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 was born in Rome, Italy, very close to the Coliseum. I come from a small family; my Dad died when I was 11 years old, I have a sister who is 4 years younger than me, and my Mum, so it’s a small family. I suppose I first knew that I was gay when I started playing with my sister’s Barbies. I always knew I was different from my mates but when I was in my last year of high school my best friend and I started to play around. Even though that was happening I don’t think he was gay, we just had such a strong friendship, but that’s when I thought, OK, I am definitely not straight. Even though I dated girls, I wasn’t attracted to them at all.
I was an exchange student when I was 17 years old so I spent one year in the United States where I had more sexual experiences with guys and I had sex with girls, but not a lot. Then I went back to Italy and did my last year of high school. I remember the first time I looked at myself in the mirror and said, "I’m gay": that was like a coming-out to myself and I felt really alone. I was living in Rome, and the gay community in Rome is small. I thought that I was the only one, I felt really isolated. I felt, "Why me? Why does it have to be me?"
I remember one day I had some gay magazines and I threw them all away and I said to myself, "No, you’re straight! That’s it, you’re STRAIGHT!" 24 hours later I was like, "What am I doing? Where are my magazines?" I went back and tried to get them but they were gone. But, you know, it was hard, so I knew that would have to leave Italy because I wasn’t feeling comfortable.
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So I went to London, just for the summer, and it was then that I met my first boyfriend. I was a waiter; he was a waiter too and we became really good friends. He was a model, and I was really attracted to him; he was very beautiful. We got really drunk one night; that was the night that Princess Diana died - August 31 1997 - and I remember the morning after I was walking away from his apartment and I felt like the happiest kid. I had a big smile, I felt finally it was cool (to be gay) and I was having a good time.
That was the first time that I got fucked, we fucked each other and we did use condoms. We were both 19 years old at the time. In Italy we had really good education about sex. Even though there was no promotion whatsoever about homosexuality, there was very good education about wearing condoms, about what AIDS was, about what being HIV positive was all about, so that’s the way I grew up, that’s the way I started having sex and that’s the way I have conducted my sex life.
While I was really happy about this happening in London, this guy was still in the closet and we ended up having to part because he had a lot of issues to deal with about being gay. Then I went back to Rome and suddenly it seemed to me that there was this gay community that wasn’t there before. It was probably always there, but now that I had come back and I felt better about my sexuality I noticed it more. I started going out to gay clubs and making friends and I had my first Italian boyfriend. I was working as a bouncer in a straight club, and I had all my straight buddies, but I was leading this double life; I had a boyfriend, he was about 10 years older than me. So I had my gay friends and I had my straight friends, and that’s the way that it was.
Then I did my military service for ten months but I had my boyfriend the whole time so there was no sex while I was in the army. It was just a boring office job and I didn’t have to live in the barracks; I was in Rome so I just went home. It was about this time that I told my sister I was gay. I remember we were sitting at McDonalds and I just told her, and she was really cool. She wanted to come to a gay club with me, so she met my friends, she met my boyfriend and she loved him. It was really cool because then my sister became part of my life.
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After that I went back to London and I dragged my boyfriend along with me, but he only managed to stay for the summer because he had his job back in Rome. He didn’t like London and he didn’t speak English, so eventually we broke up. I mean, we managed to stay together long-distance for six months, but eventually it didn’t work out. But London, of course, has a big club scene, so I made a lot of friends and really my 100% percent gay life started then.
The most beautiful guy ever
I actually dated an HIV positive guy, for about nine months, and I learned everything about what it was like for someone to be HIV positive, what that life is like, what he had to take (medications) and the tests he needed. He was older than me, he was very healthy, he was the most beautiful guy ever, he had the most beautiful body ever, and he still looks good. He lives a healthy lifestyle; for me, he is one of those people who shows that HIV is not a death sentence any more. Of course it affects different people in different ways, but he is fine.
All the time I was with him his viral load was undetectable, but we still used condoms all the time. He was the top in our relationship so, for me, it was a little scary sometimes, but really everything was OK. I got checked regularly at the clinic. I remember the first time I was scared: in fact it’s always scary, there’s always that thing in your mind that says, "Y’know? I’d rather not know". If I tested HIV positive it would be such a shock, but I guess I would be OK. I would cope, but of course I would rather not have it.
