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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Doug produces and presents ‘Rainbow Report’, a news and current affairs program on Melbourne’s gay and lesbian radio station, JOY 94.9. Now in his fifties, Doug describes the heyday of the Gay Liberation Front in 1970’s England, the loss of friends to AIDS in the 1980’s, his experiences in the leather scene of Amsterdam and his current long-term relationship.
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The first time I became aware of being sexual was when I was about eight or nine. I didn’t know what it was all about at the time, but I discovered that I had a penis and that it got hard and it was fun to play with. Especially when I was thinking about the young man next door who was in the army and used to come home in his uniform and kilt. I used to have dreams about climbing under the kilt – of course, I didn’t quite know what I was going to do when I got under there! You don’t at that age.
I didn’t want to be gay
My first actual sexual experience was a long time afterwards because, basically, when I finally realised what this all meant, which was by the time I was finishing school – fifteen or sixteen - I didn’t want to be gay, so I tried very hard not to be. I went out with girls. I never tried to have sex with them; I didn’t feel that way about them, particularly. I did have crushes on other boys but I didn’t act on them. It wasn’t until I went to university that the whole thing came to a head.
First year I was living in digs in the suburbs, so I was a model student, but in the second year I moved into an all-male hall of residence. And that’s where I began to discover that trying to keep a lid on things was not going to work. I had a couple of unsuitable crushes on unsuitable people. I went along to see a psychiatrist at the university medical centre and I did the usual thing; I broke down in tears and said, "I think I’m probably a homosexual".
She talked to me about it for a bit and discovered that I hadn’t actually done anything about it and said, "Well, best thing you can do is go away and get some experience and find out if you really are or not". Which is not the answer I was expecting! It threw me and I didn’t quite know what to do.
I was a bit messed up psychologically at the time, what with exams and trying to cope with this as well, so I spent a little time on valium before deciding that this wasn’t helping any. It was just putting a blanket over everything instead of helping me deal with it, so I realised it wasn’t going to be the answer.
A hairdresser from Salford
Eventually I plucked up the courage to find out what was going on and what to do about it on the local gay scene – this was in Manchester, on the now world famous Canal St. I must have walked up and down the pavement for an hour, watching people coming and going, and trying to go in to the bar, and trying not to go in, and eventually I did go in. I got picked up by a hairdresser from Salford and had my first sexual experience in his salon – he lived over the shop.
I think it was just mutual masturbation; I don’t remember any penetration or oral sex. I came away from that feeling very confused. On the one hand I had done what I thought I wanted to do, but on the other hand it wasn’t what I wanted to, in the sense that I hadn’t felt any connection to this person. It was just a clinical experience. It was physical but not emotional and I found I didn’t really like that.
I finished university and returned to London and from having been a very reluctant homosexual to begin with I went completely the other way. Over the next few years I had a fair amount of physical sex, graduating onto oral sex and eventually anal sex.
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I heard about Gay Liberation Front (GLF) at the London School of Economics. I finished uni in 1971; I would have been 21 - 22 at the time. I went along to a weekly mass meeting; they were very counter-culture – no hierarchy, no officialdom – they just had a big mass meeting and there would be maybe 200 people there...
I should mention I’d already had some contact with the more genteel Campaign for Sexual Equality in Manchester, which was all letter-writing and things. Homosexuality had only been legalised in 1967 so this was all thoroughly new. That group was far too polite. It came out of the homophile movement; it was very genteel and respectable, not at all the way I felt about things. I was angry, I suppose.
I was fairly closeted at that time; I was only out to a few people and I found that very constraining and very awkward, and then I suddenly came across the GLF, whose big push was that everyone should be out. I thought, ‘Yeah, why should it be a problem? It’s not my problem: I’ve been thinking it’s my problem but it’s somebody else’s. Which is a great way to get rid of it – to shove it off it onto someone else.
The GLF was very much into street theatre and demonstrations – a bit like ACTUP became – for example they had a whole bunch of guys there who called themselves radical feminists and dressed in drag – bad drag – all the time. They also had a number of extremely articulate and wordy Americans who were studying in London, knew about what had happened at Stonewall, had come to the UK, found us very backwards and decided to energise everybody – you know how positive the Americans can be.
I went along to a couple of these huge meetings and was quite intimidated at first – all these loud people, leather queens, drag queens – and then I gradually got more involved and I joined what was called the office collective, which was the administration section – you volunteered to do a few hours on the phone and keep what records they had. Then I discovered that one of the duties of members of the office collective was to chair the public meeting once in a while. I’d been a shy individual up to then. Anyway I did it and that was great for my self-confidence.
