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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It's funny, people often think that I had a really bad childhood. I think people just assume those things when you have a messy mid-life like I did as a young adult. My childhood was very normal, I was raised like a tomboy and there weren’t any problems really. I can't even think of anything bad, I loved my childhood. Things really just started happening to me during puberty, around 15 or 16. I think that happens pretty much for anybody. It doesn’t matter if your trans, gay or whatever. Puberty can just wreak havoc on your body and you’re not sure what’s going on.
So then imagine that, times a hundred million because you very much think you're a boy, but now you're becoming a girl.
That not only had an effect on me but it also had an effect on my family because the little boy, Buck, is now becoming this girl! My parents’ friends would say stuff like "that's not your son, that's your daughter".
I missed out on a lot of family functions because I couldn’t get myself into a female mode. My parents would try and put me in a dress and I would throw a temper tantrum. It ended up causing a lot of problems between us. I would say that was the most traumatic thing that happened to me growing up; puberty wrecked everything for me.
I was very isolated as a teenager going to school. I was very shy and I wasn’t good at speaking to people. I didn’t have a lot of friends and I couldn’t even make eye contact with anyone! I didn’t do well in school, the only thing I excelled in was sports and I did really well at long distance running. It kind of makes sense because it is something you do by yourself without anybody around. At one point I became a really very well known long distance runner in high school. I was breaking records and I had several scholarships offered to me but my life was in turmoil.
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I was doing a lot of cutting; I would secretly cut my arm and I would cut my face a lot too. I remember my mum one time asked me, "what happened to your face, what are those scratches?" I would say "oh, a cat scratched me". She knew something was up, I was already going through so much self-hatred.
I was drinking a lot of alcohol and smoking a lot of marijuana. It was a way for me not to feel and it was a way for me not to have to function.
I didn’t know what was going on with me. I thought I was a gay woman and my sexual feelings were towards women. The drugs and alcohol were my attempt to suppress those feelings. Back in the 70’s you didn’t talk about being a gay women, you didn’t even talk about being gay. Especially because I was in sports, you really didn’t talk about being gay. As a female sportswoman, that was totally a bad word, it was just not okay. I felt really isolated with a lot of my sexual feelings, especially because I felt like a boy. There was no way I could talk about that at all, I was just considered a very butch woman, which is what identified with for a long time.
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It was during this time that a lot of bad stuff started to happen to me. I didn’t feel good in my body; I was attempting suicide and going to hospitals. I had hit a deep depression when I tried to kill myself and my parents didn’t know what to do with me.
The doctor suggested a ward so they ended up putting me into a psychiatric ward because of the suicide attempts. That experience was horrible, it was like being in another world. There were some really crazy people in there and they would say some crazy things. I remember being in my bed thinking ‘where am I?!’ Every day in there we would have meetings with doctors who would ask me “is there something you want to talk about?” or “why did you feel like killing yourself?” I wanted to say, “I feel like a boy,” but I would never actually talk.
I started hoarding food because I wouldn’t actually eat it and I ended up getting into a weird dynamic of starving myself. It was the self-hatred manifesting in another way. Before it was the cutting and now I wasn’t eating. I ended up losing a lot of weight in there. Mum would always bring me chocolate bars and I would just hide them in the bedside table drawer. Late at night when there was no one around I would eat the chocolate bars because I was starving but I didn’t want to eat any of the food from there. I was so angry for being there and I hated everything.
I remember the reason why I eventually got out; one day when I was in a therapy session the doctor asked me again, “why did you try to commit suicide? Is there something going on at home?” I remember saying, ”my dad beats me.” My dad didn’t really beat me at all, not in an abusive way anyway, I just made it up. I’m not sure why I did, it was weird but I think it was what they wanted to hear. The next day I got discharged from the unit, it was pretty fascinating. I was there for a total of a month and only my mum had come to visit me, my dad never did. Obviously when I think back on it I was sad that he didn’t but I’m not sad anymore. I know my dad can’t handle the strong emotions so he just shut down around it. I never ask him about it these days because it will bring up negativity for him and I don’t want to hurt my dad.
When I got discharged I had to see a psychologist and have sessions with my parents. They didn’t exactly go down so well. Back then, my dad was a very angry man – not so much now though. He’s an ex-football player and very macho. He just couldn’t deal with being in the sessions and he’d get really angry, saying things like “it’s not my fault.” Eventually that just ended because he said, ”I’m not paying for this, we’re not going to this anymore.”
