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 Western Queensland on a sheep property so I had a very rural and remote upbringing. The closest city was Toowoomba which was five hours and Brisbane was six or seven hours away. So that’s where I started. I went to boarding school in Toowoomba for five years and then to college in Sydney, then travelled the world for a few years, and now settled eventually in Melbourne. I have two brothers and 2 sisters dotted all over the world - we all spread. No-one’s left at home. I now work in Melbourne in the dental industry and love it.
I’ve known I was gay right from the beginning. We used to play a game with all the workers kids called ‘Milk the Cows’, when I was four. They all stopped playing but I kept wanting to. So I knew all along that I was gay and I didn’t know that it was wrong then. I remember when I was five or six, we’d all been playing in the cow yards and we ran back to our mums and one of them said “What have you been doing?” and I said “We’ve been playing milk the cows” and one of the older boys grabbed my mouth and put his hand over it. And I was like “Why? What’s wrong?” It wasn’t until years later that it dawned on me that that’s not allowed to be done out there. That was my first realisation that I am gay and I’m doing something naughty or something that society frowns on.
When I was about ten I actually found myself a boyfriend and we slept together until we were both 16.
He committed suicide then, I think as a result of struggling with his sexuality, which was really unfortunate. He was an Aboriginal in a small country area and gay. He was a minority within a minority within a minority and he couldn’t cope with it.
It was very, very sad. I look towards the future now and every time I’m having fun I always think of him and think – ‘If you’d toughed it out a little bit longer we’d have you here today and still be having fun together’.
His death was pretty difficult to cope with. My mother didn’t tell me he’d died. I didn’t find out cause I was on holiday. I missed his funeral. I think both our parents knew what was going on and they conspired to not let me know. My mum ended up giving it away cause she told me she was in this town (where the funeral was) and I asked “What were you doing there?” She realised then that she’d slipped; eventually she had to tell me that she was there for a funeral. So I asked “well who’s funeral?” So she told me it was my friend’s funeral. It was a bit of a shock and I struggled for a long while, it took a few years to get over it but now I see it as motivation.
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After I left boarding school I went to college in the Blue Mountains just out of Sydney. That was a very mixed up time for me, I was very screwed in the head. I didn’t know what I wanted, what I was, I knew who I was attracted to but thought it was wrong. So it wasn’t until I was twenty and moved to New Zealand that I actually came out officially. I was only there on placement for six months and I sort of went back in the closet when I came back to Australia. I eventually bashed down that door again when I was twenty-one and found a boyfriend.
New Zealand was great! I actually moved into a place called K Road which is the gay strip in Auckland. I found myself living above a gay bar, just coincidently. It was fun! I let loose and let my hair down. I met some really amazing straight guys in New Zealand who were super cool with me being gay. That, for me, was really great because as a gay boy you fear that you’re going to be rejected by all your straight friends, and it didn’t happen for me so I was lucky. I know a lot of my gay friends who struggle with losing their connections with the straight world. So that gave me confidence I guess to be gay the whole time I was over there. At the same time I didn’t have any family over there or anyone who knew me back here so I wasn’t stressed. I was relaxed in being gay over there; it was the only way I could have done it. I couldn’t have done it over here.
I met my first adult crush over there. I was working as a porter in a hotel, and one of the other porters was absolutely dreamy. He looked like Brad Pitt. I used to gawk at him and follow him around. One day I walked into an empty room that he was in, and before I know it we’re having a pash in the hotel, I was like “Oh my gosh!” it was such a nice feeling, but that was it. He turned out to be a bit of a weirdo. So I didn’t really have anything too intense in New Zealand in terms of relationships.
After six months in New Zealand I went back to finish my studies in the Blue Mountains where I had to go back in the closet. It was really weird going from being gay and free in New Zealand back to the straight jacketed environment of the college. It was not a healthy way to be at all. Unfortunately you can only find these things out for yourself, or at least I did.
Going in and out of the closet like I was, did turn me into a bit of a lunatic.
