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.
Back to top
I grew up in Canberra, pretty much my whole life. We stayed in the same place and didn’t really move around much. We did however have a strong family influence which meant we spent a lot of the time at our Uncle’s farm in the country and my Mum grew up in a town called Queanbeyanjust outside of Canberra so we spent a lot of time there too. Where I grew up was in the outer city of Canberra so it wasn’t really city or metro.
I went to a private, Catholic school my whole life. I started kindergarten when I was 5 and generally went through the Catholic schooling system. I started running into problems when I was 11 or 12 and then was pretty much a rat bag all through high school. I had a lot of social problems at school, and didn’t get on with people, started smoking and even turned up to school drunk a couple of times, however my mum doesn’t know that! As soon as I turned 15 I started working, and had worked two jobs through school, just to get my mind off things. When I got older, I started wagging school and just didn’t really want to go and became pretty apathetic toward the whole thing. Come year 12, the teachers suggested that I leave half way through the year and just hurry up and get out.
Sink or Swim
I wish I had had someone to talk to, when I was younger. I think the reason why I’m so self sufficient now is because I had no choice – it was sink or swim, but it was hard being so isolated at the time. I think in some ways I was punished by the people around me from a very young age without me sort of knowing why. I always got treated differently because I was different (i.e. gay), from being quite young, like 7 or 8. It was hard and confusing at that age, as I used to wonder why the adults and teachers treated me differently. It would have been good to have someone there, not necessarily from a gay perspective, but just someone who accepted me as I was. I think I got treated differently because people picked up that I was different before even I knew what was going on.
Catholic and Gay
I think it was the whole Catholic thing as well, but I never felt fully like I could be me. I always felt I had to be this image of what they tell you to be at school. Now that I’m grown up, I’m horrified at what is allowed to happen in the Catholic Education System when I reflect on my experience and I certainly won’t be putting any child of mine (If I ever have any) through that.
Back to top
Coming out was interesting but I reckon I’m pretty lucky compared to some. I told my best friend that I thought I was gay when I was 15, just after my grandfather died. We’d been good friends for years and still are. I remember feeling so scared, like if I said it out loud it would be real and I would have to suffer dire consequences. The first person from my family I told was one of my sisters. I remember, I was driving with her in the car in Canberra, and Mum and Dad were away, and I think my other sister was away as well, so it was just the two of us. I was probably only just 18. I remember she was talking about it and I knew exactly where she was going with it. And then, she asked me and burst into tears and then I started crying because I was at a bit of a breaking point in my personal life where I thought I just can’t keep lying about this. I needed to tell somebody because it was a big deal for me and I hadn’t been able to talk to anybody about it just because I felt there was a big stigma about it. It felt like I had no options. In hindsight, I probably owe her a lot for even having the courage to ask me because yeah, I was such a little feral, and that was what she said. She said “You’re just so angry all the time so I needed to ask you or do something, because I just can’t handle you being like this anymore”. And she was right – I used to just fly off the handle like that. She was really great about it. I got together with my first long term boyfriend soon after that and then I told my other sister and she was fine about it. And then I finally sat down and told Mum and Dad and the rest is history.
Dad cried and then didn’t talk to me for a few weeks and Mum said that she always knew, but she thought I was having it off with another mate of mine.
I don’t quite think they’ve gotten used to it. I still find it difficult to talk to them about it, like when I broke up with my most recent partner, I don’t think Mum necessarily didn’t want to talk about it, but maybe she didn’t see it as being that serious.
Back to top
The year after I finished school, I had a really bad year. I changed jobs a lot and had a lot of problems and even got fired from a few jobs. After I left school, I spent the following two years in Canberra. The first of those two years I was in my first relationship, which ended quite badly at the time.
My first boyfriend
My first relationship was on and off for about 12 months. Basically, he ran off with a work mate and spent the last couple of months before the end of our relationship going back and forth between me and him. At the time, I didn’t have very much self esteem, so I put up with it and pretty much felt crap in the process. In hindsight, there were two situations that he put me in that I think were really questionable. I don’t think he would admit to it now or look back on it and think ‘that was a really shitty thing to do’, but to put an 18 year old in a position where they feel they don’t have any choices, just to get what you want was the wrong thing to do. However, like I say, it is only in hindsight that I think this and there is not much point in dwelling on it anymore.
I didn’t actually lose my virginity to him, I had sex with another guy that I saw for a very short amount of time beforehand, and then he came along soon after. With him we always practised safe sex and then one time I decided that we’d been together long enough and we probably didn’t need to. He seemed really uneasy about bare backing which I later put down to the fact he was rooting around behind my back. At the time though, I thought I could trust him 100%.
Yeah, he did treat me wrong!