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After that whole escapade my anger and self-hatred escalated. I was at an Olympic running level and really excelling in that – I even held a couple of records. There were all these people who were trying to recruit me but I ended up flunking everything academically. I dropped out of high school and I didn’t end up graduating either. I remember having no hope and not knowing what I was going to do with my life. I eventually ended up going to summer school and getting a diploma so I could go to junior college. I just did that, running through the motions.
I ended up meeting this girl at a disco venue and we sort of connected. She was my very first girlfriend and I sort of ‘came out’ in a way. I was still going through a lot of turmoil and I started using a lot of drugs and alcohol as I still wasn’t comfortable with myself. I pushed the male-feelings back and just identified as a very dykey woman.
For a large part of the time between the age of 21 to 28, I was feeling angry all the time. I was cutting myself a lot and that was pretty horrible.
Cutting isn’t something people really talk about – it is it’s on pocket of self abuse. I was getting into fights a lot, punching, cheating on girlfriends, drinking, taking drugs and just generally out of control.
It got so bad that I would have blackouts and not remember what was going on for periods of time. I wasn’t really doing anything with my life, working odd jobs here and there. The whole time, at the back of my mind, I knew that I felt like a guy.
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After meeting my first girlfriend in community college, I got discovered as a female model by a very well known agency called Elite Agency. It was the in the early 80’s when androgyny was the new big thing and I was one of those new androgynous models. It was an amazing opportunity and it would have been great – if only I didn’t feel like a man trapped in a woman’s body. I had the opportunity to become this huge fashion model. I was in London and Paris but I was just not turning up for shoots or any of my casting calls. There’s only so long they would put up with you for when there is tonnes of money put out and you’re not even showing up for the shoot.
It was too much for me because I was very androgynous and they would transform me into a completely different looking woman. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror, it was horrifying for me. As long as there was cocaine or alcohol I could be cool with it but you can only last so long doing that. I didn’t have the passion and I didn’t last very long in that industry. That went on for two months in Europe and I just crashed – I came back to the United States with nothing.
It never seemed difficult for me to get girlfriends for some reason, I was good at that and I was good at manipulation. I would abuse my girlfriends both physically and mentally - which is absolutely embarrassing and horrible but it’s important to talk about. I would always find girlfriends that were either very co-dependent or would interact with me. We’d get drunk or stoned together and just go crazy, fighting and hitting each other. I was a very angry person and I was acting out. It’s something that doesn’t get talked about a lot, but it does happen a lot in the lesbian community, especially in the fem-butch dynamic. I was one of those abusive partners – it is gross and embarrassing. I am more embarrassed to talk about that than any of my drug use because it is completely against what I stand for and believe in now, it make my stomach turn.
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At this point my parents had disowned me because I kept calling them up and asking them for money to pay for my drugs. They showed me some tough love and cut me off. It was the only thing they could do and it was the best thing they ever did. They saved my life because if I continued like that, I would have most likely died of alcoholism or drugs. That’s when I became homeless and completely hit rock bottom.
I lived on the streets in a gay part of California and all I had was a plastic bag that had some shirts in it which was everything I owned. I lived on the streets for about a month and when you’re forced into that situation you learn how to survive. My survival happened through me dressing like a boy, putting on a baseball cap and walking down a street where lots of gay men cruised in order for them to pick me up. I looked like a little 16 year old boy. I would get into cars and do hand jobs for $20 to buy crack or alcohol or buy whatever I needed to buy.
I remember there was one life-changing moment that happened one night. I never went home with guys, ever, I always just did what needed to be done in the car, and got out. However, this one time there was a younger, quite good-looking guy – he was French I think. He said to me, “let’s go back to my house and party.” We went back to his house, which was something I never did, so it was weird. We were at his place snorting cocaine and he says to me, “I know you’re a girl,” and I completely froze with fear.
He said to me, “I want to fuck you.” I was absolutely terrified and I was on cocaine so feeling pretty paranoid.
I kept thinking to myself, ‘oh my gosh, I’m going to get raped right now, maybe he’s going to kill me, what do I do?’
He was much bigger than me and I’m a little 110 pound girl, there was no way I could fight him. That’s when my instinct kicked in and I just started to jack him off, hoping that once he came it would be over and he wouldn’t rape me. I remember pulling up my shirt and taking off the bandage so he could see my breasts. I thought that maybe if I showed my tits and let him touch them I could somehow survive this. It managed to work and I got him to take me to where he picked me up and that was my awakening moment.