We frightened each other’s parents
I started getting involved in the gay world, going to bars and things. I met a couple of people at that time that I had short-term affairs with, one guy who worked for the Coal Board, who was very sweet. We had a very affectionate relationship for a couple of years. I met one of my very greatest friends, who is still a friend of mine now – a lesbian who turned out to live quite close to where I lived in the suburbs. So we visited each other’s houses and frightened each other’s parents. She was very loud and out.
I had sort of come out to my parents and not had a very good reception. Mum burst into tears and said so long as you’re happy and father asked if I wanted to see a doctor. And that was the response.
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When I started getting involved in GLF, my father became quite angry. I’ll never forget what he said, "I’ve worked hard all my life and I started out with nothing and I’ve become a small somebody and I don’t want you and your funny friends jeopardising that". That struck me as pathetic in the true sense of the term.
Eventually I had to move out because the situation became untenable. I finished up sharing a flat with my lesbian friend and another gay man who was a friend of hers. Out of that came my first involvement in gay journalism, because out of GLF came Gay News, a group dedicated to starting a national gay newspaper. There wasn’t one at the time, only porn. I was invited to join the editorial collective; it was all collectives in those days. We sat around for months talking about what we would and wouldn’t do and what the paper would and wouldn’t look like and I didn’t imagine the paper would ever get off the ground; there was just too much discussion and no decision-making going on.
Then one of the other guys involved –(one of my friends who died of AIDS) – a guy called Martin Corbett, who was very active in the GLF at the time, and I and another person were talking one day. We said, ‘Nothing is ever going to happen with this’. So Martin and I and Sue and someone else got together and thought, ‘We’re just going to do it’. Eventually we got the damn thing up. Of course then the rest of them all came back on board.
The idea was to be respectable and get a gay paper in the mainstream. We covered campaigning issues, but we also tried to get coverage of things like books and theatre and that sort of stuff. We did get some celebrity backing from various closeted but well-known people. The best known was Graham Chapman from the Monty Python team: he wasn’t at all closeted! He wrote articles for us; he came out on the front cover; he put money into the paper to help get it off the ground
Sexually I was still fumbling around at that stage – I didn’t really know what I wanted. I had all the gay bars in London at my fingertips – and there were quite a lot of them even back then. I still didn’t much care for the casual sex – I remember getting a talking-to from one multi-be-ringed drag queen in a bar one night saying, ‘Darling, you’ve got to adjust: that’s what there is if you’re gay; that’s the way it works. Get over it. Stop mooning around and being so romantic’.
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All my lovers have come from a personal connection, usually through work or being involved in a gay organisation or a personal introduction. It was around this time – 1975 or so – I met up with this man. It’s a curious story. I actually first met up with his sugar daddy: he was an older gentleman who’d been in the army – the British Army in India, you know – he was very charming, a lovely man.
He was drinking with him in a very posh gay bar in Mayfair called the Pig and Whistle. It was that sort of scene – lots of older men and younger boys - but it was where you went for a drink on Sunday lunchtime. Anyway, they both invited me back to their riverfront apartment in Pimlico and that’s how I got to know them. I eventually took up with the younger guy.
What I didn’t realise until much later was that he had been a rent boy and this older gentlman had decided to take him under his wing, get him off the streets, get him some education, get him a job, get him a trade and sort of launch him into real life – rescue him; he was the sugar daddy's project. The next part of the project was to pass him onto someone else! And I had been selected for the role – I didn’t know this at the time. I also didn’t know that the older man was quite ill and didn’t have long to live.
This guy was just so completely the opposite of me – I was still quite shy, very much in the background, but he was very loud and extroverted. He used to stride around London in a red leather jacket, yellow satin trousers and red leather knee boots, a big afro, bawling cockney voice: he was a very out-there character and I was completely gobsmacked.
He was also very much the dominant character in the bedroom. But, outside the bedroom, I was boss because I understood things like bank accounts and getting rent paid on time and managing a life. He could be ferociously embarrassing for me sometimes. He was good for me in one sense, because he really pushed me out there, but on the other hand he could be awfully embarrassing.
I stayed with him for ten years, all-in-all. Unfortunately it was a bit of a failed project in the end because he was very fond of booze and he became an alcoholic. I very nearly became an alcoholic as well. I had to break it up to save myself basically. You get to a point where you can’t do any more for someone.
Him and I split up and got back together and split up several times. During one of those splits he ended up in Amsterdam. We’re getting into Britain’s Thatcher years now, which wasn’t a very welcoming time to be in England if you were gay.
