up with my first girlfriend, I started thinking about relationship break-ups and I started to think about my dad and realised I missed him.
At this stage I was 20 and I decided to find my dad. He used to work as a butcher in a wholesale warehouse in Northcote when my parents split up so I started there. I went to the head office and knocked on the door and asked whether he worked there. The guy in the office said, “who are you?” I said, “well, I’m his son,” and they responded with, “I’ll go get him, one second.” I thought to myself, ‘oh my gosh, that was easy.’ He came into the office and we just looked at each other, we didn’t hug and we didn’t shake hands. I noticed wrinkles on his face and this immediately reminded me of the time lost between us. I had this image of my dad in my mind for the past ten years which was very different to the man I met that day, so it was a bit of a shock and it was hard to process initially.
From that day on, we ended up seeing each other every day for over a year. I didn’t tell anyone else in my family for about two years because I worried that they would have been upset about his presence in our lives, but I also wanted to protect them from any anger he may have held. According to my dad we had abandoned him and he wasn’t taking any responsibility for his violence at that point. It took a couple of years for him to soften and to indicate that he had made some changes.
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The year I was reunited with my dad was also the year I started hitting the hard drugs. My friends and I got into speed, then coke and ecstasy. The pills were amazing back then, all you needed was one pill for a whole night.I used to go to the Dome Nightclub on Commercial Road back then and it was probably the only club in Melbourne where gay and straight came together. There was an emerging drug club culture back then and it was a completely different world for me. It was a place I could escape and just party and dance with others all night. It was the first time I saw drag queens, trans people, gay people and straight people all interacting in the same place at the same time, we were all high and we loved it. My whole week revolved around going to the Dome, loaded up with drugs just getting off your face.
This one night there was this girl looking directly at me on the dance floor. She had very sexy knee height boots on, she wore hot-pants and she had the most amazing body, long blonde hair and she was wearing sunnies in the nightclub. We mad eye contact a few times and she smiled so I go up to her and say hi. We went off to sit down in the lounge area and instantly we started pashing. Her hands and my hands were going everywhere as we kissed passionately.
At one point my hand began to slowly slide on her inner thigh and she pushed my hand away and said, “look, there’s plenty of time for that later but there are some things you need to know before you go there.” I asked, “what is it I need to know?” She said, “well, I have the same equipment down there that you have.”
I thought to myself, ‘hang on, what does that mean? She’s got a penis down there?’ I had never even met a trans person before. I responded with, “no, that’s totally fine with me. If you’re cool, then I’m cool, I’ve never been with a trans person.”
We ended up going back to her house and that’s the first time I had ever had a cock in my mouth and had anal sex. It was incredibly sexual and I loved everything about it.Being on drugs really helped because when I sobered up I started to freak out and knew I couldn’t tell any of my mates. It was a really intense experience and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I was going to the Dome every week anyway but I’d spend half the night walking around to see if I could find her but I couldn’t. Then one Saturday afternoon I was at the MCG watching my team play. I remember thinking about how much I’d rather try sucking cock again. I remembered she lived in south yarra which was fairly close so I thought, ‘fuck this.’ I ended up leaving at half time and went straight to her house to find her.
When I turned up at her house, she answered the door and I said, “I’m so sorry for turning up like this, is that okay? I just really want to have another sexual experience with you again?” She welcomed me in and we ended up doing all kinds of drugs and having sex for two whole days. I was almost obsessed with sucking her cock the whole time. She was open to letting me explore my sexuality and learn a few things from her. She was much older than me and helped me to feel ok about my sexuality.
This ended up going on for a while and I went through a stage where I told her, “if I’m with my friends at the Dome and I don’t say hi, please don’t take it personally, I’m just not ready.” She was so understanding and so beautiful with all of it, even though now I can see it was unfair to her, but it got to a point where it started to become more meaningful and so coming around and fucking and then going back to my world just wasn’t enough and because I was still closeted, this made it too hard to continue.
We ended up agreeing to stop seeing each other and although we went to the same venues, we barely spoke. I still wasn’t out yet so I’d go with my friends to Viper Room and get a pass out and walk down Commercial Road and secretly head to the Market.
I’d go up to the first hot guy I’d see and proposition him, so we’d go to the grottiest toilets at the Market and I would suck his cock and he would suck mine, then I’d quickly head back to Viper Room where my friends were.
I went a bit crazy, on some days I would end up having sex with some guy in my car at 6am in a public car park, off my face, before I went on and continued with my day.
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I had no concept of the fact that my actions could be potentially sexually hazardous to my health.I had crabs when I was 18 or so and a friend who was in jail told me to shave all my pubes and pat myself down with methylated spirits. It was so fucking painful but it worked and I got rid of the crabs. Other than that, I think I had gonorrhoea and thrush a couple of times. I didn’t realise how often I was putting myself at risk.
