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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My name is Glenn. I'm 49 years old. I was born in Melbourne in 1957 to Anglo-Australian parents - a completely vanilla Presbyterian background. I lived in West Sunshine for the first 20 years of my life and then I moved out to go to Latrobe University. I worked for almost nine years at RMIT as the Higher Education Resource Coordinator for the RMIT Union. That was a great job; I loved that. But when I became HIV positive I had to leave work.
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I was diagnosed HIV positive in 1997 and to the best of my knowledge I had been positive for six years prior to that. I became HIV positive in December 1991. I've never been an alcohol drinker but I went out one night - it was a hot December evening - and, uncharacteristically, I drank several scotch and dry's very quickly in rapid succession.
"Who are you and where am I?"
I remember seeing this bloke standing at the end of the bar - it was The Xchange hotel - and he walked towards me. I remember it was as if someone turned the lights out and the next thing I knew I opened my eyes and I turned to him in his bed and said, "My name is Glenn: who are you and where am I?" Prior to that I'd always used condoms, so I believe that's the night I became HIV positive.
Something's wrong here
A few days after that incident I went and had a test; it came back negative. It was too soon after the event to get tested, because of the window period before HIV antibodies show up on the test, but I hung on to that negative reading for six years, went into denial and didn't get tested again for another six years.
It wasn't until my fabulous, beautiful, long, brown hair started going grey and falling out and I started getting very drawn and sunken-looking that I thought, "Something's wrong here" and I knew that I didn't want to admit it to myself.
I went to see my GP. Synchronistically, I gave him my blood on the Friday morning and on Friday evening I started getting hot and cold chills, a severe raging temperature and the skin on my face turned bright red and started peeling off my face.
Toxic shock syndrome
I had a friend from Queensland staying with me; at about six o'clock on a Saturday morning he drove me to the Alfred Hospital to the Emergency ward and they established very quickly that I had toxic shock syndrome, which is what women get from tampons. I had it and it wasn't even my monthly period, so I don't know what was going on!!!
I had three T-cells
They asked me: "Have you had an HIV test recently?" I said, "Yes, I gave my GP my blood yesterday". They rushed the results through and three days later, on Monday, it must have been late May 1997, they told me I was HIV positive. At the time of my diagnosis I had three T-cells and a rampaging viral load in excess of 500,000; it was just ridiculous. I felt putrid; I felt polluted, toxic inside - I've never felt as disgusting in my body as I did at that time. So, that's how I found out I was positive.
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I've been with my partner for five and a half years - I'll call him Boyfriend, because that's actually what I call him. We have a great time together. We don't live together; we live about 15 minutes apart from each other. But six days out of seven we spend in each other's company. He has a full-time job and I unfortunately don't, because I've had hip replacement surgery and a whole range of HIV related illnesses over the years.
Suffice to say, for the last several years, I've had a non-detectable viral load and my T-cells have always encouragingly been over the 800 - 900 mark and that's reason to be glad. But Boyfriend is wonderful. We've had a great relationship for the five-and-a-half years we've been together.
We don't live together
We don't want to live together: I like having my own space and he likes having his own space and it gives us two environments to work with rather than just the one. He's HIV positive as well. He was diagnosed in 1985, when AIDS was the expected outcome, but not once has he had a day's illness because of the virus - touch wood. He hasn't had to take a day off work; he hasn't had to take a pill. He's just one of the small percentage of people who carry the virus around in their system and it never manifests in them in any shape or form - and he's been HIV positive for the better part of 22 years now, so that's really cool.
I encountered his cock
I met him at a sauna. To be perfectly honest, I encountered his cock in the steam-room before I even got to speak to him. I said, "Let's go somewhere cooler. My name's Glenn: who are you?" and he told me his name. He rang me a couple of days later and I said, yeah, lets get together and we went out and had dinner about a week later. I told him I was HIV positive and he thanked me for telling him: he said, "Because I am too". So we knew each other's status from the beginning.
He's a very quiet introspective person unlike me. I'm just out there and "blah, blah, blah'! He has a lot of integrity; he's a good person. Most evenings, I'm either at his place for dinner or he'll come to my place for dinner. We spend a lot of time watching TV or playing backgammon, cards, Monopoly... We probably have sex once or twice a week.
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If we have sex with other people we always use condoms, but we don't use them together in the relationship. I'd be a liar to say we do because we don't. We don't compromise each other's health unnecessarily by coming inside of each other or anything like that. It's nice to have unprotected sex - it is nice...
I trust him
I trust him to not come in me and I trust myself to not come in him. There is such a thing as pre-cum, but neither of us are very pre-cummy people! And because I love and trust him I know he wouldn't do anything to jeopardise my help and likewise with me.
With occasional sex partners however you don't know what their HIV status is; you don't know where they're coming from, so that's when it's best to wear condoms at all times.
