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’m 52; I was born here in Melbourne in 1956. My parents came out here from Poland during the war. My childhood was a fairly normal one in Australia; I was raised in a typical suburban household in a typical suburb with my older brother. It was a pretty uneventful childhood with nothing out of the ordinary. Dad worked, Mum looked after the house, I went to school and had the usual friends – it was all quite normal.
I realised as far back as I can remember that things were different. It was a lot to do with being attracted to boys or older men. I was attracted to my school teachers. If I had a youngish, male schoolteacher I would be attracted to them. But I was also attracted to other boys in state school - these were generally good-looking young boys of the same age as me. I realised I was different due to the name-calling. I can’t remember the terms they used back then but I knew I was being called names and it wasn’t pleasant – bear in mind this was a long time ago; I probably didn’t even know there was a name for this feeling but I knew there was a feeling.
By the time I got to secondary school I knew that I was most definitely attracted to the same sex. There was no experimentation with girls, only wishing I could experiment with the boys.
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I can’t remember the first person I had sex with; I can only recollect that one of my first sexual experiences with another man was with an actor who was older than me. I would have been about sixteen at the time and he would have been well into his twenties. I met him through a mutual friend and we became friends and at one stage we ended up in bed together.
I remember having sex – not penetrative sex though – and I remember the incredible feeling that it was. I recall lying on top of him in bed and feeling a little bit like a kid in a candy store because everything was happening at once and it was all too good. I was probably overwhelmed by the experience. That was very soon after I actually came out in public.
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I used to work in a department store called Myer! I entered the workforce very early. It was there that I made contact with other gay people. I became friendly with someone who is now a transsexual but who I thought of at the time as a gay man. It was during my friendship with that person that I started to go out on the gay scene and socialise with other gay people and it was then at that same time that I met Gerry.
My friends knew that I was gay but I came out to my family in a very spur of the moment discussion at home. I was asked: was I like my friend from the department store? I just said yes. It was at that point that things changed dramatically. It was as if I had died because they went straight into mourning because they had lost their son. They took it very badly.
One of Melbourne’s leading psychiatrists.
Their response was to seek professional help. They sent me off to one of Melbourne’s leading psychiatrists because I had "a problem". That psychiatrist’s suggestion to cure me of my homosexuality was to send me away so I’m not near the people that influenced me. So I was shipped off to Sydney at a very young age to continue working and to live. I managed to get a transfer with Myer to a department store called Farmers. That was to be my cure! I laugh about it to this day.
In Sydney I boarded with a family and I had a very close group of friends my own age. Of that group three of the boys, including myself, turned out to be gay. One of them went on to run a gay brothel in Sydney. The other one I’m still very close friends with to this day.
We weren’t gay then - well, we were, but it wasn’t talked about. I only lived in Sydney for a number of months and then I came back. But the friendships I made in Sydney remained.
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Back in Melbourne at Myer I was only just coming to terms with the fact that I was gay. One night I was standing on the ground floor of the Bourke St store; it was late-night shopping and through the front doors came a protest march.
The protesters were chanting "Ho-Ho-Homosexuals!" The year was 1971.
I stood back and my eyes were wide open! That would have been my first contact with any gay liberation organisation - this was pre-Mardi Gras. In those days that demonstration was very out there for a young boy to witness.
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In the 1970s the male toilets in a certain department store were rampant for male-to-male sexual contact. I used to frequent those toilets to make contact with other men as often as I could, as did a lot of other men, and that was how I got sexual gratification. There weren’t sex-on-premises venues like there are today so you had to find other alternatives. There may have been a sauna; I know there was the Woolshed Bar. There was a straight sauna in Collins St which I believe was used for male-to-male contact.
One day in my early twenties I picked up a man in Caulfield Park and went back to his flat nearby. I remember he worked for Channel 7 but I don’t recall his name. We fucked on his lounge room floor, with me on top. I guess that’s when I realised I was a top and not a bottom. I have never bottomed. We didn’t use condoms then, it was pre-AIDS. He liked what he felt and he said, “You’ve done this before”. I told him it was my first time. It was the first time I fucked anyone. I could not imagine fucking without a condom these days.
The first time I had a relationship – I think you’d call it a relationship – I would have been about 30. He and I were both volunteers at the Victorian AIDS Council. We met in a support group and we started seeing each other. It didn’t last an awfully long time but it was somebody that I was seeing on a regular basis.