I think everyone goes through bad break ups in the beginnings, to varying degrees, and they affect everyone differently. I think from my ex partner’s perspective, everything turned out fine, but looking back it certainly had a significant impact, especially how it ended, but I don’t really have any regrets because these things do sort of define you as a person. It even took a long time to look back on it and think ‘yeah, he did treat me wrong’. Part of me thought it was shit, at the time; I didn’t think I deserved better either. I look back at what my life could have been like and that makes me really glad (for the experience) because I know I wouldn’t be doing half the stuff that I am doing now, or would have had the self confidence to do what I’ve done.
Back to top
I mostly got the drive to get out of Canberra from my family, in particular, my aunty who lives down here in Geelong. I found her story to be quite inspiring. I ended up living with her at one point and would always run away down here when things got too hard, and she always looked after me. She inspired me and gave me the confidence to understand that I was worth something and I could do whatever I wanted and that anything was a possibility as well. I think I had been brought up believing that my life had to be a particular way.
So fucking boring!
I think my biggest problem growing up in Canberra was that I didn’t feel like I had options. I think I spent a long time, in my teenage years, feeling like ‘this is it for me’, because you’re just stuck in the now and you can’t see or understand what the potential for the future is. When you’re a gay teenager in a place like Canberra that’s so fucking boring, and everyone knows that you’re gay, you sit there and go ‘Well fuck, what else is out there for me?’ I mean, I was so fucking angry that I didn’t talk to anyone or have any sexual experiences and I didn’t know how to interact or engage with people properly until I left school. But I think that was one of the hardest things to overcome. Even when I turned 18, I spent the first year getting shit faced with my friends and going out to pubs because that’s just what you do. There’s fucking nothing else to do.
I think the other thing I learnt from experience was that if there is something that you don’t like, change it. And I think I’ve learnt that now. If there is something I don’t like, I can change it and I’m in control. Or at least learn effective ways to deal with it.
Back to top
The move out of Canberra was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I packed all my stuff probably three months before the move and I started furiously applying for jobs. I was trying to get down to Melbourne every couple of months to go to job interviews. This was all because I had decided that I wanted to move, I wanted to get out. Initially, I didn’t have much luck. Then Christmas came, and so I thought to myself ‘You know what? This is my time – I’ve got to do something now’. So I took three weeks off, spent two days with the family, then, on Boxing Day at 6am drove down here which took eight hours. I had already had a phone interview with one company in particular and had received a phone call saying they wanted to meet with me so I went in for a face to face interview. They offered me a job and I signed my contract with them just after New Year’s. I was pretty stoked.
When I left Canberra, I thought ‘Well, if I don’t get the job, I might just stay for a couple more weeks, go back to Canberra and try again later’. I believed however that it was a possibility, persevered and did it. I remember thinking to myself the worst thing that could happen is that I would end up moving back home if it didn’t work out. I signed a lease for a place in Prahran for 12 months, so I set myself the goal of staying for 12 months
A bit full on
Canberra was a lot different to Melbourne (or Geelong for that matter) and there were also things that I would have to get used to that I didn’t even consider. For example, socially, I was very anxious. I couldn’t even handle public transport and things like that and I struggled for the first year dealing with crowds and people and having people in my space. It felt a bit full on. But now it’s just no big deal. And I think that was part of the confidence thing – you just learn to adjust to it.
I missed Canberra, but not to the point where I thought I would go home. I was really fucking determined to make it work in Melbourne to the point that going home wasn’t even an option. It was almost at the stage that I thought anything Melbourne could throw at me is nothing compared to what is waiting for me in Canberra if I go back. Then, one day, it was really weird, I remember sitting there, and a feeling washing over me, and I realised that I had done it – I had been here a year and I had a group of friends and set up a place and had a job, and life wasn’t awful and I was meeting boys. The thing also was that people here found me attractive, and I wasn’t used to that – having people interested. I spent a lot of time going out. When I first got here I knew one person, and we’re still really good mates, but I also built up a comprehensive group of friends that are different, are from different groups, and some I am still in contact with and some I’m not, but I think that is part of growing up too and it happens. I also used to go out every Friday and Saturday night and spent the first year and a half pissing it up on the weekend, but I can’t really do that anymore. I just can’t be fucked. You just get over it – you can’t do it every weekend.
I never felt free to do what I wanted to do, so it was an immense feeling of relief to move here and then be able to do whatever I wanted without having people judging me or telling me what they think.
A rite of passage
Looking back, I think it was very much my perception that I wasn’t attractive to people and I was very conscious of the fact that everyone knew everyone else in Canberra. I mean if you think Melbourne’s six degrees of separation is bad, then move to Canberra.