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I knew I couldn’t do this anymore, I was going to die if I kept going like this. I called my ex-girlfriend who was always trying to get me sober and I cried to her, “Oh my God, I’m going to die right now, you have to help me.” She said, “I will only do this one last time if you promise to get sober.”
“I swear to God, I promise.”
I remember that before she picked me up I was so drunk and stoned that I had to lie down in the street and the cops came by and told me to get up.
That was my turning point right there, that girl really saved my life. I managed to get a house and started to get clean and sober. It was such a life changing point in my life, the sobriety – I have been sober ever since.
She really helped me so much and I’m so grateful but the weird thing is nowadays she won’t even acknowledge me. I’m not sure whether it’s because she’s a lesbian who doesn’t think my transition was okay or that I’m a sex worker. I’ve tried to reach out to her but she doesn’t want me to so I’m not going to force myself on somebody. If they don’t want to talk to me, I will respect that. It makes me sad because I really wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her picking me up and getting me into rehab. I have a lot of gratitude towards her and if she wants to reach out to me, I will always be there.
Once I started becoming sober, I started going to therapy and attempted to reinstate a relationship with my parents. They helped me get back into therapy and I started seeing a famous lesbian therapist. I remember sitting with my parents and saying, “I’m gay.” They were like, “yes, we realise that!” I said to them, “but it’s not like I’m really gay, I actually feel like a man.” It was hard to explain to them and I remember my parents being really confused. I remember my dad being a little emotional, saying, “it’s all my fault, I raise you like a boy when you’re a girl.” I told him it wasn’t his fault, I said, “why did you do that with me and not my sisters – because you know I’m supposed to be a man.” After that conversation they sent me to a different therapist who was a gay woman and so it helped me deal with some issue. I told her that I felt like a man and that I wanted to be a man but she didn’t really have the tools to aid me. She just kept saying “you’re just a very male identified female,” whatever that means. That sort of lasted for a while until I finally felt like I wasn’t getting anything out of it. This was back in the 80’s and there wasn’t really much to do with transgenders back then.
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People didn’t even have the terminology for it, I knew in my heart and in my gut that I was a man but I had no way to vocalise it. Vocalising about being a transsexual man back then was almost like saying now, “I feel like a giraffe.” That is a really weird thing to say now but in the future if you could become a giraffe it wouldn’t be that weird. People didn’t even have the terminology for it, they kept on telling me that I was a gay woman. That was the identity I ended up taking on, I didn’t have a choice. I had to suppress that feeling of being a man and I just thought that I was weird.
After some time went past, I ended up finding a therapist who was a gay woman and new in her practice. I remember going to see her and I would just sit and sit without saying anything. She said to me, “it’s okay if you just want to come here and sit if that’s where you feel comfortable. Take your time, whenever you are ready to talk.”
So for the first month, that’s all I would do, then I remember one day I just looked at her and said, “I feel like a man.” She replied with, “okay then.” She was the first person who ever said, “that’s okay”. Imagine that!
She was being a good therapist by just listening to me and not judging me. She was saying, “okay, how can we visit this, together.” Through that, I remember, everything just came together for me.
Soon after I watched this obscure artsy kind of film where there were interviews with different people and there was a short clip about how this woman physically became a man. I remember running back to my therapist saying, “you can become a man, I saw somebody who did it!” She responded with, “let’s start investigated about how we can work with this.”
Wow, that woman is another person who helped save my life.
This was way before internet or anything so we started by looking at book stores and then she had found Stanford University in the United States had a gender programme. They called it something else back then, like ‘Sex Change’ or ‘Sex Reassignment’. I went to a gay and lesbian book store and all the information was only male to female. I remember finding this homemade magazine that were just bits of paper put together and stapled which made up a transsexual male to female resource guide. There was information on how to do your hair, what clothes to wear, what kind of hormone doctors to go to, but it was all male to female.
My therapist and I thought that maybe one of these doctors could help me so I ended up calling this doctor in Los Angeles. He said “I have 30 years of practice working with transsexual women, but I have never worked with anybody like you, but I am willing to try and help.” So he pretty much took me in and made me his guinea pig. He kept stressing to me that he had never done this before but I was wanted to try anyway.