I started volunteering at the AIDS Council in approximately 1988. In those days the AIDS Council was very busy with groups for volunteers to support people living with HIV/AIDS. A woman volunteer just phoned me one day and asked if I’d like to do it. Previous to that I hadn’t done any volunteer work for the gay community.
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My last HIV test was at Fairfield hospital close to twenty years ago. It was negative. I feel that I have not put myself in a situation since then where I could have contracted the virus. Sexually over the years I have always practiced safe sex by always using a condom when fucking. I do recall years prior to that test having unprotected sex with strangers but on becoming aware of HIV and its dangers I stopped having unprotected sex.
It concerns me at times that I haven’t been tested since because I would like reassurance that everything is OK, but on the other hand I have some doubts about how I would handle it if the results came back positive. Having said that, I still believe I have taken all the precautions to prevent me from becoming HIV-positive. Having said that, by the time this gets published I would like to think that I have had another test, because I am starting to get pressure from some close friends to get tested!
I just keep putting it off.
I’m fairly stubborn when it comes to doctors and check-ups. I know that I should be checked for things on a regular basis but, as I said, I’m fairly stubborn. I don’t get tested for STIs either; I don’t get tested for anything. I haven’t been tested for anything for years. I know that I should but I just keep putting it off. A medical check up is one of those chores that’s easy to postpone when you’re in good health, but I know that’s not correct.
If I’m fucking, I’m a top, so I put a condom on; it’s as simple as that. I don’t know any other way now. I don’t bottom. I never have and it’s not my preference.
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One of the things to come out of HIV/AIDS is Melbourne Wankers. Melbourne Wankers is one of Melbourne’s oldest sex clubs. It was set up to try and get gay men to have sex again safely during the AIDS epidemic. I have formed two relationships from men I’ve met at Melbourne Wankers. A lot of people will laugh at the thought of a group of men getting together in a room and not fucking, but let me tell you, although it doesn’t attract many young gay men it has a dedicated following and is always attracting new participants.
It’s a fantastic alternative to conventional gay sex and I would recommend that everyone give it a go at least once. It runs twice a month. Basically the rules are no fucking and no lips below the hips – so no sucking or rimming either - but as much oil and touch and hugging and kissing as you like. It’s an almost erotic experience but you need to be fairly uninhibited and feel comfortable being naked among strangers. On average there’d be 40-50 men in the room ranging in age from twenty-something upwards and from all walks of life. It is held at a sauna in Elsternwick twice a month.
With both of those relationships with guys I met from Melbourne Wankers there was no penetrative sex. I’ve always believed that it’s not a requirement to fuck another man and I’ve found that by not fucking you discover there are many other ways to enjoy each other’s bodies. That doesn’t mean I don’t fuck. I just wanted to mention Melbourne Wankers because it plays an important part in alternative safe sex practices. It works for me.
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I used to attend a lot of funerals during the AIDS epidemic and I think one of the things that young people today don’t have experience in is knowing people that have died from AIDS and I think that plays an important part in how some of these young people act when it comes to sex because they think that HIV/AIDS is an older man’s disease when it’s not; it affects everybody.
I’ve been involved with the AIDS Quilt. I’m very proud to say that the Melbourne chapter of the AIDS Memorial Quilt is still a very active organisation to this day and while I’m not on the committee I’m still a member and still attend every meeting and am still happy that the Quilt does get displayed to the general public to make them more HIV/AIDS aware.
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I used to place personal adverts in the gay press; I can’t remember what I used to say. You’d place your ad and wait for a letter of response to arrive. It was like the Internet but it took a lot longer! More currently, I spend time on the Internet. Internet chat rooms have become a way for gay men to sit in the comfort of their own homes make contact with other gay men and meet up for sex. I’ve done that a lot and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Quick anonymous sex.
The net is a bit like a beat in that it’s quick, anonymous sex and nine times out of ten you don’t see that person again. Having said that, I have actually made some very close friends from the gay chat rooms. The problem is that it can be addictive and you need to be able to switch off. I often had trouble switching off and walking away.
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I want the future to be happy and healthy as much as I can properly make it. As I’m a gay man I still want to be actively involved in my community as long as possible. I see myself as still being single because I’m too set in my ways to form a relationship, but who knows what’s around the corner.
Postscript: October 2008
After this interview I finally got a complete sexual health check including HIV. All the test results came back negative. I’m glad I did it. It wasn’t as traumatic as I thought it would be: in fact it wasn’t traumatic at all. The results weren’t a surprise to me given my safe sex practices over the years, but it got my friends off my back!
Colin grew up in Melbourne