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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Anthony is a stand-up comedian who in his last Comedy Festival show revealed that his parents sent him to a ‘Gay Conversion School’. He talks about his religious upbringing; his early attempts to convert to heterosexuality and how, after relationships with both Promiscuous Ken and Relationship Ken, right now he’s happy to be single and dating...
I’m 29. I grew up in Perth, with bogans, in Wanneroo. That was with Mum and Dad and then they got divorced when I was about seven, so I moved to Balga with my Mum and then I later moved to South Perth by myself.
I moved to Melbourne in 2000, so I’ve been here six years. I moved here to do stand-up comedy and I guess to find my own kind of life without too much parental influence. I get along with my parents but I’m happy to be on the other side of the country; things can be a bit full-on sometimes.
I won the national competition
I got into stand-up by winning a competition called Raw Comedy, which was created by the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and Triple J. I entered it in Perth. I’d never done a gig before and I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it. I sneaked away quietly and went and tried it out and ended up winning. Then they flew me to Melbourne and I won the national competition and that was great.
I travelled with a couple of the other comedians around Australia as part of the prize and the year after that I was invited to be in Comedy Zone, which is a show that the Melbourne Comedy Festival pays for. The year after that, I did my own show that was taken to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and I’ve done my own shows ever since.
I love performing
I just love performing. I like being able to get up and be whoever I want. My first stand-up stuff wasn’t about being gay. Obviously I talked about personal experiences but they were not really related to sexuality. I was fairly aloof about dating, in fact I barely spoke about it, so I never had to say ‘my partner’ as many other performers may do. If people figured out I was gay I wasn’t too fussed, but if they didn’t I didn’t force it. I just talked about what was happening in the media and kind of Seinfeld-like topics I guess.
This year I wanted to do something that really let people know who I was and it was great to be able to talk about all my dating experiences and life. I’ve had so many hilarious experiences in the dating world that I couldn’t let them go by any longer.
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When I told my parents I was gay they put me in a gay conversion school, which is what my show was about this year. It was part of a church group called RHEMA in WA and there was a counsellor there who ran a support group for people who were working at turning from being gay to being hetero. It was a born-again group. Mum’s born-again – she’s hardcore – really, really religious. Dad’s really religious too, but he’s more Catholic. But both of them kind of flipped out with religion.
Dad‘s really full-on Catholic. He’s gone and got all these statues of Jesus. You walk into his house and there are statues and candles and all that sort of thing everywhere.
He knows I’m gay
He knows I’m gay but he doesn’t like to verbally acknowledge it. I think he still hopes I’ll turn. The last time I went to Perth he gave me a cookware set. He told me he was saving it for when I found a nice woman and got married, but instead of saying, ‘Well, I’ll give you this now seeing as you’re not ever going to marry a woman’ he just said, ‘You can have it now seeing as you need it now’. I never even asked for or needed a cookware set! I guess he deals with it in his own way.
Also, whenever we’re at a Chinese restaurant – this is in my show – he always tries to set me up with oriental waitresses! I don’t know why, but something happens to him when he sees Asian food that makes him want to marry me off to an oriental lady.
He says to them, ‘What do you think of my son? Do you think he’s good looking? Will you take him out some time?’ Weird! All the time! It’s really embarrassing! I’m usually cowering behind a napkin. So he’s big-time in denial, but it’s really hard to explain. He knows I’m gay but he doesn’t like to admit it. He doesn’t like to say it out loud, I guess.
I don’t think he’d handle it
He has met boyfriends of mine but he just calls them friends. I’ve never held a guy’s hand in front of him. I’m never in a situation where I need to, because I’m on the other side of the country, but I don’t think he’d handle it well at all if he saw me actually make contact with another guy. That said I would still do it though. I’d be uncomfortable at first but I wouldn’t hide. He’d get used to it... eventually. Maybe I could get more cookware....
