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 am originally from Cairns, North Queensland and am the youngest of five children by quite a way. I have four siblings, one brother and three sisters - the next one up is eight years older than me. I don’t know why that was, apparently dad wanted another child. My father used to work in the post office so my family moved around Queensland a lot. I was born in Cairns but by the time I was two, we had moved to Rockhampton and by the time I was five we had moved to Brisbane which is where I spent most of my life growing up.
Even though there were five of us kids in the family, I consider myself an only child because there was such a great gap in ages at one point the two eldest siblings weren’t living at home anymore, so it was just two older siblings and I at home. I didn’t feel much family cohesiveness. I wasn’t in some family photos because I hadn’t been born yet at the time.
When I was nine, my next sister up, Ann-Marie, passed away in a car accident.
She was 16 at the time and her friend who was 17 and had just gotten their licence decided to drive to Gold Coast on a spur of the moment thing.The Gold Coast Highway was new, relatively unmarked and they had a head on car accident. Her death broke the family apart and caused a schism between us. My brother was very close to Ann-Marie, he was shaken up pretty badly and he left home altogether to move to North Queensland. So by the time I was nine, I was the only child living at home.
My parents treated me differently to my siblings so I always felt like I was either adopted or an only child. All my siblings played contact sports, had bicycles and my brother was an avid skateboarder as well as surfer whereas my parents didn’t let me do anything. They really wrapped me up in cottonwool. I don’t think it was related to my sister’s death because this all started before she died. My mum did end up becoming pretty protective and didn’t particularly want me to get a car when I came of age so I just went with it. They were so overprotective over me that I was excluded from the family grieving process. My parents didn’t allow me to go to my sister’s funeral and I didn’t get any grief counselling. This all led to me being pretty resentful toward my parents for many, many years. Not that we had a bad relationship but I had never had a strong relationship with them or felt close to any of my siblings.
We all grieved in our own way but that isolation from my family was accentuated and I kept wishing at a young age that it was me who was taken, not her.
A couple times between the age of nine and 12, I even tried to take my own life.I tried to drown myself in our pool.
I think I just didn’t want to feel the pain anymore and I also thought, maybe if I was taken instead, it would have been best for the family because I was the young one and no-one would have particularly missed me. Kids think crazy things sometimes. I also had never learnt how to grieve so I didn’t know how to deal with it. It was still plaguing me and had robbed me of my own self-worth because I hadn’t received any counselling or what I felt as comfort from my family.
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I realised I was gay when I was quite young, probably around 11 years old. There was a commercial on television that would come on all the time that I would hang out to see. There was a particular guy on it that I was absolutely besotted with. The thought went through my head, ‘I think I like men more than I like women.’ I had been led to believe that it was wrong from my religious upbringing as well as going to a Catholic primary and high school. Without batting an eyelid I realised that it didn’t matter because that was just who I was and accepted it.
By the time I was 15, I was in my first relationship with a man who was in his forties. It was somebody I knew and in no way, shape or form was it his doing, it was all mine. I was the chaser and I went after what I wanted and I got what I wanted. My parents never found out back then. We were together for 12 years until I was 27. When we split up, I went from one relationship straight into another for six years, then another for sex-and-a-half and then another for two years. The majority of my adult life I’ve had a partner. I didn’t actually come out to my parents until I was 27 and with my second partner.We wanted to invest in buying a house together so I figured I had to tell my parents or else they’d think it was pretty weird we were buying a house together.
I organised to meet with my parents, sat them down and said, “mum and dad, I just want you to know that Ray and I are going to buy a house together.” Mum’s instant reaction was, “no, he’s just after our money. That Ray’s a homosexual isn’t he?” I said, “well, yes mum he is and so am I.” Without even blinking an eye she turned to my father and said, “see Terry, I told you so.” She then turned back to me and said, “I told your father you were a homosexual but he wouldn’t believe me.”
My biggest fear was disappointing my father and him not talking to me anymore but after a long discussion he said, “thank you for telling us. It may not be the best news, but thank you for telling us.” They phoned the next day as if nothing had happened and were bright and chirpy as always. My mother’s half brother was gay too so that may have helped with her emotionally dealing with it. I consider myself to be very lucky as both my parents and siblings have not had issues with me being gay. We even had my second partner over for Christmas, although that may have been partially due to the fact that I said, “he’s part of my life, so part of this family and you either accept that or I won’t be there.”
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Towards the end of high school, I was a track athlete but because of a back injury I took up weights a little bit. I ended up getting really into it but I had no direction so became a bit bored with it. My third partner and I owned a café together and I put on a terrible load of weight, between 15kg to 20kg and got pretty unhealthy. I ran the kitchen and lived on hot chips and cheesecake. I tried to make a change in Brisbane and felt that I just had to do something about my health as it was getting bad.
