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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Brad is a 30 year old hairdresser and former dancer. He talks about the benefits of having a gay brother; keeping your undies on during sex; how counselling helped him deal with molestation and anxiety; reading about himself in his ex’s autobiography and more...
I was raised in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. I think I was probably twenty when I had my first sexual encounter. He used to model for the salon I worked in. I remember being really quite reserved to the point where I wouldn’t take my underwear off, but he was kind of really accommodating.
That only lasted a few months but it was all a little bit too much, too soon, because he was quite experienced and it was my first time, so that was quite full-on. He was about five years older, but when you’re 20 and they’re 25, that’s a big difference. We had only been seeing each other for a couple of months, so it was all very sweet and innocent and then I sort of found out that he was a bit of a town bike and I was the last to know!
I guess I always knew I was gay. Even though I accepted it, the hardest thing was not knowing how other people would accept it. I have a brother who’s about six years older and he’s gay, and it was never an issue in the family for him, so I just accepted it wouldn’t be for me. But even though you know that, it’s hard to get your head around it, because it’s such a big thing.
There are eight of us altogether. When I started seeing someone I remember my brother saying to me, "You need to tell Mum and Dad". And I said, "But it’s not like our brothers and sisters have to sit down and tell them, hey, Mum and Dad, I’m straight.” I guess I never gave them the choice. I came out at about 20, I think. I’m 30 now.
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I was just used to having a gay brother, so I didn’t really think about it at the time, but it was totally a help. When I sat him down and told him I was gay he was so excited that he said, ‘Do you mind if I go and tell so and so?’ and I said that was fine. He said he had wondered why I would get up in the morning, put music on and be dancing around the house – and now it all fell into place for him!
He was a dancer and I was too, for a small period of time. I was just a commercial dancer dancing in clubs and different things like that. And when I was starting out he told me, "People will ask you if you’re gay and people might even just bust a move on you - and you just tell them to fuck off". He said being in that environment, just to remember what you want, to put yourself first.
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After my first experience, I had a partner for about five years. Then I had another partner for just under a year and that ended about two and a half years ago. My partner for five years I met through a friend. It finished because we were just very young to begin with. People change. I changed, he changed, that’s OK. We were living together in the end, just for the last year, and that all went to hell in a handbag pretty quickly, to say the least.
I just had a few issues. I developed an anxiety disorder and I had to sort that out and that was nothing to do with him; it was stuff from growing up. So I just had to deal with that and it seemed at the time that I had to do it on my own and I didn’t feel very supported in my relationship. How could he understand?
To be truthful, I actually slept with someone else and I couldn’t deal with that, the guilt of that. It was also a combination of my having just moved out of home for the first time and in with my partner - and then I had gone off and slept with someone else and I was just trying to keep everything together.
It was just before we moved in together that I slept with someone else. We had just broken up, not for the first time. I was hurt and upset, because my partner had said, ‘It’s all over, blah, blah, blah’. And then next day he rang and said it was back on! I thought, ‘My fucking head is fucked!’ and I went out that night with a friend and I thought, ‘I’m just going to go out and have fun, have a few drinks and so on’ and didn’t really think too much about it. And then it kind of spiraled into... it was messy.
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Safe sex was one of the things that turned this into an excessive amount of anxiety, because I was concerned that I had caught something. It was just this irrational way of thinking. I became obsessed with the thought that maybe I had caught something and that I would pass it on to my partner. I was completely riddled with guilt and I would go and see a doctor and I would say, ‘I don’t feel well; I don’t feel right, and there’s something wrong with me’. And they’d go, "No, you’re fine", doctor after doctor, and then one doctor said, "It’s anxiety". And he said, "Just leave it at that".
But I didn’t leave it at that; I went to see another doctor and I said, "I don’t feel well, blah, blah, blah". I went to all these doctors over about a six-month period - and then I ended up going to Counselling Services at the VAC (Victorian AIDS Council).
I had no realistic reason to be worried about HIV. That one-night stand wasn’t anal sex, but it was oral sex.