On the day I moved into my new house, I had a mate come over to help me ‘break it in’. I had been down here in Melbourne for about two or three months. Even though I hadn’t been here that long, I’d known this guy for a while as we used to hook up every now and then. We’re still good mates, but we don’t do that anymore. I’ve had a lot of fun over the years, but I think I’ve grown up a bit and I look back at some of the stuff that I’ve done and think of it almost as a rite of passage.
Anonymous, random sex
I’m not saying I am not into anonymous, random sex, but the me that used to go out every weekend and be all over the nightclub scene, going and getting trashed and picking up men has gone away for a while. I think there are other things that influence me now like work and that sort of stuff. To be honest though, one night stands aren’t always that great anyway. I think that that may be because my judgement has been a little bit off as a result of being a bit trashed at the time and under the influence of alcohol. But then, after you’ve slept with them, you realise you’re not actually that compatible with them.
I spent the first couple of years down here just living off credit cards and pissing enormous amounts of money up the wall, mainly on alcohol, as I’ve never been hugely into drugs. But I just got to the stage where I thought there has got to be more to life and I’ve got to set myself up so I can be more comfortable later on and not live on credit and living week to week.
Back to top
When I was younger I was very thin because I used to smoke a lot and only have two meals a day and not have breakfast. It was a whole lifestyle thing which had to change. This happened about a year before I moved from Canberra, and then it just continued. When I got here I still always drank, but there were parts of my lifestyle that I improved, although I didn’t have my last cigarette until two and a half years ago so I was still smoking socially. But once I stopped smoking a packet a day, I had a tendency to drink more but lately I’ve been drinking less too. Coffee seems to be really attractive at the moment but I’m really just waiting to get addicted to sex and then life’s going to be awesome!
One day I bought a men’s health magazine by chance on my lunch break and I started exercising in my lounge room at home and then I started walking the dog every night. Then, when I came down here, I joined a gym. I’ve sort of let it go in the last 6 months as I’ve been a bit sick lately but I reckon I’ll get back into it soon.
I play netball though for a team in Clifton Hill. A workmate suggested it and I have probably played three or four seasons with them now and got a few of my mates to join and we’ve got a few of our original players, so it’s good. We won our grand final last season which was great. When I was at school, I was never good at team sports so I’m happy that I’ve persevered for three or four seasons. I don’t think I’m a fantastic netballer but I know that I’ve Improved from the ’Gumby’ I was a few seasons ago - I was really bad! I don’t really feel connected to it from a gay perspective; I mean it doesn’t really feel like ‘gay netball’ or anything like that. I try not to define myself by my sexuality. At the end of the day, I don’t think I am different to anyone else. I like netti because it’s strategic and you’ve got to understand how each player works and it’s really good because it’s sort of helped me to get into a team headspace. I think it’s even helped with team stuff at work.
Pushing yourself to the limit
Getting fit and exercising was about turning the situation around too. I was doing something different and doing something that I never thought I would do. I didn’t think I would ever be attractive or fit or anything like that, I never even thought it was an option. It was hard work though. You don’t just go to the gym and it happens. I worked fairly hard at it, but in some ways it can control your life. You have to be really careful about what you eat and eat at particular times and plus it costs a fuck load when you are eating six or seven meals a day.
I’m at school at the moment and so I’ve got school assignments due and taken on this new role at work as well so that’s also a new challenge. But it’s part of the challenge of life and pushing yourself to the limit I think. But it’s amazing what can happen if you really want something or you really push yourself.
Back to top
When I first moved to Melbourne, I pretty much decided to just go out there and have fun, and that was the whole idea. On the nights I decided to go out there and pick up, I never would, so decided it was going to all be about fun and all about meeting people and doing as much as I could. Luckily I knew one person here and just met people through him and then others through other people. I mean, I used to go to The Xchange every week and that’s where I met a lot of people and you’d see the same faces out regularly. Or sometimes I would get my mates down from Canberra and we’d go out on a bender and we’d just meet people and sometimes we’d stay in touch and sometimes we’d just fall out of touch.
I can’t date to save myself
Although, having said all that, I was never one to feel really confident about myself, and am still not. I mean, I can’t date to save myself. Seriously, from a dating perspective I am a fucking lost cause for some reason. I am quite shy at the beginning, like I will wait to be approached. It is definitely easier to hook up with someone for a one night stand. Obviously, when you first meet someone you don’t know if it is going to be a one night stand or something more long term so I just go out with an open mind with the goal to have fun with my mates.
Losing my individuality
There’s been a few relationships I’ve had since I’ve been in Melbourne but not a great deal, as I was always a bit scared of defining it, so avoided it. When I finally did make an effort to face my fear and defined my relationship with my (then) boyfriend, I freaked out as I felt that I was losing my individuality as I had in my first relationship. I thought maybe I was saying goodbye to all the fun stuff I used to do and to some extent I probably wasn’t. But maybe on another level I just didn’t think he was right for me.