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I’d been involved in another gay publication: I’d also done ‘straight’ jobs in advertising and public relations. Then, quite by accident, I got into the leather business, manufacturing cockstraps and dildos and harnesses and chaps and stuff. I got involved in the sex associated with the leather scene as well. I’d always dabbled in it but once I got involved in the business I was obviously a lot more involved in the scene. Eventually it became too difficult in Britain because Thatcher brought in this scheme whereby sex shops had to be licenced.
Sexually I’ve never liked anything too dirty, I only like clean sex, let’s put it that way. I’m not into anything like scat for example, but there was certainly fisting, bondage, SM and so on. I mean, people expect it when you’re selling the gear! I was also discovering what I did and didn’t like. It’s not the physical activities themselves: I think it all comes down to control – in all aspects of my life I like to be in control and that’s what I get off on. It’s a power trip.
As I said, by this time my partner had moved over to Amsterdam. I went over in the early 80’s – I only stayed with him for a short time because of his alcoholism - but it launched me in Amsterdam. I got involved with a British company opening a store there and I did amateur theatre.
Amsterdam was the time I really did throw caution to the winds. I did all the backroom bars; I was involved in the leather scene and doing drugs to some extent; nothing serious. I tried cocaine but I hated it - it made me uptight. Then towards the end of my time in Amsterdam I started hearing about this strange gay disease going around in the US.
But of course it was all unprotected sex in those days. I was very lucky, I think I only had gonorrhoea in that whole time. I had it three or four times. I was aware of sexual health but if you had symptoms you’d go and get something done about it – you wouldn’t get a regular checkup – partly because back then a VD clinic (STI Clinic) wasn’t a very pleasant experience. None of the staff were particularly pleasant.
The backroom behaviour in Amsterdam; with the amount of drugs and drink going around, I don’t think I spent much of that time completely sober. Drink and drugs were there on offer and it was part of the culture. Having struggled through those years with my ex trying to make things work several times over, I suppose what I was trying to do was get into that casual scene so I wouldn’t have to deal with a lover. It was a kind of self-therapy, I suppose. My American lover saw it as self-destructive behaviour.
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Toward the end of my time in Amsterdam I met this American – he was much older than me and it was the first time I’d had a relationship with someone older than me; I’d always been the older one. He was ten years older than me and not what I thought of as my type; he was short and tending to the tubby. He was Italian-American and a senior psychiatric nurse. He said, ‘You’re not happy here’. I didn’t really want to go back to the UK, so he sent me a plane ticket and said come over and join me in the States, which I did for a year. That was when AIDS was beginning to happen. This was the first time I started using condoms for sex, because he insisted on it. That was also something of a reversal because I was a top in this relationship.
A very scary period
When AIDS arrived I think it took a while for the whole change to sink in. It hit me quite hard seeing people I knew get sick and dying. I’ve never liked condoms. I still continued to use them but I suppose in the end, when I got to America, that’s what propelled me away from the whole casual sex scene, because it was too risky and complicated, so I started to swing back towards monogamy.
I was also starting to see people I knew getting sick and dying of AIDS: a barman at one of the bars in Amsterdam that I used to frequent got very sick around this time and I heard from friends back in Holland that he died. One of the great friends that I made on this trip to America was this very sweet boy – well, not a boy exactly, one of my partner’s co-workers. His family had a Dutch-Indonesian background, very, very sweet and gentle. He died of AIDS a few years later.
Two of the people I had worked with on the gay newspapers also died of AIDS and several of my friends in the US and Amsterdam died too. There was a period when it seemed like we were all just going to funerals all the time. That was a very scary time; it was very noticeable that a lot of people were doing what I was doing, which was finding someone and settling down.
Closing everything down
There was a rush to pair off and settle down and the whole casual sex scene seemed to die away. It has come back again now, but for a while the American cities were closing everything down. The back room bars and saunas weren’t doing particularly good business – Amsterdam was in trouble – and so I was well aware of AIDS – I’ve always followed those issues quite closely.
I stayed in America about a year. After I witnessed three shootings on the street, in the course of that year, I didn’t feel safe, so I left. The relationship with the psychiatric nurse came to a natural end, partly because I didn’t want to stay in America, and he also began to have doubts about the whole thing – we were sharing his house with his ex-lover and they had some kind of issues going on and I decided I didn’t want a part of it. I didn’t want to stay in America anyway, so I went back to the UK. That was about 1985-1986.