I had this constant need to urinate and I thought, ‘What’s that? That’s not right’. But, actually, it’s a symptom of your anxiety.
I read an article in a magazine and it said that if you are seeing doctor after doctor then you have a problem and you need to see someone about it. And then I saw the ad for VAC Counselling Services and it just sort of fell into place for me.
I didn’t tell my boyfriend about the one-night-stand, but it did come out eventually. We went overseas and I had this journal - I would write pages a day in the morning, whatever was in my head, just to get some kind of clarity. We’d been away for about six days and things were going swimmingly; things were better than they’d been between us for ages. And one morning I got up and went for a run and to the gym - and when I came back he had read the book. In it I had written about how I’d slept with this person.
He said, "I always knew you were a fucking slut! When we get home you have to move out!" It was terrible. It was bad, it was really bad.
I think he only read it because he wanted to know what was going on with me. And the fact that he couldn’t talk to me about it instead of going into something that private really bothered me.
Perhaps a year or so before that, he had slept with someone else and I dealt with that: I had sat and listened to him and his friend make a joke about it and I had to deal with that. I didn’t turn around and say you’re a fuckin’ slut, because I didn’t think that of him. So it just made me think, well, there was never a great level of trust there.
We never openly discussed it but I guess it was just an unspoken rule that it was a completely monogamous relationship. Which is what I wanted and what he wanted.
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Counselling helped tremendously. I went for nearly two and a half years. It was nearly once a week... It’s funny, you know, I never thought that I had a problem with admitting that I had counselling for two years. I think that it’s a healthy thing... it is a totally healthy thing to do.
When it came to counselling, I was really, really fortunate. There were lots of things that I wasn’t aware of that I had to acknowledge: counselling helped me dissolve the relationship and then there were things with my mother – you know, ‘If it’s not one thing it’s your mother’! Deal with your family!
My Mum’s a worrier. It’s quite a large family and my parents did their best at sharing themselves around – attention, love, whatever – but I think it’s limited; two people can only give so much to eight people. They did the best they could.
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There was also, ah, what would you say, molestation as a child to deal with. I think that was probably the biggest thing because I wasn’t aware that that’s what it was.
I was about five and he would have been a few years older than me. He was only a kid but nonetheless it’s taken me a while to realise that what happened was not right for me and that it wasn’t my fault.
I think that’s why counselling took two and a half years.
It’s not something I just suddenly remembered in counselling; I always knew about it because it went on for a very long time, for years and years. I’ve talked to my family about it; that was all part of the process. I talked to my brother about it - and my Mum, because I have a pretty open relationship with my Mum. I can tell her anything. I think she feels, understandably, some kind of guilt about it, for not doing a good job of protecting me...
So I graduated from counselling – Supergay! There was kind of a turning point finally where I felt that I didn’t want to go back. I was thinking, oh, I don’t know if I’m ready for it to end - but when are you ready for counselling to end? My counsellor helped to cut the cord; she knew it was time.
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I have been back. Twice. Just one-off sessions for a bit of a tune-up. Once because my partner - the one of five years - wrote an autobiography, and obviously he talked about our relationship, and there was my name and my photo in it and he never asked me if this was OK – geez I’m baring my dirty laundry aren’t I?!
It was pretty confronting. I found out because my Mum read an article in the Herald Sun about the book coming out. She wasn’t going to tell me, but my brother-in-law told me about the article. Then I did a bit of a Google search about it and it’s amazing what you can find out. A friend of mine had a copy of the book...
He’s a world champion sportsman; so the book is about his past and where he’s at now - and in there is me. Reading it was a bizarre experience; I felt like I shouldn’t have had this insight into his life. It was too much information – and a lot of it about what was going on in his life when we were together was stuff that I wasn’t even aware of at the time. So I felt totally deceived. The person in the book is not the person I thought I was with. It just made me realise that if you can spend five years with someone and they can’t communicate all the stuff that was in the book then it’s not somebody I’d want to be with – or be upset about not being with. It helped me get over it.