I have just come out of a relationship which confused me a bit. I think we are both disappointed that it didn’t work out. The other guys that I have been out with though, they started as a pick up and developed into something else. For example, one of them I met out one night and another I met through work. Both times we just started hanging out, but they were never that serious.
Back to top
In hindsight, I probably wasn’t very prepared in a sexual health way when I moved to Melbourne. Certainly not in terms of having condoms on me and stuff like that, because sex was few and far between in the beginning. That being said though, I have never really put myself at risk. I am a very direct and logical person and if I get the full facts of something before I do something and I understand the implications, then I make a decision based on that. I guess from the education we got from growing up, safe sex was certainly a no brainer and always was. Even though I got sex education at school, it was from a straight perspective, and that was a really disappointing thing. I sometimes get the impression people are becoming more lax about safe sex practices these days and being a bit reckless. I probably wouldn’t consider not using condoms unless I was in a long term relationship but at this stage I always use them. I think I’m so used to it and when I turned 18 and became sexually active it was such a big thing to use condoms and practice safe sex that I always did, and now it’s just completely automatic. It’s not even a topic of discussion.
Not saying very much at all
I found when I was growing up and certainly when I became sexually active there were a lot of resources with a lot of conflicting information out there. Or the information was really broad because they don’t want to make an exact statement and so they err on the side of not saying very much at all. I have always practised safe sex. I think I’ve had unprotected sex once and that was with a long term partner.
She shouldn’t be seeing my doodle!
The other thing is that I have found doctors to all be different too. I have gone off and had my blood tests done before, but I only had a swab done for the first time in the last three months because I’ve always gone to my GP and my GP’s never done it. I actually went to one GP and he said “Oh, we tested you six months ago, so why are you back here?” I told him it was because I thought that I needed to get tested and he asked why. I told him that my lifestyle suggests that I need to be tested. He did test me in the end, but I never saw that doctor again. I’ve always tried to stay tested pretty regularly and I think the longest that I have left it has been 12-18 months, but generally it’s within 6 months. Most recently, I went to a sexual health clinic and I saw a sexual health nurse and she was fantastic. She sat me down and asked me all the embarrassing shit, and because it was a girl, it was weird and part of me thought she shouldn’t be seeing my doodle but what the hell – she’s a nurse. The other thing she did though was give me a Hep B vaccination, which they were suggesting everyone should get, and I thought ‘well, why not?’ I’ve got the third one to go now, and then that’s done.
Skin is skin!
What I really like about my generation, or what I’ve experienced, is...well...growing up in Canberra, I met a lot of really nasty people and some real fuckwits, especially through school. But now, especially in Melbourne, well, it’s such a diverse place which is what I love about it. Sexuality just isn’t an issue. People just don’t seem to care that much. Even ten years ago, the approach was different, whereas now it’s changed a lot. I think if you cracked onto a straight guy now, down here, I think 75% of them wouldn’t care that much and most of them would actually be flattered.
Even the boys at work – they don’t treat me any different. They treat me like one of the boys. There are a few of my peers at work and we just talk like boys. We’ll talk about our relationship stuff and the fact that I’m talking about guys and they’re talking about girls makes absolutely no difference. And I think that’s how things should be, really. We can sit down at the pub with a beer, or I can take my whole team out and it’s like it’s not even acknowledged, but in a good way. I think if I go out and talk about problems I’m having with a guy to another guy who is having problems with a girl, it is the fact that it is a human situation that we are both in that makes us connected there, along with the fact that we’re both blokes. So we can understand each other quite well. We all go into relationships wanting the same thing, and sometimes a little bit more, so there is that in common too – skin is skin!
Back to top
If I had to encapsulate everything I have said and think about looking toward the future, I would say the future is looking good. I still wouldn’t have a clue with what I want to do with my life long term. I’m at TAFE at the moment doing a management Diploma. Work is good. I’m pretty lucky to have done what I’ve done. This year I’ve planned a bit of travel so I am going up to Townsville to see my sister and I’m going to New Zealand. I’ve just bought a house too and I think I just want to get some money behind me and be comfortable.
In terms of a relationship, I am not in any great rush to get into one again. I’m not actively looking for a relationship, but we all have needs too. I am approaching it the way I approach all other situations – whatever happens will happen and if I am meant to meet someone, he will come into my life. But I think I will just be focussing on study for the next six months and think about what I want to do longer term. I feel like I am at a point in my life where I have gone off and done the fun stuff and now I really want to work out what I want to do long term and think about what I want to get out of life.
Jeremy grew up just outside of Canberra and didn't enjoy it at all.
Jeremy now lives in Melbourne and finds life here much better.