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 Ben J

Ben J

From US

I'd been using meth & having bareback sex all the time. I must be positive too, but I felt nothing.


This story relates to: Injecting drug use, Living with HIV, Meth


Chubby, awkward, me?


1. Chubby, awkward, me?

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* All images are from stock photography and in no way depict the participant. All names have been changed as the participant wishes to remain anonymous, please respect their wishes *

I remember the first time I ever tried meth, I was 19 years old and newly out. I had been sexually active for a while, but I had really bad self-esteem and really poor self-image. (Self esteem)

I knew I was using meth as a tool for validation with my peers, rather than for pleasure.

There was an element of pleasure, but that wasn’t the main driver. I had this need to have somebody tell me, if not in words then through actions, that I meant something to them, that I mattered. In my mind, their willingness to have sex with me, to spend time with me, even to engage with me online, was directly proportionate to my value, to my acceptability.

Back in the US, they’d call it PNP, which stood for ‘party and play’. (Party n' Play) I had never really attached stigma to drug use, so I didn’t immediately rule it out. I was so focused on the validation that I got from someone’s willingness to hook up with me, that I would do anything it took to make it happen.

I wasn’t addicted to drugs: I was addicted to acceptance, to validation. I needed to belong, somewhere, anywhere.

I was still living with my parents at the time, so I went to this place called the Crystal Palace, in a dodgy part of town. It was basically a crash pad where meth users would go and use for days on end. I went not expecting to use, but when I got there, the guy I was hooking up with offered it to me.

I thought, ‘Really? This really hot guy is willing to have sex with chubby, awkward me? Why not?!’

I was so new to it all, and the idea was so foreign to me, that I couldn’t even do it myself. He had to hold the pipe to my mouth, light it for me, roll it and do everything you’re meant to do. (Crystal Meth) I was so engaged by the novelty of the situation. We didn’t end up having sex because neither of us could get it up – but the rush, the high. It was incredible. I remember thinking, ‘I shouldn’t be doing this’, but that sense of doing something prohibited, something bad, made it even more appealing.

I was so turned off by the come down that I knew it wasn’t something that I wanted to do regularly. However, it was still something that I was willing and wanting to do if it meant that I was going to have sex with somebody, to be with somebody.

Where I lived at the time, meth was everywhere, but it was something that I would do only if it was offered. I never sought it out, never paid for it, but if it was there, I wouldn’t turn it down. For most people, meth was a problem because they were addicted to it, or couldn’t manage their use. For me it was problematic because I was doing it for the wrong reasons. In my mind, I was so low, so unworthy, that I fully believed that I was desirable only if I agreed to use. I believed that if I turned down the offer of drugs, that the people wouldn’t want to hook up with me, that they would reject me.

It seems so silly now, stepping back from it. “So what?” you might think. ”So what if they turn you down? Just hook up with someone else.” It wasn’t so easy then.

Any rejection, however fleeting, however inconsequential, was devastating. It was further confirmation of my deeply-ingrained belief that I was undesirable, unwanted, and worthless.

They say the opposite of addiction is human connection. I wanted to think I was better than other people because I didn’t seek it out, because I wasn’t addicted to it, but still secretly hoped that it would be available. However, it wasn’t because I wanted it in its own right, but because it was the price I thought I had to pay to get the things I was really addicted to, the things I actually craved: connection and acceptance.


Twenty One


2. Twenty One

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I met my ex, Anthony, on a hook-up website. He was ridiculously hot. I thought to myself, I would do practically anything to have sex with this guy. We met up at a sauna and had an all-night PNP session. (Party n' Play) I was off my face, but it was so enjoyable, the sensation of being high. All of my senses were engaged.

Most importantly – at the time, anyway – I felt that my use was the thing that facilitated hooking up with this guy. I wanted him and he wanted me. Whether that was because of the drugs or not, I couldn’t say. In that moment all that mattered was that he wanted me.

After we left, I went home and I had my couple of days come down. As I returned to sobriety, the negative thoughts returned, the narrative that told me I was wanted only because I’d used, that the attraction was artificial, that I was the same person as I was before: fat, ugly, and undesirable.

I didn’t expect to hear from Anthony again. A few days later, though, he called me and asked if I just wanted to hang out. No drugs. No sex. Just hang out and get to know each other.

