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 grew up in a Christian home. My father was a minister and I had a really nice upbringing and stuff, as far as my family goes. However, the whole Christian home came with a whole heap of burdens mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. So that caused a bit of conflict in my life and led me to different paths at various stages.
I was actually born in Bangladesh because my family were missionaries there for 13 years. I’ve got two older sisters one’s 10 years older than me, the other one’s seven years older than me and we all get along really, really well. We have never been a conflicted family.
Then we moved back to Australia when I about three and we lived in Hawthorn for a year and then we moved to Oak Park. I started primary school in Oak Park and then when I was eight, we moved to Balwyn in the Eastern Suburbs which was a bit of a traumatic move for me.
I was a bit of a chubby kid. I’ve always been a bit overweight but I never really noticed any teasing or bullying until I changed schools. So I was grade three, middle of primary school and I was bottom of the rung in every way. It took me to grade five or grade six to really sort of feel like I belonged. So I hated primary school. Then the first couple of years of high school I went to Carey and just the way I spoke, how fat I was, the fact that I was Christian and went to church on Sundays – just everything was a reason to get picked on. That was where I started developing self-esteem issues.
Then in year nine I moved to Melbourne High and it was really fantastic. I can’t speak highly enough about it. I was just on a level playing field from day one. That sort of built me up a bit. It gave me worth through my academia so because of my brain, I could actually see the world wasn’t out to get me. I could actually get friends on my own and be my own person.
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The big conflict for me was I guess my homosexuality which was really hard for me growing up ‘cause I knew that I was gay from like about 13 onwards. I started just looking at guys and just wanting to be around guys and men. I started going to the pool a lot and I guess sort of acting out those urges. I started going to beats when I was like 14 or 15. I looked a lot older than I was. But I was basically a bit of a goer at a young age. I sort of regret it now and I wish I could sort of take that back ‘cause it’s sort of really made me too sexually active before I was really able to know what that meant. You sort of become desensitised to the damages of sex I guess because from such an early age you have so many years of there being no issue. Like from 15 to 20 I was going at it fairly often. But I wish I’d started my sexual exploration later and was more responsible in knowing what I was doing and with whom.
My first sexual experience was just in a bathroom and I remember thinking “Oh my God! Someone’s jerking-off at a urinal!” I was in a cubicle and the door didn’t lock properly. Then all of a sudden this guy’s coming in and I just got my first blow job. I just remember going to bed that night, going, “Oh my God! How exciting!”
I couldn’t sleep that night because all I wanted to do was go back there tomorrow and secondly I was like, “I’m so going to hell!” On the one hand I was like, “I can’t tell anyone!” But then on the other hand I was also like, “Yeah… I bet no-one at school is having sex!”
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Uni was another stepping stone. I was quite successful at uni and I started branching out, I started doing plays and just really building myself up. I never tried to be someone else but, internally, I had a lot of guilt. I wasn’t intentionally trying to self-develop, but it just sort of worked that way. I had no oppression whatsoever. I was who I was and could just be what I wanted to be… except in the home setting.
A lot of my social life outside of uni was completely non-gay. I wasn’t at the stage where I needed to always hang out with gay people. I really just wanted to find a boyfriend and just not be such a promiscuous problem child. I didn’t know how to find people that didn’t just want me in a sexual setting.
I did a Bachelor of Arts and majored in German, and then I went and lived in Germany for a year. I worked as an au pair which is like a nanny which was mainly just to get my German language skills up. I loved Germany but I think I was too young to really appreciate it to its full extent. Up until then I’d never really been out to a gay bar or a gay club. I was living in Dusseldorf which is just near Cologne, so on the weekends sometimes I’d go down to Cologne and see what there was. Then try and pop back before my host family would really realise I was gone. I was really lucky because I had my own apartment on their property so I could come and go without them really noticing. But I felt bad if I spent the night not at home.