The only person in my family who doesn’t know is my grandfather and that’s because he’s really Italian, really old-world and I don’t think he’d cope with it, but everyone else knows. I don’t have any secrets. I actually have three family members who are homosexual - cousins and second cousins, I mean... and a lesbian. I don’t actually talk to my family at all. I talk to my sister a lot; we’re really close. Mum and Dad I ring every couple of weeks but that’s about it.
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I told my mum first that I was gay. I sat her down and I said, ‘I’m gay; this is how I feel. There’s nothing I can do about it’. She started crying. She was really very upset and I made her promise not to tell Dad or my sister; I didn’t want to tell them yet. She said she wouldn’t. We chatted for something like three hours and she was a mess and then I couldn’t take it any more so I told her I was going to a friend’s house for a while.
I went to see one of my girlfriend’s – she was my best friend at the time and she knew I was gay. I told her I’d told my Mum. I hung out at her house and within about an hour the whole family rocked up, cars everywhere. Mum, Dad, my sister, they all came in. My friend was shocked and amazed at the commotion it caused.
We went back to Mum’s house and chatted for hours – six hours. People were crying and even now, ten years later, Dad’s still in denial.
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My Mum sent me off to gay conversion school. That’s what I call it – I can’t recall the formal title but it was basically a woman who ran a group to convert gay people to hetero people. I found out later that she actually had a husband who left her and her kids after 20 years of marriage and became gay, so she was definitely not the right person to be running a class.
God made him straight
I never met anyone who truly became ex-gay. That said, I was only in the group for about eight months. There was one guy, a motivational speaker called Sy Rogers – you can look him up on the net (hilarious): he travels the world and tells people how he slept with over 400 men and how he then decided to starve his urges and become straight. He said he went through hell doing it. He was suicidal and tried to end his life and then eventually God made him straight and now he’s married with a wife and kids. He travels to churches all the time and does his motivational talks and boasts about his kids. He’s really camp.
Mum asked me to go and I went because I thought if I didn’t I was going to go to hell. Because I grew up in the Church I actually was really, really scared of it. It took years to get that mind-set out – and to stop feeling guilty every time something sexual happened. Mum wanted me to go but it was partly me as well.
Surfies on the internet
At gay conversion school you’d go in and talk about any falls you had, like AA. I have this line in my show about it: ‘My name is Anthony Menchetti: I’m gay but I’m trying to quit. I’m doing okay, down to one fag a day, is one in the morning with coffee okay?’
There’d be fifty-year-old guys there in a group discussion saying, ‘I was at home and I looked at surfies on the Internet’. They were just venting. It was really odd, but it seemed perfectly normal at the time. Now I think, ‘God, what was going on?’
I left the group because it was doing my head in. The guilt was just eating me up, the guilt that I felt every time I did something sexually.
The way I beat myself up, it just wasn’t worth it and I realised there’s no way that I can change. It made me near a nervous breakdown.
What’s the point?
I tried having sex with females as well, as kind of a last resort. I mean, I could have sex but there was nothing there. So I’d listen to Sy Rogers going on about how he was suicidal and all that kind of stuff and I finally just went, ‘There’s no way I’m going through that’. What’s the point? It took him a long time; it took him years to convert and there’s no way that I would starve my sexual urges. You can’t. I don’t think you can.
I was wrestling with my Christian upbringing the whole time, probably even up until only five or six years ago. I still believe in God but I am who I am and there’s no way of changing that. I’m happy with who I am and I’m happy with all my friends and my life and I think if you’re happy that’s all you need to do.
I don’t think it’s about what you do or what you don’t do, it’s just about being as good a person as you can be and being true to yourself.
I’m far happier now than I ever was trying to starve any urges, far happier. I still had guilt for a long time, for years.
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One night I rocked up to a church function and it was really weird but this team leader from the gay conversion class was the only other person who turned up. Everyone else was supposed to be going but it was just me and him there. I still don’t know what happened to everyone else. He was 18 or so, he was celibate for years so they made him a team leader.