I was bowled over. Not only was this guy incredibly hot, he was also intelligent, funny, engaging and a generally decent human being. More than that, he seemed to actually like me for me. When he suggested that we start dating, I didn’t hesitate to agree. It was in part because I was genuinely attracted to him, but primarily because I didn’t think I would ever find another person who was interested in me, or who would love me.

I was 21 years old at the time. I didn’t recognize what addiction and dependence really were or what they looked like. There were some obvious indicators from very early on that things weren’t quite right.

Anthony frequently asked to borrow money from me, despite him being 14 years my senior and ostensibly more stable and responsible. I would give him the money anyway because I thought that was the right thing to do, and because he promised to pay me back. Many night before bed he would spend nearly an hour in the bathroom (“upset stomach”). There a dozen things that independently were insignificant. Considered together, however, they pointed to serious issues.

There were times where I thought I should leave him. I could never quite bring myself to actually do it.

I had a dim view of the gay community where people were shallow and frivolous, hopping into a new relationship every other week, and cheating on each other in the process.

I didn’t want to be that person. I wanted to be “better” than that. I also was worried that, if I left, he wouldn’t repay the money he owed me, something I couldn’t afford. More pressing than those thoughts was the fear of being alone, and the return of those pervasive feelings of worthlessness.

As time went on, things grew exponentially worse. The signs for concern changed from being occasional and minor, to being frequent and destructive. Anthony would call me in the middle of the night from police station saying he’d been arrested and asking me to bail him out.

Bathhouses and sex-on-premises venues would call me asking to pick him up because he’d overdosed, or become violent, and they didn’t want to call the cops or call an ambulance.

These situations became so commonplace that I simply accepted them. They were part of life.

Making matters worse was Anthony’s friend, Jason, was also his drug dealer. Jason was attractive, outgoing, and charismatic, but also deceptive, manipulative, and unhinged. Every time Anthony began to distance himself from his triggers, or reduce and manage his use, Jason would claw him back, using flattery, pity, and empty promises to lure him. Anthony struggled; he recognised the impact that Jason was having on him, but couldn’t get away from him. Anthony needed him and despised him.

I felt paralysed, a passenger on a sinking ship. His life was deteriorating because of meth, because of addiction. I had pegged my life to his, so as he was going down, I was going down with him.

Honestly, it’s difficult to elaborate on that time in my life. Those years of my life were so chaotic, that I struggle to make sense of them.

When I try to remember back, it’s just a noise of sadness, fear, and rage.

Whatever sense of self-worth I’d started to build because of that relationship immediately came crashing down. I was trapped. As much as I wanted to leave, I didn’t think I could. I thought that if I left, he would die. For everything that had happened, I still loved him.

I started going out and hooking up in circles where meth was everywhere. I couldn’t say my use was the result of addiction or dependence, but I was using often enough that it was seriously disruptive, even destructive. (Crystal Meth)

I would show up to work high and nobody seemed to notice, or if they did, they didn’t say anything. I would grind my teeth through family gatherings because, despite my life crumbling around me, I thought I could fool the world into thinking that I was okay. Part of me didn’t want anyone’s help, and was too stubborn to accept it. At my core, however, I didn’t think I deserved any help. My choices got me into that situation, and it was up to me to get out of it.


I Deserve This


3. I Deserve This

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In trying to remember my life during this time, one date stands out clearly: January 4, 2006. It was early in the morning, around 6 am. Anthony came over to my apartment, unusually calm and collected. He told me he’d gone to a bathhouse, strictly to get tested for HIV. Having just woken up, my immediate thought was, “Who goes to a bathhouse at 3 am to get an HIV test?” While I was trying to process this, he said, “I just tested positive for HIV. You need to get tested too.”

I think when a lot of people hear something like that, they are shocked or scared. I felt nothing. I thought only, “I must be positive too.” I had been hooking up frequently, using meth almost as often, and having bareback sex all the time, without any conversation about HIV status, testing, or anything at all. I found a local clinic that offered rapid HIV tests. (HIV testing)I couldn’t afford the cost, so I wrote a bad check.

I was all but certain of the result, but I had to know for sure. When the test came back positive, I didn’t feel anything. I simply thought, “This is what you deserve.”

