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 31. I’m self-employed: I train teachers and health professionals. My specialty – if I have one – is challenging homophobia in schools and apart from that I just try to be involved in lots of GLBT community activities and events and I like to cause trouble in general!
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I originally came out to my best friend in high school, when we were in Year 11 - I think I was sixteen. We were very close for years and both of us were targeted at school as people who could probably be gay, though we both thought the other person was heterosexual. One day we were in chemistry class and my friend said, "Lets wag and go back to your place and have pizza and watch videos". On the way there he said, "I’ve got something to tell you; I went to a party the other night and I had sex with a guy. I think I’m bisexual." I said, "Oh my God, it’s great that you’re bisexual, because I’m gay!" He said, "That’s so sweet of you to pretend to be gay just to make me feel better for being bisexual but you don’t have to pretend, I know you’re straight". We had this argument and finally we both realised that we both liked other guys. A lot of people have asked if we ever got together, but we didn’t. He was my best friend and it was just so important through VCE that he was there as my friend and we could gossip about boys we liked and could talk about how we felt about being bisexual or gay. I’d always said to myself that at the end of Year 12 I’d let people know I was gay: it was important to me to do it that way. I told my sister and then my brother and then my mother and my father found out because my mother and father had separated. Some people call it good timing, but I came out to my mother just as she was separating from my father, so me being gay was not as big a drama as other things that were happening in her life, but it just happened that way rather than me planning it. (Coming out)
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My first crush was on a very small, short guy at primary school. I was quite big and I used to pick him up and bearhug him all the time. He used to think that that was funny: I used to think it was funny too, but I only did it because I liked to hug him and be close to him. Just before going to high school I had an experience with another guy. He was a few years older and he instigated some sexual activity. I liked him and I wanted something to happen but I had no idea what that was. We kissed and masturbated each other a little bit and there was a bit of oral sex but that was really just exploring what that felt like with another guy. I was twelve going on thirteen. I would say I was quite popular at primary school and felt really comfortable there, but high school was a completely different story. I was overweight, I had acne, I was thought to be gay and I got a hard time because of that. I tried to make myself as invisible as possible. (Body image)
I thought I might be bisexual
Originally I thought I might be bisexual because people had said that everyone experiments and does things with other guys and then they move on, but I didn’t. All of the boys in Year 7 seemed to be going crazy over Pamela Anderson from Baywatch in her red bathing suit. I realised I had a very different response to girls than they did and that’s when I realised something different was happening. In Year 8 I had really strong crushes on just about every boy in my class. That coincided with starting to masturbate for the first time so that was quite an intense year for me. Looking back, being gay or bisexual and liking guys wasn’t an issue for me. It felt natural and right. The real problem I had was being so shit-scared of how my family and friends would react. I didn’t feel, "You shouldn’t be like this", or, "I hate you", or anything, I just thought, "I don’t want to be bashed, kicked out of home and for everyone else to hate me".
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I had a number of sexual experiences with one guy over a period of about six years. At times it became incredibly intense and frequent but there would be gaps as well and I never knew when it was going to happen. I was very passive and not at all assertive in those situations. If he wanted to have sex then I would have sex with him, but I would never instigate it because he was a bit older and I didn’t want to upset him or talk about it if he didn’t want to talk about it. We started mucking around together when I was twelve - kissing and mutual masturbation and a little oral sex. About a year later it progressed to oral sex with him coming and then that became a regular thing - lots of oral sex and lots of him coming and then we had a big break.
I’m not a fag
He used to say if you do this after you’re 16 you’re a fag, but then his 16th birthday came! I mourned that day but when it came he still wanted to do it. I was surprised but he said "No, it’s if you do it after you’re 18!" After he was 18 I just stopped asking questions! I wasn’t complaining. We did try anal sex, but it’s embarrassing how we tried it: we just tried it quickly and forcefully and without lubricants and condoms. It was just burning sensations for both of us and we had no concept of how to ease into things. (First time)
He just wanted to come
Looking back, I loved him in a way, at least that was my take on the situation back then. He had affection for me but for him it was just sex. I didn’t understand that at the time; I wanted to kiss and hold hands and snuggle and he just wanted to come. That was hard at the time because I was overweight and I had acne and my self-esteem was quite low. The sex meant a great deal to me because, from my teenage years, I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to be my boyfriend or to have sex with me.
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After all those years of having sex together there wasn’t really any closure with him. I got a boyfriend a couple of days after I turned 18 and we never really spoke about it. I think he sensed that I had an intense friendship or something with another guy in my life and he just took the cues on that. At this stage he was having girlfriends and having sex with them, so I just focused on the new relationship and being in love. After I’d spent the weekend with this guy I called my best friend – the one I’d come out to - and I remember he said, "There’s something in your voice that I haven’t heard before". I burst into tears and I was just uncontrollably sobbing over the phone. I said, "I’m so happy! I’ve got a boyfriend! I can’t believe I’ve got a boyfriend!" He said, "This is amazing; I’ve never heard you happy before!" I said, "He likes me, he really, really likes me!" I guess there was a part of me that believed it would never happen.