Going back a few years, the boarding school in Toowoomba I went to was Lutheran and extremely religious. We had to go to church thirteen times a week plus an hour of Christian knowledge lessons every day. It was the strictest school you can imagine. That whole guilt thing was pressed right into my head over and over again. So by the time I got to college in the Blue Mountains I was my own worst enemy. I was doing my own head in and causing myself a lot of grief. Looking back on it there were a lot of guys going through the same thing. It was a Hotel Management School, so there were heaps of poofs there. It was a very expensive college so the people there were all about how they looked and their image and what their family name was and no one wanted to give anything away I guess. That’s why a lot of people kept their cards close to their chest.
I do resent the boarding school a lot for their narrow mindedness, not just about being gay but also the dreadful attitude the students and teachers had towards a lot of people who went to that college. We had a lot of Papua New Guineans that went there who were treated terribly, as was anyone who was not really conforming to ‘normal’ social Lutheran standards. They do a horrible job of outcasting people.
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I dated girls at the time so that I didn’t seem gay. I remember one moment when I had a dawning realization. It was in the middle of sex with a girl, we were right into it and I stopped and actually said to her “Look I can’t do this I’m gay!” I really could have picked a better moment! She just sorta went “Right! Well I guess that’s it then” and that summed it up.
I had a girlfriend all through boarding school from out where I come from and we were together for three years. She’s a lesbian now; I kinda worked it out before she told me. Eventually I said to her “Look you’re obviously a lesbian and I’m a poof!” So we lived together for a little while after that. Her girlfriend and my boyfriend moved in and we all lived together. Later we all lived together in London as well. It was a bit of a strange scenario, but it was good! We supported each other and unfortunately I’ve lost contact with her which is a shame because it was a nice way to help each other to come out.
I went in and out of the closet a lot. I’d admit it, and then I’d sort of deny it, and then admit it. I did that a lot. When I was twenty-one I was in a gay bar in Brisbane, The Wickham, with friends as a straight guy. I sort of met eyes with a guy across the bar. He was absolutely stunning, and beautiful and four hours later I was in bed with him, and I was like well this is what’s happening, and that was it!
The eventual dawning of ‘Get over it Josh you’re fucking gay for God’s sake’ was the final shedding. I think every gay man has been through that experience. That relief, you know the weight off the shoulders. From then on life’s great, you lose the secrecy.
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It was my first relationship with a guy apart from the boy who I was with as a teenager. Even though it was for so long it didn’t really count because I thought that wasn’t a real relationship. Not like I was about to experience with my boyfriend, Richard (who I met that night). We were together for three years. He was an English backpacker so he moved in that night. We lived together for a year in Australia then we moved to London and lived there for two years and tried desperately to get immigration for him here in Australia. It didn’t work as Johnny Howard had been elected and so the rules got tightened. It put a lot of strain on the relationship and it didn’t work out, so I moved back. Then I had a few years of being single after that.
After my final acceptance and coming out I was with Richard and living with my ex girlfriend (the lesbian) and her girlfriend so all of a sudden gay seemed normal.
I didn’t actually come out as such to my family. I told my sister and she told everyone for me! God bless her. She did the job. When I was living in London my parents came over to visit for six weeks and they were staying with me and my boyfriend and his mother. We all lived together. And it hadn’t been discussed or mentioned even though my partner and I were sharing a bed together. It wasn’t until we went on a holiday together camping in Scotland that it all surfaced.
One night we all got a bit drunk in front of the camp fire and it all just suddenly came out. Mum was in tears; my stepfather was ready to hit me. It was a big, big drama. I was like finally! It all exploded in one big incident.
We’ve rarely spoken of it since. They’re good with it now, but it’s just not discussed around the family home. We have a good relationship but I would like to see a more comfortable scenario. I look at my friends who have parents who come out gay clubbing with them and I love that. That’d be nice to be able to do with my family. But unfortunately they’re from a very conservative country rural setting. It’s just not the way they’re made.