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When I went back to London, my mother came to visit me. She was always asking me about girls and there was always a lot of girls in my house all the time, but they were friends. I remember that my Mum and I went out for dinner one night and my boyfriend called me and we were talking intimately on the phone and my mother was like, "Is that your girlfriend?" and she was just so annoying about it I thought, "Y’know what? Maybe it’s time to tell her". So I said to her while I was holding the phone, "You want to talk to my girlfriend? Here, talk to my girlfriend!"
Now I realise that this was a really bad idea: she talked to him and she was not happy. She didn’t talk to me for the rest of the holiday and she didn’t talk to me for four months after that. When she went back to Rome she went to see a psychiatrist, the worst, homophobic psychiatrist in Rome, who said, "Oh, maybe your son has a weak mind and he let other people brainwash him, but it’s really just a phase he’s going through”.
So my Mum was convinced it was just a phase and after four months she started talking to me again, but she was not happy with me being gay. One day I said to her, "L"’ But she really didn’t understand it. It has taken her a long time to come to terms with the fact that I’m gay.
Now she’s cool with it
I’m 29 years old now and I guess she’s only been really happy about it a year, it’s taken that long. But now she’s really cool with it, she knows my boyfriend, we had Christmas together and she’s really proud of me. She wants to meet my friends, she wants to know all about my life, she’s really happy that I’m gay and she’s proud of me.
My Mum wasn’t happy at first with me being involved in porn either, but I come from a very poor family and through my work in the porn industry I bought an apartment and I have a very nice lifestyle and I’m able to give my mother money - I support her in a way. She understands that porn, for me, isn’t just a job, it’s something that I like doing. She sees that I’m happy and that is the most important thing for her.
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I ended up spending four years in London, studying graphic design at Central St Martins College of Art and Design, the same college that John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney went to. I started doing graphic design, then I moved into web design and flash animations, digital arts basically. My only problem was that I didn’t have money to pay for college so that’s when I realised, 'OK, I’m on my own; my family obviously is not here (in London) for me'. And even if they were, there was no way that my Mum could help me with it, I mean, I was living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. I met this guy who was an escort and he suggested to me that maybe I could do it too. That’s when I started escorting.
That was maybe one of the most painful moments in my life. I remember crying a lot at this time, but then I just became numb to it. I started making all this money and I paid for everything that I needed to pay for; I got a beautiful apartment and I just settled. I escorted for a full six months and I guess I had an encounter around two times a day. I used to work for an agency and I got paid a lot of money, especially because I would do a lot of trips around Europe and stay with the clients overnight. I’d get around 1,200 pounds a time and that’s a lot of money. I guess I was blessed because I’ve got a nice body and I don’t look ordinary so I had people who specifically wanted to see me, and that’s how I built up a regular client base.
These guys would give me presents and it was really very addictive, y’know? Then I met this guy who was, I suppose, 35 years old and he was very wealthy. He fell in love with me, and he just took care of me for the rest of the time I was in college. He put me in an apartment, and gave me a credit card and I could do anything I wanted – I was lucky. So I took my Bachelor degree at college and once I had finished I decided that I wanted to move to New York, so I went there to check it out - this was around 2003.
The day after I arrived, in August, there was an historic blackout in the city for two days straight. So you can imagine, it’s like the middle of summer in New York, there is no air conditioning, no iced drinks, no elevators, nothing. It was like wartime, everyone was out on the street and I met my new boyfriend on the street - literally. I was buying a watermelon and I was ten cents short and the guy behind me paid and I turned around and I was like, WOW! He was the most beautiful guy ever, we started talking, and from then on we never left each other.
He was working for a modeling agency and he said that maybe I could get a modeling visa. I went to an agency and showed them my pictures, because in London I had also worked as a model - I had quite a bit of editorial work. They offered me a modeling visa but I had to go back to Italy to apply for it. After a while it came through and I had a modeling visa for three years.