We don't come inside each other because - although it hasn't been medically proven or medically dismissed - you run a risk of cross-infection. To my mind it's like playing Russian roulette: why would I want to come inside him and give him my strain of HIV when he has an apparently benign form of the virus. If I came inside him I could be giving him the strain of the virus I've got - when I've been on pills for the last eight-and-a-half years to keep this virus in check.
Other sexual partners
I don't ask casual partners their HIV status because it's only a one-off thing. I know my status and I always assume that the person I'm having sex with is HIV positive. I don't ask them, I just assume - if I can be HIV positive you can be too. That's why there are always condoms involved and if there's not then I don't let them have sex with me. I insist they wear a condom: it's just not worth it otherwise. I became positive because I was uncharacteristically drunk and, whether I was complicit in it or not, I allowed a sexual act to take place where I mustn't have said, "wear a condom" or, if I did, he didn't listen to me.
HIV was never going to happen to me but it did, so never say never.
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Every Wednesday we don't speak to each other. I don't phone him; he doesn't phone me. I don't see him; he doesn't see me. It gives us space to do our own thing, like we used to when we were single. So for one day a week I don't ask him any questions about his life, nor does he ask about mine. We respect each other's privacy and space. But the other six days a week we live as monogamously as any relationship can be - gay or heterosexual. I don't believe in monogamy anyway, I think it's a beat-up that the church and religion and the state have tried to create to keep people in check.
I never ever ask
We don't discuss what we've done on the day we don't speak to each other. We both acknowledge that we give each other the freedom to be elsewhere on the Wednesday but I never, ever ask him, "What did you do yesterday?" and he never, ever asks me.
I instigated this arrangement because I'm a very insecure person and I needed to have it pigeonholed rather than him or me going out on any other night of the week. That would feel like I was sneaking around on him and doing things behind his back and I didn't want that to be the case this time around.
I'm a realist
To this day it still isn't easy having this day-off situation, but it's still better than me thinking, "Where is he right now?" if I'm not in his company or vice-versa. It just clarifies things and keeps them neatly pigeonholed and that's the kind of person I am: I like things in compartments and neat and everything where it should be.
We could have had a relationship where we pretended we weren't interested in other men, and we weren't looking at or having sex with other men, but that's bullshit.
I'm a realist as much as I'm a romantic and insecure. I think, OK, if that's the guidelines that we agree to then six out of the seven days of monogamy and one day where we're not monogamous is worth it.
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I was a latent homosexual until my 22nd year. I grew up in a homophobic environment. I had girlfriends during my adolescence and at university, but after I moved out of home and was living in a shared household I started going to the pool at Latrobe and watching men getting undressed - and I became fixated... fascinated! I wasn't just purely admiring their bodies; I began thinking, "I wonder what it would be like to feel his penis" and stuff like that. That's how it all started!
Everybody was bisexual
I was 22, about to turn 23, and I went to a Melbourne Cup party in Carlton, at this bisexual's house. Everybody was bisexual in the late 70's! Nobody was gay or straight, they were bisexual - especially at university. I was 22 and this very charismatic 33-year-old man came on to me all night. He was getting me drinks and we had a few joints together and then, at the end of the night, he said, "Come home with me, Glenn; I want to spend the night with you". I said, "OK, I'll come home with you, but I've never been with a man before". I thought, "If I'm going to have sex with a man it's got to be someone like you", because he really fitted my bill: he was handsome, charismatic - a very Cary Grant kind of persona.
"I'm a homosexual!"
I went home with him; he lived in Collingwood. I remember waking up the next morning and turning over and looking at this man and thinking, "I'm a homosexual! That's what I am!" And everything else in my life beforehand just fell into place, click, click, click. I was a poof; the word was out!
I came out
So from that point out I was out there. I came out to all my friends; I didn't come out to my family until the early nineties - and I came out to them before I told them I was HIV positive, I'm pleased to say. It wasn't a double-whammy for them.
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Cary Grant was gorgeous! For the next couple of weeks I pined for him: I was like a schoolgirl; I just wanted to see this guy. I used to phone him at 2 o'clock in the morning just to hear his voice, just to make a date so I could go and have sex with him. I saw him again about two or three times. Because he was 33 and I was 22 I was just callow; I had no idea. I thought, he wants to have sex with me so he must want to be with me all the time! I came to realise very quickly that that's not the way the gay world works.
After a couple of weeks he hurt me and I was disillusioned, but it's a learning curve and I got over it because, in a very short space of time, I'd become acquainted with Steamworks, which he'd told me about. Gradually new networks started opening up.
The University Club
He also took me to the University Club in Collins St, a fantastic disco in the 1970s. It was $2 to get in and you had to go in a lift up to the tenth floor or something. It was the first gay disco I'd ever been to. The lift doors opened and I stepped out into this whole new world. I thought, "I've arrived!" I felt like I'd come home.
“I can get men!"
After Cary Grant got tired of me, I went to the University Club by myself. Every time I went there men would hit on me. I suddenly realised, "I can get men! I don't have to sell myself; they'll just come to me". And that was the pattern for several years in my young 20's life.