My relationship with the English guy was monogamous all the way through. Particularly at that age I had had no exposure (apart from New Zealand) to the gay world. So I didn’t know that gay men were so promiscuous. I didn’t have any of those ideas in my head; whereas I think a lot of younger guys today who come out quite early see how promiscuous the gay world is. I think this can be detrimental to them pretty early on, for early relationships. So with him we never had a conversation around monogamy. It didn’t even occur to us. That was just the way our relationship was.
It wasn’t until I ended that relationship and I was single for a few years that I saw how great the gay life can be. So then my next boyfriend and I went through that whole monogamy conversation and we agreed to be monogamous and we were for the first few years. We were supposed to be monogamous the whole way through but we realised that we weren’t, behind each others backs. I wanted to bring the honesty out into the open, and I kept saying “Look I know what’s going on, I’m admitting what’s going on, let’s talk about this and just be honest”. So for me honesty is the best policy regardless of what arrangement I have. I’ve just started seeing a guy now and we’ve already had this conversation and we’re going to be monogamous, but at whatever point further down the relationship we decide to change things around, it’s just important to be honest. It’s absolutely the crux of any relationship.
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I had absolutely no awareness at all of HIV issues until I was in Brisbane with my boyfriend. One of my friends there was HIV positive, and he was the first guy I’d ever met who was. He actually ended up moving to London as well when we were all over there so we hung out there as well. Growing up in the country I’d never even heard of AIDS, I don’t think I even knew what it was until I was around 19 or 20. I was very sheltered; going to a boarding school which was strictly Lutheran. As a result, safe sex and protection didn’t really become an issue until I separated from my English boyfriend when I was about 22. Having not even known what HIV was until quite late I didn’t really have any issue with it. I missed the early onslaught of paranoia that was around in the eighties.
I think since then I’ve always been conscious of being safe although I can’t really remember anything specific or having a moment of ‘Right I must wear condoms now’ I just noticed I was starting to have sex with condoms. With the guy I’ve started seeing we’ve both been tested recently and we’ve timed the last time either of us had any kind of intercourse and it’s been well over three months. So I’m quite confident that I’m negative. So we are now having safe, unprotected sex.
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As for my casual relationships, you know everyone wants to jam it up there without a condom. And unfortunately I’ve had a couple of experiences where I have had unsafe sex with somebody who caught me at a very vulnerable moment. He did have HIV and didn’t tell me, so the next day I found out through a friend that he was positive, and went on the PEP course. I was so grateful that I found out about that because I’d never heard of it until my friend told me.
So I approached him and he said “Well yes I am”, I was shocked and asked "Why didn’t you tell me? Why did you have unsafe sex with me?” I couldn’t actually be angry with him and I never was. I still saw him for a couple of weeks after that. Nowadays I kind of think 'Why did you do that? That was really wrong'. I guess for me the lesson learnt there is to always assume everyone has HIV if they’re not wearing a condom. If they want unsafe sex with you it is because they assume you have HIV and are ok with it.
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So that was a bad situation that was made good. I’ve now had the experience where I’ve had friends where I’ve been able to tell them at the right moment and help them out in a situation like that. Unfortunately I’ve had a bad situation about a year ago where a friend in Brisbane did get drugged and possibly raped. We’re not really sure what happened in a Sex on Premises venue. So I took him within half an hour of finding him to the Royal Brisbane Hospital and they wouldn’t treat him because we didn’t do a police report. They wanted us to do a police report so we flew him straight down to Melbourne and took him to the Alfred Hospital and got him on the PEP course there. It was absolutely disgraceful behaviour! I was gutted! I couldn’t believe the stupid social worker at that Brisbane hospital. We didn’t want to do a police report. My friend is of a very religious background and he didn’t want anything to be on record about his sexuality, he just wanted to get on the PEP course. So it was really unacceptable behaviour, but I’ve never had any problems in Melbourne.