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So I stayed in New York; I had a thousand boyfriends and I got back into doing escorting. I was working as a model, I was escorting and I was working in Splash Bar, which is the most famous gay bar in New York. I was enjoying myself, having a lot of sex. I managed to stay in New York for almost three and a half years. I had the opportunity to stay for another three years but I didn’t want to stay any more, it had become a very poisoned place for me. It was very fast, there was always a lot of people and it was the time that crystal meth was really hitting New York. I was one of the small percentage of gay men who wasn’t doing crystal – it just wasn’t me; I don’t really drink and I don’t do drugs - and all my friends were going crazy on it, almost developing split personalities.
I couldn’t trust anyone any more; a lot of people let me down. I became really jaded and numb to everything; I didn’t have any reaction to good things any more. I became indifferent to everything just to protect myself. I went back to Rome, where I had the chance to buy an apartment; I realised I could make a lot of money renting it out so I stayed there for ten months renovating.
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At that time I met Filippo Romano, who was one of the biggest Falcon porn stars at the time – he was very young, he was like 23 years old, and we dated for six months. It was my first encounter with porn; I didn’t like it; I didn’t like the attention he was getting. He was very successful, in his peak year he probably made 30 or 40 movies. He tried to assure me that it was just a job and everything but I was just totally against it.
I was really possessive, so eventually he quit and he worked as a DJ. I think he did that for me, he was really in love with me, but then he cheated on me, with my best friend, so that was the end of it for me. The other thing was that, by the time he cheated on me, there was no more sexual chemistry with him, so I used his cheating as an escape. He took it badly, he was really devastated, but I was like, that’s it, cut, there’s no turning back.
So I found myself in Rome, and thought there really is nothing more for me to do here, my apartment is ready - I had finished work on it. So I said to Filippo, now that we were just friends, let’s go to Madrid, I’d never been there before. We went for a holiday and we ended up having the best weekend ever. We went to all the parties and we met a ton of people. So I said to Filippo, "Wouldn’t it be great to live here?" That was in April, and I moved to Madrid in October, 2006.
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I grew up as a Catholic boy and I have to say the Church has let me down, there is so much hypocrisy that surrounds religion – I truly hate the Pope, and I hate the Church itself and what it represents; it’s a lot of bullshit. It really makes me mad, the way it manipulates people. Now, having said that, I was raised as a Catholic so it’s really hard for me to say that there is no God - for me, I cannot do that.
I have read a lot about Kabalism and I became interested in it long before Madonna made it commercial or popular. I realised that it was just promoting a principle of life or respect; there was no bullshit behind it. It’s about light and darkness and energy; what good you put out in the world, that’s what you get back. If you don’t want people to talk shit about you then you don’t do it to others; if you want to be loved, then you have to love. If you want to be respected then you have to respect others. It’s not like you have to pray to God, it’s more like a principle of life.
It’s funny because once you start to live this way your whole life starts to change. People stop talking about you behind your back and you see all these little changes in you personal relationships. You feel good about yourself and you realise, hey, this really works. It’s really simple, but it works. I don’t have to wear a red string around my wrist to show that I’m a Kabbalist or anything like that because, for me, it’s personal.
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In terms of the future, I guess my biggest fear is dying, and I suppose that’s why I do porn, so I can be remembered – so I have proof of my existence. I’m scared of the future; I’m scared of what’s going to happen next. I’m getting older. I remember that people said to me, "When you get older, when you become 30 years old, you’re going to start understanding all these things about life" - and I am, I am growing up, finally.
The future is OK, carpe diem – seize the day! I never make plans ahead; I always go with the flow and for me that works. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow but I’m confident that whatever happens it’s going to be something good. I have suffered, I will suffer, I will be happy, I will do great, I will make mistakes but I’m happy with who I am today, that’s for sure. You make tomorrow with today and for the first time in my life I’m happy – I’m happy with who I am, I’m happy with where I’m going. The path I have chosen is a good path, I’m not questioning it.
Francesco was born in Rome and had a strong Catholic upbringing.
Francesco studied Graphic Design in London and it was also where he started his escort work.
Francesco got a modelling visa to work in the US. He also worked as a bartender at one of the most famous gay bars in New York and loved it.
Francesco then moved to Madrid in 2006 to start the next phase of his life.