I'm damaged goods now, but I remember that for several years back then I lived in this little balloon of constant titillation and excitement. I must have been like the new kid on the block to these men, who were in their thirties. I've always been attracted to older men - until I started becoming more middle-aged myself. I've always been attracted to older men more than younger men. But now that I'm 48 coming up for 49, I find myself looking at young fresh bodies thinking, "Hmmm, that's not too bad!"
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I first heard about AIDS back in the very early 1980s. I bought a newspaper and it described GRID - Gay Related Immune Deficiency (this was the name given to AIDS before HIV was identified as the cause) - as a gay cancer. I thought, "How can cancer select a person's sexuality as the basis for becoming something in their body?" It didn't make sense to me. GRID was soon renamed AIDS and once I knew about HIV I thought, "I'm not going to let that virus get into my system; no way, it's just not worth it".
From then after it became, if it's not on then its not on.
All about Brendan
In the mid 1980s I was working at a Catholic girls school and I was working as a sexworker in the night-time! My sexworker name was Brendan. Brendan used to work two or three nights a week from 10 pm until 4 am and go out to various hotels and people's houses to have sex for money. I thought it was an absolute hoot; it was fantastic. It was an incredible experience for me because I was always in control of the situation. I always gave the best service I could because I enjoyed myself doing it. You met all types of men - and a pair of lesbians once - and a married couple on another occasion. It just showed me the wide cross-section of sexuality and it made me feel like a really well adjusted homosexual!
I'd been giving it away
I'd been giving it away for free for several years. I was at the Laird one night and I saw a boy who I'd had sex with several years earlier. We started talking and he said "I'm working around the corner as a sex-worker". Around the corner from the Laird was a place called Adam International. He said, "My boss is always looking for new staff: are you interested?" I said I was, so we went around there and I met Carl.
Carl was an ex-priest, 6'3" and quite imposing, but a sweetheart of a man, a lovely man. So I started working. He said, "What are you going to call yourself?" I said Glenn. He said, "No, you look more like a Brendan to me". So I became Brendan and Brendan had quite a successful career for about two years.
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Towards the end of that particular career I met a beautiful Irish man who became my first serious relationship. I was sitting in the Laird Hotel. The doors opened and two men half-stumbled through the doors laughing and carousing with each other and one of them was the Irish man. He happened to know one of the blokes sitting at my table so he came over and spoke to him and then Robert introduced me.
"I think I know you"
He shook my hand and he looked me in the eye and said, "I think I know you". Being young and cocky I just said, "I don't think so: I've never met you before". He gripped my hand even harder and said, "No, I think I know you." And I said, "Maybe you do", because he was looking right into my soul.
A wild ride
I fell in love with the Irishman. I was besotted by him; I was bewitched, bothered and bewildered by him! He was very handsome - again, very Cary Grant. A beautiful Irish accent. We had a wild ride for the better part of two years.
It was just brilliant, so he was a hard act to follow, until all these years later I met Boyfriend, who's so different. The Irishman was the first man I fell in love with. Up until then all my sex with men had purely been sex; there had been no emotional commitment on my part.
"I'm over this!"
After two years, we'd done our time with each other and it was time to move on. I got a bit agitated being in a relationship and he got over me. We exploded one night in a drunken storm, with me yelling: "I'm over this!" I left our flat in St Kilda and moved in with friends
But shortly afterwards, we sat down and I thought, "You can't love a person like I've loved him and he's loved me and hate them, or never want anything to do with them again in life". Life's too short and we had learnt so much from each other. I thought, "Well, if I can't live with you as your lover, I can still love you as a friend", and that's the relationship we've had ever since, to this very day. He's great.
I was working as a sexworker when I met him so I used condoms. I wasn't going to put him in any jeopardy. As a sexworker I made a point of taking condoms and lube with me to work.
When I learned about using condoms to protect myself from AIDS I didn't stop to think that wearing a condom doesn't necessarily mean you're not going to get syphilis or gonorrhoea or NSU, because you can get those things whether you're wearing a condom or not. Anyone who's sexually active in this world faces the chance of getting any of a range of less serious sexually transmitted infections.
I have the satisfaction of knowing that I have not intentionally ever passed this HIV onto another living, breathing human being. I think passing on a virus, if you know you've got it, is tantamount to manslaughter.
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That's why I didn't mind telling my story. Everyone has a story and when I do stuff with the Speakers' Bureau, speaking side by side with other HIV positive people, I get to hear their stories as well, which I love.
I don't hang out at the Positive Living Centre; I don't hang out where other HIV positive people are because I don't want to be in any "Pos Club". Even though I'm HIV positive I reserve my right to live my life apart from being HIV positive: it's a part of my life, not all-consuming for me. I'm well most of the time so I'm not usually conscious that I'm HIV positive.
If nothing else, I'm not shy about talking about my experiences because I think if by telling my story I can enlighten people to avoid making the same mistakes I've made, to be careful, then it’s all worth it.
Glenn grew up in Melbourne, where he still resides with his boyfriend