I don’t think I’m as calm as I appear. It’s all a façade! Yoga has helped. I try and stay fit and go to the gym and that’s all part of keeping your mind on track. I think that meditation is one of the greatest things that you can do for anxiety too. I have to be quite disciplined or I fall off the rails.
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Drugs and alcohol just put you in your head and it’s not a space I need to be in too much. I wont do party drugs for that reason either, because I know what they did to me in the past – they just made me totally anxious.
Not taking drugs is absolutely no problem for me socially: I can keep up and I find it really entertaining when other people are on them when I’m out, and if it gets too much I just leave. I don’t have a problem saying no. There are certain venues you go to where you feel like perhaps you’re a minority if you’re not on something, but that’s OK.
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I’ve been really fortunate as far as HIV is concerned. I’ve just been cautious. Being in two significant relationships, when it comes to anal sex, obviously, initially you would always use protection and then, if it gets to a point, you both go and get tested, talk about the results and then it’s relatively safe and it takes the pressure off. You wouldn’t have to use condoms.
In my second relationship he said, "If you sleep with someone else, it’s over", and I completely respected that. I think that’s great to be that upfront. But throughout the five years with my first partner there were times when we did split up, and they were times when there was an opportunity to sleep with other people – not just anybody.
Learning about Safe Sex
I can’t even remember where I would have read all the stuff about safe sex – probably just articles. I can’t remember if there were lessons about it in high school, but around that time it was quite a hot topic. I think because it was considered a gay thing and I knew that I had an attraction to that, maybe that made me aware of it. No, my brother didn’t talk to me about it.
I remember there was a program on the TV when I was about fourteen; it was about this woman who was HIV+ve. It was her story, with her husband and her daughter, and it was towards the end of her life. And they spoke about how you contract HIV and how you can keep yourself safe.
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HIV hasn’t been a huge issue in my life. When it comes down to it, I’m not overly comfortable sleeping with people when I first meet them. Even to the point of being really prudish – my friend and I would joke about it because it would be this thing where you’d leave your undies on – it’s all a bit of a rub and a tug and that’s it, you know. But if you see them a few more times, then I get a bit more comfortable with oral sex and so on. I’m just really cautious. It’s about safe sex. It’s just about feeling comfortable with that person, that I can trust them. Then they’ll get my undies off!
And anal sex is not something I would have with someone unless - in the past it’s something I’ve only had in relationships. It kind of seems a little sacred to me. It’s not something that happens very often, even in a relationship. I think it’s interesting that there’s this perception that all gay men are having anal sex but even in a relationship it wasn’t something that happened all the time.
I think that because of what happened to me as a child I’ve reached a point at 30 where I feel that I have the right to say, “Well, it’s my body.” A couple of years ago I would have left my undies on and now I rarely have even oral sex when I first sleep with someone. If they take that the wrong way then what am I going to do? It’s my body.
I’m not in a relationship at the moment. Maybe I’m getting to an age where I would like a relationship and I think maybe I might be good at it, because I have a better understanding of what makes me tick. You know how everybody has that one rock that they keep tripping over, that one issue with themselves? I don’t necessarily know how to fix it or deal with it every time, but at least I know what it is. If everybody has this one sentence that they say to themselves, this one thing that they feel bad about, at least I know what that sentence is. I don’t get it right every day. My ideal partner is someone who is responsible for their own feelings and their actions; that would be a good start.
Very rarely does a boy come up and talk to me when I’m out. I must have this look on my face that says ‘Don’t come near me!’ I mean it! You’re always talking to people at work all day so when you go out you’re a little bit spent. If there’s someone I’m interested in and I’ve had a couple to drink then I’ll go and chat to them for sure.
I don’t really know where I’m heading at the moment, but I’m actually OK with that. Just having a little more trust that you’ll end up where you need to be and head where you need to go, instead of just worry, worry, worrying about everything. When you have something that starts from so very young, to just worry, worry, worry all the time about everything, and then you to try and take your foot off the pedal and relax a little, it’s a challenge.