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Looking back on everything my interest in leather was always there, just like being gay; it’s always in the background. As a kid I used to ride horses and I used to love wearing chaps, loved watching guys in leather pants, loved the leather vests, even loved the bridles of the horses; the smell of it. I was always fascinated by it. But it wasn’t until I bought a motorbike five years ago and bought some leather gear for that and then people in the gay scene saw me in leather and just assumed I was into leather, sexually as well. So then it was another dawning or a new awareness of a whole new world out there that I hadn’t really discovered. So bit by bit I was introduced to The Laird and Sircuit, and The Leather Expo, The Fetish Expo, and managed to sort of develop and grow from there. It’s funny because I don’t even think of it as a fetish. I try and incorporate leather into my everyday wear. I wear leather pants to parties with business shirts and it can actually look smart with the right business shoes as well. So to me it doesn’t seem like a fetish. I don’t drag boys home to have sex with them and make them wear leather or anything like that. It’s only if it happens in the heat of the moment or if we’re both into it.
I found the leather community very welcoming at first. I think the leather community and the fetish community as a wider community are less judgemental because of their own issues with being judged. So they're definitely friendlier and more welcoming. I was at The Fetish Expo in mid October and I think they are enlightened people who are into that sort of thing, because obviously they’ve reached some kind of spiritual level in their life to realise what their sexual desires are. A lot of people can go through their life never ever discovering their own sexuality but people into leather or fetishes have obviously done that. They are enlightened. So I find that they are very intelligent people who are very welcoming and not so narrow minded I guess.
I entered the leather competition as a kind of dare; it wasn’t going to be anything serious at first. I like leather, I enjoy leather and there’s a competition going, and you got to be in it to win it. So I won the local one, and then I won the national one, which was a big shock!
In the leather community there are a lot of purists or traditionalists and they don’t particularly like my type of person, because I don’t follow the codes. They would say that I’m diluting the community because I don’t understand the history, I don’t dress traditionally and I don’t behave traditionally.
There are a lot of codes of behaviour that go with the leather community, and to me they’re all out the window as far as I’m concerned. I just like to have a good time, and I think everybody should be the same. We should all be open-minded and welcome everybody into whatever they like. Considering my upbringing was full of rules, I didn’t want to trade my freedom for a new set of rules. So when I went through the competition a lot of people didn’t think I was going to win because I have not been in that community for long, I’m not what they expect. So when they called my name out there was a lot of shock, I felt. The whole room kind of gasped. I got to know the other contestants really well and they’re all good guys. Within the leather community there are different communities, so I got a really good perspective of what they are. I got along well with them and they’re all really good guys. Some of them were traditional which was cool, each to their own.
So I didn’t really have any preconceived idea to enter the competition. However as I progressed through the competition I began to see the benefit of doing it. It will give me a lot of opportunities to create awareness for a lot of charities. I actually do a lot of volunteer work. Not so much in the gay community but outside of it and I thought this is actually an opportunity to do some good, so I’m going to embrace it.
The leather competition ceremony is pretty similar to a beauty pageant but with more focus on charity and community work. They ask questions and stuff. You have your bikini wear (jockstrap and harness); your formal wear (head to toe leather). One of the questions they asked were: “If you saw a gay guy being harassed or attacked on a train would you step in?” Which of course I would.
My brothers and sisters know that I’m Mr something but they don’t know that I’m Mr Leather Australia New Zealand. I think I told them I’m Mr Gay Australia. I don’t even know if that’s a real title but I told them that and left the leather bit out (for now).
Within the leather community and in the fetish community, where your sexual acts and sexual behaviour makes you a lot more susceptible to catching all sorts of STD’s, just by the nature of what you’re doing. In saying that I do believe that people in the leather community are a lot more careful then the general gay community, because they’re aware of the risks they’re taking. Which is something I’ve noticed and learnt in the leather community and congratulate the leather community for that. I guess you could say “they take their sex seriously”
Josh grew up just outside of Towoomba and then came here for boarding school.
Josh lived in London with his English boyfriend for a while.
Josh now lives in Melbourne.
Josh lived on the gay strip called K - Road in Auckland above a gay bar.