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When I got back from Germany in about 2003 I met up with one of my school friends who ended up coming out as well and we just started going out to The Laird every Friday night to try and meet people. I was really unsuccessful. I went there for years and I never picked up at The Laird. I really liked being with other guys in that setting. It just sort of made me feel a lot more comfortable with being out.
I wasn’t really confident in myself as a gay male I guess and that led to me making bad decisions as far as safe sex was concerned. I guess just being willing to do things without really taking much care of myself. And you can really only see that when you’ve had a bit of introspection and hindsight. But in my mid-twenties I was just like, “Here I am. I’m gay. Let’s go!” So that comes from a lifetime of not really being able to feel like you’re who you are.
The whole being gay is really a lot harder than people think. It’s quite open and accepted on a broader social setting. Like it’s okay to be gay. But in your everyday life there are lots of parts where it’s not okay to be gay or to be who you are.
At some point you do get to a stage where you just want to be who you are. It can take all sorts of things to get to that point but I guess the big thing is just really trying to be yourself by staying true to yourself and trying to be the best person you can be. I think that the main thing would be hope that things can get better.
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I started working for an Airline, so the big thing that really changed things for me was the shift work. It got me out of that Sunday routine of going to church. I lost that Christian routine which I sort of miss sometimes because it gave me a real sense of community. I guess I just replaced it with another. I started investing more time in my gay community and gay friends, and that side of me started taking a bit more shape. But now I find I miss that community that loved me for who I was. I’ve got great gay friends and I would not trade them for my life and I do a bit in the community but it’s sad the way that things have had to change.
I still consider myself to have beliefs of sorts and I’m still aware of my spirituality. My family’s very much Baptist still so I know the community quite well and I follow it, but it would be too hard for me to go back. It would be too hard for the community, at this stage, for me to go back and be involved. I would be fine but I wouldn’t want to go somewhere where I don’t feel that I could take my partner.
I guess it all rose up at the end of about 2001 and I just had to tell my parents. I’m really lucky that my parents have been really supportive.
I told my parents when I was 21. They’d moved to Thailand when I was 20, but they would come back for visits. I told them on one of their visits back to Australia and I said, “Look, this is how I feel. This is what’s going on.” I’ve heard horror stories of being disowned and never being allowed in the family home again. None of that happened for me, which has been good.
I think their concern for me was more on two levels: obviously they were concerned about the whole HIV thing, but they were also concerned on the spiritual side of things. It was just a whole realm that they hadn't really explored in their own spirituality. They hadn't really been confronted with homosexuality. I know for my Mum and especially for my Dad as well, me coming out really showed them the humanity of the situation. My Dad sent me an article in this Christian magazine basically saying “Your love for your child is as important, and should be equal to God’s love for you. So if you’re supposed to be Christ-like, you’re supposed to practise unconditional love which needs to extend to your child.”
But when I told them there was a bit of a disclaimer. I’d started going to a church that was for helping gays out. It was actually a really good church. They weren’t beating it out of me or anything. Like it was okay that you were gay, there was just support and acceptance, which was nice. So that sort of made it okay for my parents at that point ‘cause I think in their minds it was like, ‘there’s hope for him yet.’ So they didn’t really deal with my sexuality in 2001. They didn’t start dealing with it until I became HIV positive.
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I had a lot of sexual activity over a six-month period and somewhere in that six months, there’d been a couple of slip-ups with random people. But I just didn’t think that much of it. Always at the back of my mind I thought, ‘I regularly go for a six-monthly check-up and if I catch something. I’ll catch it in a six-month period’, but it’s like well once you’ve caught it, you’ve caught it. I’d actually just resigned from my job and I got work teaching English in South Korea and so I thought, ‘I’ll go get a check-up just to make sure I’m okay to go to South Korea and have got no issues.’ I thought, ‘This is my clean slate I’m going to really focus on my career as an English teacher and find a partner and settle down, blah, blah, blah.’