We’d been there a while and when no-one else showed he said, ‘Do you want to go out?’ I said, ‘Oh alright’, even though I was thinking, ‘I don’t really know’. We went to Connections, the only gay club in Perth at the time, and when I was out with him we got fairly friendly. We both told each other we really liked each other and kind of planned to do something later that night but then I met another guy there and so began a relationship with him that lasted four years.
Yeah, sure you are!
He was the first guy I got together with; he wasn’t monogamous the whole time. I was, but we were both pretty young – he was younger than me. I came home a couple of times and he’d be on the net on meet-up sites and stuff and I was going, ‘That’s weird, what are you doing?’ And he’d be like, ‘I’m just chatting to friends’. I’d be like ‘Yeah, sure you are’.
I cracked it
I guess I knew exactly what he was doing, but I went along with it for a while. Then I caught him giving his phone number to someone at the club once and holding this guy’s arse and that was it. I cracked it. It was one of those things where we’d break up for a while and then we’d get back together. We finally broke up for good: we did the long-distance thing for a while when I moved here to Melbourne and then we ended it completely a year after.
I think I kept going with the relationship because he was an escape for me. He had a really good lifestyle; his parents weren’t especially supportive, but he had told them about his sexuality and he went clubbing every night and his parents knew it and didn’t grill him about it. We had lots of friends and I guess I was holding onto that lifestyle more than to him. I admired his freedom. We used to stay at his place, until I moved out and then he moved in with me as well.
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I was too worried about HIV for a while: I thought it was something that was really easy to get. I mean, I know you have to be careful, but I was pretty paranoid for a while. I’d always been really paranoid about it because when I first told my Mum I was gay she was crying because she said, she was afraid of me getting AIDS. But I have always been really, really careful.
I didn’t know everything – I guess I didn’t know at the time that you could get HIV by ‘giving’ – I thought you could only get it by ‘receiving’ – so I didn’t know all about that kind of stuff.
I actually made my partner go and have a test with me before we went and did anything too serious. He hated needles and screamed like a girl!
The tests were more for my peace of mind. I think we still used condoms anyway. He’d been really promiscuous since he was 16 and he’d been with 60 or so people by this time. We had agreed that we would be monogamous and if either of us did ever cheat, we’d tell the other one.
He wasn’t mature enough to be upfront about it, though to be fair I wouldn’t have been able to handle it either. Now I would, but that being my first relationship made it harder. With everything I’d been through with my parents, the relationship was something I held onto; he was like an escape. If he had said, ‘I’ve cheated’ I probably would have fallen apart, because I wouldn’t have had my outlet.
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My second relationship was very different to my first, because he was really monogamous. He was like Ken – you know, Ken and Barbie – he was like the perfect relationship guy, really monogamous. Then I actually got a little bit bored after three years because he was always home by nine and didn’t really drink or anything. Which is hard when you do comedy because you’re always out drinking and socialising.
He’d been raised really, really well; his parents never yelled at him at all and the lines of communication were always really open. So he was always really level-headed and if we had a fight there wouldn’t be yelling, it would just be, ‘Let’s talk about it’. It was hugely different from my family experience. Mum and Dad yell a lot. It was very different.
He and I were really social and then suddenly for two years we became recluses – we just lived in the house pretty much, went out to dinners, lost contact with a lot of people and now that we’re both single again we’re probably best friends - we see each other all the time – but we both have really good social lives now; we’re always out. With him it was weird, I went on tour for three months and when I came back there was just nothing there at all. I said, ‘I just don’t feel anything any more’ and he felt the same way. It was on its way out prior to that for about a year due to a difference in lifestyles but the three months apart just really ended the relationship.
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Even if I’m out and I’m really, really drunk or whatever, I’m never drunk to the point that I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve had guys say, ‘Let’s go bareback’ and I’m just like, ‘No way’. There’s just no way. Unless I was in a relationship and knew them really, really well, then I would.