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Through the help of my therapist, I started on hormone treatment. She didn’t have the experience of guiding someone like me but she really wanted to see me survive and twenty something years later, we are actually still friends now. Within the first month I lost my period and a few months after I started to see changes and morphing of my face. My face now looks nothing like it used to when I was a female. My nose is also a lot bigger than it used to be and my jaw is way more angled and masculine now. I’m sure a lot of it was a mental change but I also just started feeling different inside. I also pretty much lost all the hair on my head within the first two years.
In the beginning of all these changes, it was a scary journey. There wasn’t much information out there and I had no idea how things were going to turn out. Was I going to look like a freak? How was it going to affect me? I always said to myself that if it didn’t work I would just kill myself. That was how severe it was for me; I could no longer live as a woman, it wasn’t going to work out for me anymore. It literally was my life at stake, it goes to show you how life-threatening this was for me.
So after two years of hormone treatment I was looking somehow to get my chest done. Again, there was no internet and so I was calling up all kinds of different doctors that worked with breast implants for women and going to all these different doctors. A lot of the doctors said no and some said they could do it but I would be left with gigantic stars. I didn’t have very big breasts but I didn’t know anything about the operation and neither did any of the doctors. I eventually found a doctor who specifically dealt with gynecomastias which are operations for biological men to get the fatty tissue in their chest removed and I thought, that was pretty much what I had. He was a head doctor at UCLA Medical Centre in Los Angeles. He had an office in Beverly Hills and so I thought he’d be catering to rich people and most likely does really good work.
He was the most amazing guy, I told him I was a woman who’s in the transition to becoming a man and he said, “that’s so cool. I’ve never done it this way round before but I’m totally willing to do this.” He said there was a new surgery that had just come in from Belgium called a key hole incision where they just cut right underneath your areola so that you don’t have any scars. He said, “I’ve never had any experience doing this, but I’ll do this if you are willing.” Again, this was my second doctor who had never done anything like this before. I was all up for it! He did such an amazing job. He let me do a payment plan and so I worked a few different jobs and saved the money for it. All the doctors were great and I had such an awesome experience throughout it all.
As the transition progressed and my change started to happen, I really wanted to have a penis. Again, it was not talked about a lot, it was very obscure and there was no information out there. The internet started to come into play and I started researching more. Everything I was seeing wasn’t aesthetically pleasing for me and they weren’t functioning the way I wanted them to function. I met a guy who had the surgery done when he was quite young, around 18 years old or something and he said it was the worst decision he ever made. He wished he never did it. He said it didn’t function properly and you had to put a stick in it. He hated the way it looked and even said that when he has sex he has to turn the lights off because he feels so embarrassed about it. That was old school, it has come a long way since then obviously.
That really devastated me because in my mind I really thought that I was never fully going to be a man if I don’t have a penis. That’s what I knew and what the community was saying; unless you had the genital surgery you’d never be a real man. It was horrible. I resigned to the fact that I wasn’t going to have the surgery but I didn’t acknowledge that I had a vagina. I kept my clothes on and I wasn’t getting penetrated. I was always kind of disconnected with my girlfriends in terms of that. As I progressed in my transition, the testosterone makes you more horny, for a lack of a better word and you are always wanting to have sex. I was able to ignore that part of me less and less.
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I would not get penetrated because it felt female to me and I was not okay with that. Then this one time, I remember I was masturbating and I penetrated myself and it actually felt good. I thought ‘why am I so weird about my vagina? Everything else about my body is feeling great to me, why am I so disgusted by this one part of my body?’ It started to feel pleasurable and it actually started to become empowering. Then I started meeting girls who were okay with it. The first girl who was really okay with penetrating me, but as a man, was life-changing. There was no judgement at all, she knew she was having sex with a guy. It was never that I felt female with her, she was really good at keeping that male energy with me.
I then realised that it doesn’t matter, there are going to be people out there who totally respect and understand me. That was the last part of me becoming whole as a man. I am a big believer in sex as part of a human understanding your body and I am a big believer of really loving your body as it is. If you don’t have the opportunity to change or not change, you have to learn to love what you have or you’ll never be happy. That was the last part of becoming myself; really learning to accept my vagina.