I picked up with my friend Sue from GLF days and we shared a house for a while. We went through a phase we both used to call kissing frogs. We were both on the lookout for a permanent partner: we both decided we wanted to find someone and settle down and we were trying various strategies. We joined clubs, placed and answered small ads, and all sorts of things to meet people.
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I eventually met my current partner on Teletext, if you know what that is. He answered my ad and, as I said before, you think you have a type and then someone else completely different comes along. He’s Asian-American and I’d never been with an Asian guy before in my life. He’s a very senior businessman with an American multinational. He’s an accountant, which is not really my style, so really we’re completely different, but we fell for each other. Well, he fell for me first; he chased me until I stopped running basically: he’s not the sort of man to take no for an answer; he usually gets what he wants!
Within a very short time of meeting each other we moved in together; I think it was only a matter of months. Immediately after we met he had to go off on a business trip. On his return he rang me up from the airport and said, ‘I’m back; can I come around for the weekend?’ He came round and stayed the weekend and we kind of went from there. And then, after a little while, we thought, ‘This is ridiculous, having two places’, and he moved in with me.
After about two years his company moved him to Australia. I then had a choice. I didn’t really have a career – I had a boring job with an insurance company at the time – and here he was with this high-powered job. He said, ‘Look, if you want to stop working, just come out to Australia and do it’. He came out here, and I hummed and hah-ed for a little while and then came out and joined him; that was about ten years ago.
I wasn’t allowed to work for a few years – that was a condition of my visa – and that’s how I became involved with JOY, because I’m not cut out to be a househusband! I started volunteering at JOY and that was to save my sanity. After my experiences with gay organisations and working on two gay papers I had sworn never to touch a gay organisation again...
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I have never got used to using condoms, I have to say. As one straight friend at university said to me, ‘I wish I was gay; you have a lot more sex than we do, and you don’t have to use condoms’. I came late to using them. I have never liked the smell, feel or anything about them. Because of AIDS, we started using them - you didn’t know, so you played safe - but I was a reluctant user.
I found myself indulging in oral sex but I have all but given up anal sex because I don’t like condoms, and it’s too risky without. I’m in a long-term relationship but even within that I’ve stopped having anal sex.
We are largely monogamous, but we understand that there may be the odd time when one of us is inclined to give in to temptation. And the understanding we have is that, if we do, we’ll practice safe sex by one means or another. That means if he wants to have anal sex with someone, he will ensure that they use a condom. Otherwise stick to oral – that’s the kind of thing we’ve worked out.
Things might happen
It evolved. We were monogamous for a long time. We’ve been together now for thirteen years and for most of the early part of that we were monogamous. It’s only relatively recently, in the last three or four years, that we’ve acknowledged the possibility that, even though we want to stay together and we’re committed to each other, other things might happen on occasion.
I don’t mind
The original discussion came about because we used to get separated quite a lot – my partner used to travel on business a lot. One day he rang me up in tears and apologised for having fancied someone else. That’s how we got into the discussion of saying, well, I don’t mind if you fancy someone else, because I know you’re committed to me. And he wasn’t very comfortable with that idea at first, but when he came back after that trip we talked about it and things gradually developed to the point where we are now.
We continued to use condoms throughout the relationship; he made that very clear from the very beginning. I haven’t been tested for quite a number of years, since around the time I took up with my current partner. I was going through a dating period at that time, where I was looking for a partner, so I did get tested and have check ups fairly regularly at that point.
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Since we got together I haven’t been tested because we have this trust with each other that we don’t do anything risky. I know I can trust him and he knows he can trust me. Trust is what a relationship is, to me.
We don’t go into details
For me, seeing someone else is something that happens very, very seldom. Since we’ve been together, I can count the number of occasions that has occurred on one hand - and not run out of fingers – and I think it’s pretty much the same for him. He drops hints occasionally and I have on occasion dropped hints too, so we’re pretty well aware of what we’re doing. We don’t keep each other completely in the dark, but we’ve both said we won’t go into details and that’s where we’ve left it.
If anything, we’ve grown closer over the years. Obviously we fight – every couple fights – he probably wouldn’t admit it but, since I’ve been able to work, things have got better.
I don’t know what the future holds, and that’s part of the fun. Growing older together, coping with everything that means, moving house. All I know is, I never want to retire – and of course, writers and broadcasters seldom do – we can go on till we drop!
Doug is originally from London.
After school, Doug went to Manchester to experience a little of the gay scene.
Doug went over to Amsterdam in the early 80's where he did amateur theatre.
Doug went to live in America for a couple years after getting together with an American guy but he ended up moving back to the UK eventually.