I moved with my partner at the time to Melbourne as I’d just got a job down here which had double the pay. I had always wanted to move out of Brisbane so it was a good opportunity and I fell in love with Melbourne. He agreed to come with me but when he got here he wasn’t happy. Within a couple of weeks he broke it off one day, packed all his stuff and left the city the next day. The breakdown of that relationship was due to both parties, there was poor communication between the two of us not communicating either of our needs or wants properly.
About six months or more after the breakup I kept spiralling. It got to the point where I was regularly in tears, I’d burst into tears at work quite often.
I remember the straw that broke the camel’s back was at work one day, when everyone from my team, including my manager, were away. I was at work alone and it felt like everything and everyone had abandoned me.I walked out of work to my flatmates business in St Kilda, sat down and cried uncontrollably without being able to get a word out. My flatmate said to me, “if I make you an appointment to see the GP to get a referral to see a counsellor or psychologist, will you go?” I agreed to go, so he rang and made me an appointment and we went from there.
When my relationship broke down and I spiralled into depression for about six months, I was such a mess. I ended up putting on even more weight, I’d feel out of breath walking upstairs after work and my stomach would hurt every time I bent over to tie my shoelaces. I thought to myself, ‘I really need to do something about this or I’m going to die.’ I slowly started back at the gym as a response to my health but realised there was so much more of a mental benefit than just a physical benefit. I was looking forward to going to the gym every afternoon because I would get there and my loathing of work and hatred of what I was doing, hatred of being alone were alleviated. After my gym session I’d feel like a new person.
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Looking back, I definitely know that what I went through as a child haunted me for a lot of my life. Just after moving to Melbourne and going through that break up put me into a tailspin. I nearly stepped in front of a train through grief. There were huge periods of my life that I suffered from self-loathing and I can honestly say that it’s only been in the last four years that I have learnt to appreciate myself and love myself.
I have come such a long way since that low point. Finding the gym and fitness was a great start because it helped my mental aspects as well as my physical so much. My trainer who is also my best friend has taught me so much about myself and can honestly say that it if it wasn’t for him I would have probably tried to take my own life again.I have relapsed and gone through bad periods too as I was single for many years and was very depressed about that and felt a need for companionship.
My trainer helped me through with learning mental disciplines of bodybuilding and teaching me to be more goal-oriented. It feels good to be ambitious and have something to work to work towards as it pushes you to go harder.
I never thought I’d compete in bodybuilding shows. In the past three years, I have managed to come 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in the world for the Amateur Title.
It requires a huge amount of discipline and effort to stay on track – for every person who makes it on stage of a competition, there are probably 10 people who set out to do it but quite before they got to that stage.
Getting into bodybuilding has taught me a huge amount of discipline. Luckily for me I’ve never had much of an interest in party drugs. I have never taken ecstasy, never smoked marijuana and I don’t have much of a desire to drink alcohol. I had tried alcohol as a kid but it was never something I enjoyed very much. I saw the effects of alcohol on friends at school and thought, ‘if that’s what it’s going to do to you, then I don’t want to be in that situation.’ I didn’t want to throw up, I didn’t want to be out of control, to be perfectly honest, I was a little shit scared of what it was going to do to my head.
Other than that, the bodybuilding definitely affects your social life because you can’t go out and eat or drink when you’re on a diet. In the off season though, I will happily admit to indulging but when you’re training, you become a bit of a hermit. I hate the fact that it stops me from being social, but I love it and it is a big part of my life so I have learnt to embrace it.
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If there are people reading my story who have ever felt any self-loathing, loneliness, pain or that things are just becoming too much in their lives, please don’t do it by yourself. Don’t just think that things will get better or you’ll be able to work through it alone. Whether it’s professional help or somebody who you can talk to or even just someone to be there and not talk to, you need to find support. I would never advocate trying to go through it alone. No man is an island, and I really believe that.
Having goals and looking for something in life to work towards really helps. I’ve always had big dreams and it has always been a wonderful experience pursuing these. I studied to be a musical theatre director in my twenties and I was a musical director of a children’s theatre company for 13 years. I’ve also been a vocal coach for The Veronicas and I’ve met a lot of sports people through what I do now. The possibilities for the future are endless. I am very ambitious and actively ask myself, “what’s my next step? What’s my next goal? How am I going to achieve this?”
The last thing I wanted to say through my story to people reading is that people need to know I’m a person like any other person. We all have our own traits, qualities, good bits, bad bits and we need to allow everyone to be who and what they are without judgement.
We need to celebrate the fact that we are different and have our own value, regardless of where we come from. Why do we set boundaries or borders for ourselves?
Especially in the GLBTIQ community where we are here to support each other. It is important for people to understand that we don’t always have to be fighting or struggling just because we are GLBTIQ. We need to just be who we are and if somebody else wants to make something big of it, that speaks well and truly more about them than it does of us, so we need to be true to ourselves and if somebody else wants to judge us, let them!