I have embraced it so much now, I can’t even imagine why I would get a penis. It would never happen now and it’s not even a thought in my mind. I think it also has a lot to do with the partners I meet that really like the fact that I am a man with a vagina. I can tell they like it, it’s not as if they’re just tolerating. Most women I have sex with are bisexual women, so it’s not like they dislike penis or don’t dislike vagina, it’s just that they really enjoy being with a man that has that.
The men that I have sex with are totally gay but the women I have sex with identify as lesbian, which I don’t really understand.
A lesbian is someone who is attracted to another female but I do have lesbians that are attracted to me. I think I have confused the lesbian women!!
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To me, I always say that sexuality is hugely fluid and I do not believe in labels when it comes to sexuality. I believe it’s about people and that you can become sexually attracted to this person as a whole as oppose to what ‘label’ they have. I think I have proven that through the gays and lesbians who usually only have sex with that gender but are attracted to me. I have completely transcended that, what it means to be a man and I think it shows that it’s not as rigid as people think it is.
For me, personally, I had noticed my sexuality had totally changed as I went through the transitioning process. Both dynamics of the hormonal use as well as accepting myself has contributed to the change. Before my transition I identified as a gay woman and I was only ever attracted to women, never men. My sexual fantasies never involved men, it was weird. As I became a man and my masculinity really started to become of who I was, I started becoming attracted to men sexually. Although, it was a very specific type of man; a leather man or a very hard core hyper-masculine type of man. I love the muscle, cigars, boots, leather and all those kinds of things. My sexuality did change and now I consider myself a very sexual person, attracted to both women and men. Once you become the person you want to be and accept it, it’s so incredibly liberating.
I proudly call myself the man with a pussy.
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From a sexual health aspect and negotiated safety for a trans man, it can be quite difficult because most gay men have never experienced a man like myself, which is great because they do want to experience it. I have noticed that a lot of them don’t want to use condoms and me being a huge safe sex advocate, I am really straight forward in negotiation. I think from my experience in talking to other trans-men, it’s harder for them to negotiate because they don’t seem to be comfortable talking about it let alone insisting on reducing risky behaviour. I think they still haven’t completely embraced their vaginas or whatever genitals they have so they’re worried that if they make a big point about it, a guy is not going to want to have sex anymore. It is such a new area to navigate, especially if you’ve never done it before. That’s why I think talking about it in my programmes are so important. It normalises it, making us realise that it is something that happens and that we can talk about it.
HIV awareness and sexual health is no where near as talked about as it is in the gay world. This is not good enough and it is something we need to start making campaigns about and advocating for. I’m talking about the fact that we are just like everybody else, so yes, we like to have sex and we should talk about safe sex. Especially now, when there are so many more gay trans-men out there having sex with cis-gendered men. If they are not having safe sex and are unable to talk about it, what’s going to happen?
I do a lot of public service announcement (PSA) work talking about sexual health. If you go onto my YouTube channel I talk about the importance of vaginal health, such as going to the gynaecologist and making sure you take care of yourself that way.
We need to talk about all the unique issues associated with transgendered people.
Through using testosterone, the walls of your vagina tend to become more thin and a lot more susceptible to ripping or tearing. We also need to talk about what kind of condoms and lube are good for vaginas and what happens when you are having lots of sex. Some of the lubes out there are cheap and gross – really not good for you and can even give you vaginal infections.
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I am a completely different person now than I used to be. I used to be very hard and angry all the time, whereas now you really have to back me into a wall to get me upset. I am so much more comfortable with myself now because I love myself. I don’t mean that as an ego thing, I mean that I have found my self-confidence and self-acceptance so much so that it is hard to penetrate my energy in a negative way. I understand now that when people say negative things about me it’s really an issue of their own that they’re dealing with. I don’t need to get angry and react in a negative way. I’ve learnt to understand that these people have their own set of struggles and pain. I have grown so much in a spiritual way in terms of understanding energies and that when you put out positive energy you get back positive energy. It really works. Every day I try to smile at people and give as much as possible.
What I want to say to any of those people out there reading my story is, follow your heart. If you really feel a certain way and that transitioning is something you need to do, then just do it.
Don’t let people tell you it’s not okay, because that’s not true.
You should know yourself and if it feels that way in your gut, then just follow your heart. If I didn’t follow my instinct and follow my heart, I wouldn’t be sitting here – I would most likely be dead.
Image courtesy of:
Art . Photography. Life
Buck was born in the San Fernando Valley in California.
Buck travelled to London in his early twenties where he did high end fashion modelling.