As I walked away from the clinic, I didn’t think about my health; I thought about how other people were going to perceive me. I remembered all the horrible things that people would say about HIV and about people who had it, and was terrified at the thought of the same things being said about me. Even at that moment, my primary concern was being accepted. I firmly believed that if anyone found out, that they would reject me entirely. I needed to do everything I could, to keep it a secret. (Living with HIV)

My first task was finding a job that offered health insurance. It might seem silly, but in the US having health insurance can quite literally mean the difference between life and death. I was concerned about my health only insofar as it enabled me to keep my HIV status a secret. I tried to outwardly project an image of having it together, so no one would suspect. I was still with Anthony, however, which didn’t make it easy.

No matter what I did to try and help him, he was slowly deteriorating. He was essentially dying before my eyes.


Imploding and Exploding


4. Imploding and Exploding

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Everything that Anthony did was destroying my life. There was one moment, however, that prompted me to finally get out of that situation.

He had called me and said he’d swallowed a bunch of sleeping pills and that he wanted to die.

Sadly, this wasn’t new. He had attempted suicide a couple of times before, so I did the same thing and drove to where he was to try to help him. (Suicide)

This time, instead of being just slightly off, he was totally erratic and completely out of his head. He was yelling and screaming, rambling about things I couldn’t make any sense of. Nothing I said to him was registering. He got in his truck and started careening through traffic, running red lights, driving the wrong way down one way streets, coming within inches of taking out other cars. I was trying to follow him, hoping that neither of us would get hit, hoping that I could talk him down.

After what felt like hours, he crashed into a tree. When I got to him he was unconscious. I don’t know why I didn’t think to call an ambulance; instead, I carried him into my car, and drove him to the emergency room. After several hours, a doctor came out and told me “We pumped his stomach so we’ll see what happens. There’s nothing you can do, you should go home.”

The hospital called me several hours later to tell me that Anthony was waking up, and that he was going to be fine. Just as I arrived at the hospital to pick him up, I saw him driving off in a car with his drug dealer.

That broke me.

I had given everything I could to him, given everything to help him, yet he still sought out the person who was the catalyst for so much of the grief in his life.

I felt something change in that moment, something fundamental. I wanted to kill Jason. Not an idle, abstract desire, but a genuine belief that his death was the only way to help Anthony get better, the only thing that might give me my life back.

I realised I was capable of killing a person, and would think of ways I kill him while making it look like an accident.

I felt numb, as if something inside me that was struggling to survive had died. When I was diagnosed, it was cold, grey and there was just nothingness. It just felt empty, but that wasn’t all. In this moment, however, something else started taking hold. I recognised I had the capacity for truly horrible things.

Despite that change in me, there remained this voice in my head, quiet and calm, telling me, “This isn’t you. This doesn’t have to be your life. You can get out of this.” When I saw my ex getting into this dealer’s car at the hospital, it was every emotion, imploding and exploding. It was chaos and focus. It was the strangest sensation because I was so desperately sad and so furiously angry. I wanted to hurt that Jason. I wanted to hurt my Anthony. I wanted to hurt myself. I wanted to burn the world, but couldn’t even bring myself to move. I wanted to go to my mother and cry.

I don’t remember how or why, or what prompted me to keep moving. After I watched Anthony drive off, I went to work for the next eight hours, where I had to smile and be nice to people, when I was coming apart at the seams.

I went back to my same old way of self-medicating: casual hook-ups and using. The same feeling of self-hatred returned. (Self esteem)I had been rejected by the one person I never thought would ever reject me. I felt shit about myself, and easily fell back into the same cycle of needing sex, needing validation, needing attention from other people to make me feel as if I existed.

It was during this time that I started blasting when I was hooking up. (Injecting Drug Use) As with before, I would never prepare or administer the drugs myself, instead letting my hook-ups do it for me. I hated needles, and didn’t want to inject, but as before, didn’t want to say no to anything for fear that my hook-ups would reject me. I slowly saw myself falling into the same behaviours, the same cycle, that had taken down Anthony.

I was trying to live two lives: one happy, healthy, and reasonably successful, the other empty, destructive, and without value. I think I held onto that quiet calm voice in my head, focused on what it said, and tried to engage more with that part of my life that wasn’t being dragged down. As time went by, I slowly distanced myself from the destructive aspects and behaviours. Jason was eventually arrested and sent to prison, which gave Anthony a chance to get free of his cycle. He moved to the country, and with the help of some friends, was able to get sober. We remained – and remain – friends. I never stopped loving him, but I realised in the midst of all this chaos that I had to value my own life above his.