Only once have I thought I might have been exposed to HIV. A condom came off and I was really, really stressed about it. I didn’t know him either; it was a bit of a one-night stand. So I went and got tested straight away. I know it takes three months, so I got tested and then I went back and got retested later.
Sexual health checks
I get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) every three months - not religiously; it’s probably more like every six months for a general health screen. It depends what I’ve done. If I’ve been really active I would, but if there hadn’t been much happening obviously I wouldn’t bother. It depends on the people I was with, if I’d seen them out and I’d noticed they were promiscuous I’d probably go and have another check...
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It took me a long time to get to where I am today. After all the stuff with the church and parents and all that stuff and now to be openly gay and talk about sexuality on stage has been a really good experience for me this year. I really do feel liberated by it.
Even this season I had all these shows where there were hardly any gay people in the audience, and a few weird crowds with a lot of wealthy older people who seemed really conservative. I designed the show for a straight audience as well, just to give them a bit of an insight into the gay lifestyle and gay saunas and stuff. To be talking about that stuff to a really conservative audience and have them go with it was great and every show’s been really good.
The gay thing
Without turning into one of those comedians that camps it up, I think it’s good to have a few comedians that are gay but don’t always harp on about it. The only reason I talked about it in my show this year is that I’d had a lot of experiences that were quite funny and wanted to talk about them. I talk about all sorts of things, but every so often I get back to the gay thing.
A lot of straight comedians get up and talk about their girlfriends or whatever and I think it should be exactly the same for gay comedians. I’ve been amazed by my audiences. I’ve looked at them before they come in and sometimes I think, ‘Oh my God, this is going to be a train wreck’, because they’re so conservative – you know, you see little husbands and wives holding hands in the front row and you think, ‘God, they’re going to hate it!’
And then they’re amazing! They’re so fascinated to hear what it’s like in the gay world and what it’s like to go to a gay sauna or what it’s like to have a gay relationship or what it’s like telling your parents. And the gay conversion school stuff was such a chunk of the show – people were so amazed to hear what happened and the techniques for trying to convert a gay person into being straight. It’s been great and its made me feel so much better about it.
They’re amazed because there’s nothing like it in the straight world. If a straight person goes into an adults-only club or something there’s such a stigma with that whereas it’s not as full-on for a gay person to go to a sauna.
A guy took me to a sauna for a first date
I talk about how a guy took me to a sauna for a first date, so I kind of laugh about that. Then I just say, ‘If you’ve ever wondered what goes on in a gay sauna then I’ll tell you about it; this is what happens, you walk in and leave your clothing in a locker and just wear a towel... yadda, yadda, yadda. People are just fascinated to hear about it. Even stuff about internet dating, you know, stuff like typing smiley faces and LOL – they just don’t know about it and they have no idea and they’re fascinated.
Saunas and nightclubs
Saunas aren’t really me. I prefer going to a nightclub and meeting someone. I think I find them more attractive because I can see what they’re wearing and stuff. I mean, if you have sex in a sauna, a lot of people just feel fairly shit about it afterwards... Personally, I just prefer going to a club. I don’t know why I prefer meeting people in clubs. It’s kind of fun going home and getting undressed and stuff as opposed to just walking up and tapping someone and going for it – there’s no build-up so it’s not as exciting in a sauna.
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I came out when I was 19 and on my first night in a gay nightclub I met a guy and dated him for four years and my second relationship lasted three years. So now that I’m single, I’m dating a lot more and just enjoying life a little more and not trying to be too serious about it.
I’m not against relationships at all. I’d still settle down if I found the right person, but I’ve got so many great friends now and I’m kind of take-it-or-leave-it really. If it happens, it’s great. Eventually I’d want to settle down in a relationship. But it‘s fun to go out and meet people, because I didn’t really do that when I was younger.
Anthony grew up in Perth
Anthony moved to Melbourne in 2000 to pursue a career in stand-up comedy