I also met this guy the week I found out. We’d had an encounter and I knew his status and I was fine with that. Then I found out that weekend that I was positive. So the first thing I did was call him, ‘cause when we caught up he was nice.
We had sex and then we chatted, there was a nice feel about this guy. I rang and said, “I’m sorry. I don’t want to really talk but I just found out I was positive.” He was really, really good. He was just the biggest support. If I didn’t have him that month, I don’t know what I would have done. So three weeks before leaving I found out I was HIV positive. I had already resigned from work so I just sort of sucked it up for three weeks and went to Korea and just fell into pieces there.
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While I was in Korea and trying to start being responsible I discovered that being HIV positive is a deportable offence. So I had the risk that if I went to a doctor and had to have a blood test or had to get medication and they found out I was HIV positive, I’d get deported. So I’m in a country where there’s no healthcare option whatsoever. So if I got sick, I’d get hospitalised and deported at the same time.
South Korea’s quite a xenophobic country for westerners. I found it was hard to find people that you could even really relate to. I had no other Australian friends. Even with Americans or Canadians, I’d relate with them but no-one knew what Australia was like. So I felt like an outsider again and just had no support network at all. I was working like crazy teaching English for 12 hours a day. I’d come home, I’d mark essays, go to sleep for like six hours, get up and teach more English. I was frazzled within two months so I packed my bags, got on-line, got the credit card out, bought a flight home and just did a midnight runner. It was like Not Without My Daughter. In the train to the airport I kept looking behind me, thinking, “Someone from the school’s going to know or going to find out. All I need to do is just check-in and then I’m okay.
So I came back and basically landed in Melbourne airport, walked over to my former work place and got my job back. If I hadn’t had that, I probably would be in a really different place now. It just let me come back with the wheels running.
I also tried seeing that guy again and through him just sort of learnt a bit more about the HIV positive community and the support networks that were available. I really wanted to get together with him, but it just didn’t happen. I sort of went through a bit of a druggy phase after this attempted relationship didn’t work out. I was going through a bit of a bad stage.
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My parents moved back to Melbourne in 2005 but were away on holidays when I got back to Australia. I rang my sister and said, “I’m back. Can you pick me up from the airport?” So she asked, “Why? What’s going on?” I’m like, “Can I tell you when I see you?” So she picked me up and took me back to Mum and Dad’s place and I just stayed there for three days. But I told my sister and we just cried and cried and cried together. She just had no idea about things that were going on for me for the last 10 years. I just had to say, “Look this is how I am and now this has happened. It’s not going away. Like I’m gay and you’re going to all have to deal with this. We can’t just be that typical sort of Anglo-Saxon family that skirts around the edges”.
Christians just don’t really ask the hard questions. So we had the big cry, which was good because it sort of staggered it. It meant that I could have someone with me; knowing that she was on my side meant that I could tell Mum and Dad. So I told Mum and Dad and they were both really sad. Dad’s a bit of a bottler so he doesn’t really sort of show his emotions as readily as my mother. But I think Dad was hit pretty hard as well. And Mum was just devastated for a week.
I knew there was a friends and family educational thing being run at the PLC. So I said, “Look, I know I’m telling you a lot about HIV and I’m trying to tell you that I’m okay. How about you go and hear it from professionals that can tell you that I’m not going to die?” ‘Cause by this stage I’d gotten used to the fact that I wasn’t going to die. That’s what Mum was like. She said “Okay, so when will we start making preparations?” I was like “Are you for real?” I’m sure that would have been going through her head. Like, “I’m going to bury my son before I’ve even hit like 60!” But yeah it wasn’t too bad.
So they went along and that was really helpful for them to just get a different perspective. It was good for them to hear that there's medication out there and I was going to be okay and they didn’t have to start planning the funeral. But there was that initial emotion and there were lots of unanswered questions from that. After that Mum and I had lots of chances to catch up and I’d go over and visit her. We’d just sit there and we’d spend an afternoon talking about things.