Price to Pay


5. Price to Pay

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The image going through my head, when I was a bit more lucid and stepped back from things, was this idea of my soul being torn in two. Everything was chaos. There was no moment of peace or rest during that period. I was being pulled in so many different directions, beaten from every side. I felt like a shell with a million cracks in it, waiting for the final blow that shattered everything.

Even thinking back on it now, I can feel the same tension in my chest, the same pain and pressure, that I felt then, as if somebody is clawing at my insides and trying to tear me in half.

I don’t know what it was particularly that pushed me to stop, to get out of that situation. I think as I started processing the pain of it and seeing the effect that meth had on Anthony’s life, on mine, and on so many others around me, that I couldn’t look at it in an objective way anymore. I couldn’t disconnect myself from the effect. I started to view it as an evil drug that does evil things and destroys lives. I decided to cut it out of my life completely.

I can’t even begin to explain to you what it was like. I find it hard talking about it now because I feel electricity running through my body. That sense of losing your bearings is like a compass needle spinning in every direction all at once, then shattering. That’s not a way to live a life, for anybody. I don’t think any of us who have been through something like that can say we’re better off or worse, because we don’t know what could have been.

I would honestly struggle to say that I’m a better person for going through this – I’m not. I’m stronger in many ways, but that strength has come with a price and I don’t know that it was necessarily worth it.


Loss of Innocence


6. Loss of Innocence

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The idea of the loss of innocence, as cliché as it sounds, rings true. In a very tangible way, I learned that the world can be a terrible place, that people don’t always have good intentions.

Coming to the point where you realise - if you want to live, you have to value yourself ahead of other people, even if it means abandoning them.

Every time I hear about another person struggling with addiction, struggling with meth use, my heart drops.

I consider myself exceptionally fortunate in that I had the ability to do get away from it. I remember the hell that Anthony went through to get out of addiction, and the impact it continues to have on his health. It degraded his nervous system to the point that he now lives with neuropathy and myopathy, rendering him paralysed for long periods.

I think I’ve developed a bit better in understanding of what drug use and drug addiction is. Unlike my earlier hostility toward drugs, particularly meth, I would never judge somebody for their use because it is such a difficult thing to deal with, especially if you're dependant on it. To begin the long process of, not only extracting yourself from the drug and fighting to survive, but also thriving and living a really happy, productive life, it’s incredibly difficult

My situation felt hopeless. I know there are others going through similar circumstances who feel the same way. I want them to know that there is hope.

Whether you're watching a person you care about lose themselves and struggle with addiction, or you yourself are the person struggling with addiction; it may seem like there’s nothing left for you, that there’s no way out, that you're condemned to this for the rest of time – it is not the case. It’s a long and difficult process, but you can get better.

It doesn’t always look better. It’s not a clear path. The process can be dark and winding, can double back on itself, and lead you to think it’s impossible. If you keep going, though, even when it feels hopeless, one day you’ll find yourself looking back, seeing how far you you’ve come, and you realise that you’ve done it. You’ve come through it. You’ll find that you’re stronger and wiser than you were before.

I had given up hope that I would ever find somebody who could love me, somebody who could understand what I’d gone through. In a way, I held onto the pain and the trauma, because it had become normal to me, familiar. I was scared of letting it go, because I didn’t know what might come next.

Now, however, I’m in a relationship with somebody who has gone through addiction, and come out the other side all the better. In many ways, we’re perfect for each other because we’ve both had these experiences. We understand the pain and the trauma and the difficulty, but we’ve also both come out of it independently and, again, stronger in many ways, whatever price that came at. We can remember the pain, and honour it, but at the end of the day we let go of it, and celebrate how far we’ve come. In that understanding, that full and uncompromising acceptance of everything that our lives have been, we can find peace. We can find love and happiness.

When you’ve gone through something that you think has killed a part of you, something from which there’s no going back, love is a pretty remarkable thing find.

* All images are from stock photography and in no way depict the participant. All names have been changed as the participant wishes to remain anonymous, please respect their wishes *




For more stories that explore meth use amongst gay, bisexual and trans men, visit Touchbase Stories.

For more information on drugs and alcohol, how they work, how to stay safe, what happens when you mix your drugs, how they interact with your meds or hormones, or how they could affect your mental health, visit Touchbase.org.au

Re-Wired is a free, eight week program run by VAC for men who have sex with men (MSM) aimed at helping you to learn skills and strategies to change your methamphetamine use and better manage your mental health. For more information, visit Therapeutic Groups.

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Tell us your story


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