Thinking I was in love was not realistic; it was just that someone cared about me – the fact that I had a boyfriend was probably the most important thing to me at that stage.
We wrote love letters to each other and called each other all the time and gave each other little presents and that was a beautiful part of the relationship. That new relationship lasted a year and a half.
The sex was better
The sex with him was better than with the previous guy. We were both about the same age – he was 17, I was 18 - we were both experimenting and that included wanking, kissing, oral sex, anal sex, the whole lot. We learned how to suck and how to fuck and what the other person liked and what they didn’t like and that was my first experience of an interactive sexual experience as against "suck on this" or "drop your dacks". We had some very intense sexual experiences. We talked about not using condoms but I guess we were both so freaked out at the thought of HIV that even though we said we’d talk about getting tested together and that kind of thing, it just never happened. (First time)
When I told my mother
When I told my mother I was gay she refused to believe it. She said, "You can’t be! Your father thinks you are, but I don’t." Then she said, "I’ve got no problem with you being gay but there are two things I’m worried about. I don’t want you to have a different life to your brother and sister just because you’re not heterosexual. I don’t want you to be bashed or hurt or whatever and I don’t want you to die of AIDS". I felt that I had to think about HIV all the time because my mother was and is so important to me. So for the first couple of years, when I started having sex with guys in relationships, it became something I was very aware of. I was using condoms and learning how to make that comfortable – sometimes it was and sometimes it wasn’t. We worked it out and had some incredibly intense experiences but that wasn’t just because of the sex itself - it was the context and the talking and the times we’d had together that really gave it its intensity.
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I’ve always had the sense that for me the sex got better as a relationship went on. In that respect I had a very different experience to a lot of my friends who said that sex got worse as the relationship progressed! I just found that as I became more comfortable with the other person, sexually and physically and emotionally, and them with me, the sex became better. Part of that was fucking without condoms and that communication that we had in the relationship. The first time I fucked without condoms was with a guy with whom I was in a five-year relationship. After we’d been together for a year we both decided that’s what we wanted to do. We talked about it and we both decided that we trusted each other enough to be able to do it and we got tested and that was great.
My second boyfriend had demanded that I go and get an HIV test, even though I’d been having protected anal sex. One man he’d fucked with early in his sexual history really talked him through everything - you have to go and get tested and you have to do this and you have to do that and you always have to be careful and blah blah blah. That was very formative in his ideas about safe sex; he had gone to get tested as a result and he wanted me to have the same experience. I went and did that and that first time was so incredibly scary: not knowing and trying to learn more about what getting tested meant and what safe sex actually meant and the risks and things - that was all quite full-on. (HIV testing)(Sexual health checks)
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At one point I got into this whole thing where guys would say, "Just stick the head in" and all this kind of stuff and then it became a grey area of thinking, "If I just stick the head in a little way it doesn’t matter". That happened and I was never sticking it all the way in and actually fucking and coming, or withdrawing before coming, but I liked it. It happened a few times and I just realised how fucked it was to be doing that. I had to get tested and wait for the results. They came back negative but the whole experience of going through that and contemplating being HIV positive really put me off putting myself in that situation again. That was always me putting my cock in them, but there was one time when I was seeing someone – I guess we were fuckbuddies – and for some reason we were always talking about just putting the head in and getting quite aroused by that and there was one time when he did that to me for a while and I thought, if he doesn’t stop, for me there’s going to be no turning back, and so we stopped.
He was HIV positive
And then a few weeks later he found out through his routine tests that he was HIV positive. He was devastated because he had no idea that he could have been and on top of that he was considering the fact that he could have put me at risk. I had to then get tested and wait and then get tested and wait. I can’t even describe what it was like to go through that. Fortunately, I came out of that still HIV negative, but I don’t think I’ve viewed life the same way ever since.
In the time that I had to wait for the tests results I felt like I couldn’t tell anybody. I knew that there were supports and people who would have been there for me but I didn’t want to burden everyone else with waiting for my test results.
I ended up telling two friends. I’m thankful that I told those two friends and they helped me through but I felt really isolated and all that was going through my head was, "How could I be so stupid: all those of years of being safe don’t mean anything now". I was being incredibly hard on myself. (Isolation)
I’ve lightened up
In lots of ways I’ve lightened up about it, but I’m still safe. That means there’s no more putting the head in - or allowing people to put the head in - without condoms. But I think twice when I have anal sex with someone now. If it’s a one-night stand – I’m not saying that it never happens, but if I’ve just met someone then I’m really reluctant to even think about having anal sex with them. I prefer to do that with someone I feel comfortable with and who I’ve already seen a couple of times.
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For me, travelling overseas has partly been about extending myself sexually - letting go with strangers and experiencing sex outside of a conventional relationship. That was difficult for me at first, but I wanted to do it and I tried it and I liked it. I’ve been on a few big overseas trips but there was one trip in particular when it seemed that almost every man I met wanted to fuck without condoms. I went to Berlin and I was going out and meeting lots of people. Berlin in some ways is a very sexual city but it’s a very different kind of sexual culture for me; it’s older and more masculine than Melbourne. I found the number of men who wanted me to fuck them without condoms really disturbing. I had to keep saying no and that can be really fucking tough.