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I spent ages trying to get into a relationship. I just thought that would make me feel better and more able to move forward. But I realised that it wasn’t working. I started counselling and doing stuff in peer support at the PLC. That was so helpful, just being able to talk to other peers who are positive that were your own age and just made you realise you weren’t alone. After that I became a support volunteer and started running groups and stuff.
After I became positive I really only sought out other positive guys. So it was a bit of a dramatic drop as far as my going to beats or saunas. I just didn’t want to be in that… I didn’t want to perpetuate the problem. So I’ve never really had issues with disclosure. Even if I was planning to be safe, I just didn’t want to enter into that. That’s just for me. I know there’s lots of serodiscordant relationships but I just found for my own mental wellbeing that I preferred to seek out other positive guys. For a while I was like, “I can only have positive people around me.” I’m over that now.
I feel like I’m at the best place I have ever been in my whole life. My family love and support me for every part of me. They love my partner just like they love me. We just had my partner’s Mum down from Queensland and we all had dinner. 10 years ago I never would have thought I would have dinner with my parents and my gay partner’s Mum in the same house. I feel I’ve got somewhere I love living and I’ve got purpose and I’ve got someone who wants the same things that I want. I’ve got someone who loves all the things that I love about life. I really feel that my partner and I are really complementary. I get such validation from him. It’s like everything in Sex & the City that the girls wanted out of boyfriends I’ve got.
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We met two years ago now, he’s my first real boyfriend (as in, in a reciprocal way), not just me wanting to be more. It took me ‘til I was nearly 30 to really find someone that I could click with. He supports everything I do, he’s also positive and he’s not out to his family with his status but he’s always supported me with Positive Speakers Bureau. A lot of that is really sort of intrinsic, I guess coming from a pastoral family and helping people, and that kind of, community-based stuff. So I feel that that’s something I got from my upbringing that I can share with my community. We get a lot of value out of that.
I met him on-line, he actually had a partner when I first flew up to meet him in Brisbane. They were obviously in the stages of not really being together. They weren’t really sleeping together; they were just sort of sharing the same house. So I went up for a bit of a dirty weekend. It actually ended up being a bit of a drug-fuelled weekend and just mad, crazy sex. It was really, really nice and we just sort of kept in touch.
And because of work I could travel up to Brisbane at the drop of a hat. So every time he invited me up, I’d go up. Then he came down with his partner a couple of weeks later and his partner was off, you know, having sex with this, that and the other, and wasn’t really there for him. So I was like “Let me show you around Melbourne” and I just took him under my wing and showed him around.
His partner actually started getting me to come up so that he could go off by himself. So after about four or five months I said, “Well I really like you, but I can’t be the third wheel. So he said “I don’t really want you to be a third wheel and let’s try and make something work.” So then my partner decided to move down to Melbourne and within six months I had him down here and then eight months after that we bought a house. We have never ever had an argument. We’ve never had anything go wrong, we communicate really, really well.
I was really concerned that if we met in a drug-fuelled setting that it would continue and it really hasn’t. I’d gone through some rehab and that was a bit of a slip-up weekend for me. But I was realising that I don’t really want to be this person. My big concern with getting together was I’d end up being some kind of drug pig. I feel so much better for it that we don’t need something else to sort of keep us together. My only concern was that we’d just go and get on drugs together. So I’m glad we don’t.
I never thought that I would be positive and happy, you know, that I could have all this happen in my life and that I’d be at a point where I’d be really looking forward to moving forward.
Not looking behind me with regret. Not to say go out and become positive, but stuff can be learnt from every situation.
Glenn's parents were missionaries in Bangladesh for 13
years and he was born there.
Glenn's family moved back to Melbourne when he was three. Glenn returns to Melbourne after Korea.
Glenn moved here for school and found it quite
Glenn moved to Germany for a while and worked
as an au pair.
Glenn lived in S. Korea teaching English where being HIV positive was a deportable offense.