Along the way there were male sexual partners that I was seeing frequently so developing friendships in the gay scene became easy. This one guy said to me, “we are not going to have sex on drugs, you’ve never experienced gay sex without drugs, you’re going to stop this bullshit.” He made me go over to his house during the week when I was sober to have sex. I was pretty nervous and he never mentioned anything about STIs or HIV but he did say, “the thing about gay sex is that there’s good bits and bad bits. Always use a condom if you’re having anal sex with a guy.”He took it slow and was attentive to ensuring I was feeling pleasured, as well as giving me a few pointers on what he liked. The male-to-male energy was intense, it felt intimate, sensual and it was amazing. He was so good about it – we are still friends today.
I was pretty loyal to that comment and from then I always used condoms when I was having sex with a guy, although, I didn’t when I was having sex with a woman. I found that guys were pretty prepared, they always had condoms around but I also found that a lot of guys were pretty prepared to have sex without a condom unless I asked. There was this one time though that I had insertive and penetrative sex with a guy without a condom, I freaked out and I thought, ‘okay, I see what the hype is about cuz’ it feels fucking good but now I’ve got to get myself tested!’
I just started talking about sexual health a little bit more with the guys I’d get with and they’d educate me too. Nowadays I know a lot more about sexual health and I make sure I get tested once every six months, minimum.
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I actually came out quite late, I was about 27 when I gradually began to tell people.I wasn’t really sure what was going on, I didn’t know whether I was gay or bi, but I did know that I wasn’t straight. I enjoyed having all of this secret male-male sex but it was stressful in the closet too. The first person I came out to was my manager when I started doing counselling work. When I started work with her I cleaned myself up of all the drugs and being sober made me really anxious.
She was sitting next to me and rubbed my back and I burst into tears. I said, “I’ve been having sex with men.” I said something else to her about sucking cock and I thought, ‘how would I ever tell my mates about this.’
I was so worried about the judgement I would receive from everyone. She goes to me, “honey, if you like sucking cock, then you like sucking cock.” I’m not sure why that made a difference, I guess she just normalised it. From then on, I slowly started to come out as bisexual to more and more people.
I didn’t actually come out to my family until I was 35, so quite recent! My older brother was fine about it, he is very ‘left’ in his thinking, he has been a union delegate at work, he has strong political views which we both share, he’s got gay friends and lives a fairly unconventional life himself. He was a safe bet for me to come out to and he even started coming to gay clubs with me. My friends all flirt with him which is funny. Coming out to my twin brother was harder, he took it as a real shock I think. He’s the guy I spent most of my childhood with, we were incredibly close for most of our lives and he didn’t know about it. I think he felt a bit left in the dark. My sister and mum were okay, they didn’t really ask any questions but my mum just said, “so does that mean you’re going to have a boyfriend now instead of a girlfriend? With a girlfriend you can still have children you know.”
I now tell people that I am same-sex attracted or bisexual but pansexual is a term that I am more comfortable with than bisexual because I’m still attracted to trans people as well as women and men. Bisexual is just an easy way to describe it to people who don’t really understand the terminology.I learned that there is discrimination that exists for bi-people within the gay community and I’m actually really surprised that I experienced biphobia in a gay club.
I think that through a lot of gay guy’s journey they may grapple with the whole ‘bi now, gay later’ thing, and then once they feel more certain and confident about their sexuality, they arrive at gay. So when they look back, their bisexual status was just a stepping stone to gay, and probably reminds them of a very difficult and confusing time in their psycho-sexual development, a time where they were perhaps afraid of the ‘gay’ label, which they then project onto me with biphobia. I grappled with various labels for years and bisexual is definitely something I am more comfortable with than straight or gay.
Its ok and healthy to talk to others
There are two things that I’d like to say to people reading my story. The first thing I’d like to mention is about education, which contradicts my attitude growing up; I am a fierce supporter and defender of good education. I’ve been so incredibly well educated since I got my shit together after coming out and was able to focus on a passion of mine which is counselling.
Secondly, if anyone is going through any kind of hardship, whether it’s some form of family violence, discrimination, exploring your sexuality, drug addiction, the main thing is to find someone you trust, whether it’s a counsellor or a close and trusted friend.If I had been able to speak to someone sooner, I wouldn’t have gone to the extremes with the drugs and pushed the boundaries like I did, I would have explored and learnt about my sexuality earlier, I would have felt more comfortable with myself to even possibly pursue a relationship with a guy or trans person.
Finally, family violence is really scary for children, they don’t understand it and it’s unfair that they’re exposed to it. They have enough going on just being kids in a heterosexist world. For any same-sex attracted people out there just know that the LGBTI community has plenty of helpful, caring and vibrant places to enjoy yourself, find support, feel valued and loved just like I have experienced by others in our community.