In a dark room
There was one situation where it actually did happen and that was not by choice. I was in a dark room in Berlin with a man I didn’t know: we were kissing and wanking and sucking and all of a sudden he turned around and backed on to my cock. He’d put something quite strong up his arse – it was some smelly, intense lubricant. Before I knew it, I was inside of him. I was in shock; it happened so quickly. He immediately started pushing back and I was up against a wall. I had to try and push him off and he wouldn’t get off. We were in a tight cubicle situation: he had his hands against the wall and he was pushing back on me. In the end I had to physically lift him up and take him off my cock. That really freaked me out and again I had to get tested.
My urethra stung
My urethra stung for two days and I was sure I’d caught something. This was toward the end of the trip. I knew about PEP but I didn’t know any doctors or where to go to get it in Berlin or what it was called there, so I decided I’d deal with it when I got home. I know that if I was in Melbourne I would definitely have gone to see someone to get it straight away. (PEP)
When I got back to Melbourne I was beating myself up about not doing anything about it in Berlin. The doctors did all the tests and there was nothing. I was worried I had gonorrhoea or syphilis or HIV or something, but I was clear. It was a relief, but it was purely a matter of luck. That was recent and it’s pretty still close to home. I’m getting counselling just to talk that stuff through. (STIs)
I was brought up by my father never to make mistakes and always to do your best and be the best and when I find myself in situations like that, where mistakes or fuck-ups happen, I tend to be really hard on myself.
HIV positive friends
I have a couple of people I’m close to in my life who are HIV positive. When I see them we talk about just about everything but that scare made me realise we never actually talk about them being HIV positive. I realised I could start a conversation with them about it and see if they were comfortable talking about it. I always assumed they’d talk about if they wanted to, but then I thought maybe they were worried about how I’d react. Now I feel much more comfortable to talk to them and not tiptoe around the subject and that’s been an eye-opener too.
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I was living in Geelong and studying psychology and I knew I wanted to do some volunteer work. I was looking through Brother Sister and I saw there was a Geelong gay and lesbian youth support group. I went into their office one day and said, "Hi, I’m Daniel and I’m here to help out with the gay and lesbian youth group". They rolled their eyes and said here’s another young gay boy whose going to help out for two weeks and then be gone, but I hung around and did everything I said I was going to do. I was punctual, I did anything that was asked of me and after about six months they said, "This guys really keen; he must be really serious about wanting to be a part of it”. For me it was just really important to be involved. I hadn’t had any positive information about being gay at that stage and all of a sudden I was in this world where it was just assumed that being gay was OK. I could read books about it, I could talk to people about it, I could be gay in this workplace and it wasn’t an issue any more. I think I was quite lucky to have that experience while I was young.
I was working with young men with challenging behaviours in some of the schools in Geelong, on issues like conflict resolution and anger management, and it made me realise that homophobia was a real issue. I made some big mistakes trying to challenge their homophobic behaviour but I also found some ways that worked. Working on this youth support project for a couple of years I became more and more aware that young gay men and lesbians were having really big issues in schools, so I decided to put together an educational package for teachers who want to challenge homophobia in their classrooms. I probably spent two or three years working in schools before I really developed the idea. (Homophobia)
Pride and Prejudice
I piloted the program in an all-boys Catholic school. I wasn’t necessarily expecting that it would work, but it did. The students, teachers and parents gave it a positive review and soon other schools wanted to do it as well. That led me to developing it as a package, which I did in a very long and intense process over a ten-year period. That package is called ‘Pride and Prejudice’. When it was formally evaluated it was shown to significantly improve the attitudes of young students – male and female - towards gay men and lesbians and that’s fairly unique around the world. I’ve written a book about that whole decade; fingers crossed it will be published in 2008.
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At the moment I’d classify myself as single, but I’m dating guys here and there. I’ve been in long-term monogamous relationships for the last decade, essentially my entire adult life, and I’ve got to the stage where I’m trying to work out what I want. I guess I’m trying to work out what makes me happy as a single man because I really haven’t been single for a long period in my life, so it’s about learning more about myself. I hope that makes me a better partner when I do have another relationship. Sexually, I just want to keep on evolving. After travelling around the world and having sex with men from different countries, I think I’m very vanilla! I’m OK with that. I find vanilla very hot but I look forward to finding out more about sex and more about my own body. That’s about allowing myself to let go physically and letting go with other people and learning more about things I like that I didn’t realise I liked (until recently). I think I might go from being vanilla to being vanilla with strawberry topping or something! But I think it will always be vanilla at its heart. I look forward to getting to a place where I’m ready to have a relationship with someone, for when I trip over Mr Right. I believe you don’t find Mr Right; experience tells me it happens when you least expect it.
Daniel lives and works in Geelong
Daniel spent time in Berlin