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 Tamworth, which is the country music capital halfway between Brisbane and Sydney. I spent the first 18 ½ years of my life there. So it was a relatively small, isolated place and I always had dreams of getting out of there and moving to Sydney.
I think like most people who grow up in a rural area, realising that you’re same sex attracted is a difficult process in itself. I think the isolation is really the hardest part particularly being same sex attracted. I felt like I was the only one.
I remember when we got access to the internet at home I was in year 9 or 10. Before that my access to the net was very haphazard and I couldn’t really look up anything gay as it was mainly at school or at a friend’s place. So I can’t even imagine what it must be like now having the internet and being able to look up stuff. I do remember the first time when I’d snuck onto the computer with a dial up card and got on mIRC. I found some guy in Sydney to chat to. As a result of my sporadic access to the internet I’d get home and spend a whole weekend typing up massive emails so that I could then get to the library and very discreetly email it, hoping no-one was looking to see what the attachment was called or what the email address was. So there was a degree of paranoia about the consequences of getting caught. I felt like if I got caught I’d lose friends and be subject to abuse whilst at school. I’d have to go to this place for 8 hours a day 5 days a week, front up and cop it. That would have been a terrible thing.
The first time something gay came up was in year 6 and I was involved in a lot of extra curricular activities. One of the girls’ mothers had observed me and said to her daughter in passing that she thought I might have been gay. Her daughter was a typical gossiping teenage girl and thought it would be very amusing to come to school and tell everyone that her mum thinks I’m gay. So then I went on a girlfriend spending spree and was dating as many girls in the class as possible, but you can only do that for so long. Eventually they don’t feel like being the next carriage on the train. I thought that while I was in high school I couldn’t deal with it (being gay) and I should wait until I got to uni. So right through high school I intended to put it off until I could get away. Sure enough, it’s a bit futile to think that you can just put those feelings aside and not explore them.
I guess the coming out process would have begun upon first realising I was gay which happened when I was in year 8 or year 9. I realised that nothing I was doing was changing the way I was. I tried all sorts of things like jerking off and then just before I came thinking of a woman. I also tried dating girls and I guess at that age I wanted to have sex with anyone, but girls around my age weren’t really receptive to the idea of having sex. It was nice making out and kissing and stuff but there was no spark. I remember one female friend who was being quite forward and was even putting on songs like that awful “kiss me” while we were sitting around looking at CD’s. I was thinking ‘I get the hint but I’m really not interested in this’. I guess when I was definitely sure was when I had my first sexual experience with a guy. I mean I’d done stuff when I was little where there’d be a sleepover at a friends place and we’d muck around together. I was very conscious of my body and very mindful of doing anything wrong.
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So I was on a chat program and I didn’t think at the time there were any other gay guys in Tamworth. I then noticed a guy’s name who sold us our first computer and it had come up that he was gay. I didn’t really find him attractive but I thought ‘Well this is the only way I’m ever going to find this out.’ So I was chatting to him on ICQ and he invited me around to watch a movie at his place. I was happy to go with that facade. I went over to his place and we were watching the movie and I remember he started to touch my knee and I got a bit excited. I remember that experience of first kissing another guy, it was just electric. I suddenly understood what my heterosexual counterparts got so excited about when they were making out with someone. It was no longer just kind of nice.
We went into his room and I said “I’ve never done this before”, so he suggested that he’ll be a bottom. He had condoms but he didn’t have any lube so he said “I’ve got some shampoo”. So he went off to get the shampoo and off we went. I remember the thoughts running through my head were ‘Oh my god I’m having sex’, it wasn’t about how enjoyable it was. I remember though when we finished and I pulled out. He hadn’t gone to the bathroom before we’d done it. I’d never really thought about the process and so I wasn’t really prepared for that. It confirmed for me that I liked men but it was also my first penetrative experience and it was one of the more unpleasant experiences I’ve had in that respect. I guess I wasn’t prepared for what it would involve and it put me off the idea of sex with a man for at least six months. I was just thinking ‘I can’t be gay if that’s what gay sex involves’.
He worked for an electronics town in store and was the same age as me. I assume he’d had sex before as I later found out that anyone who had come from Tamworth and been around my age had all been with this person. Whilst I hadn’t known how to suss out other gay men, he was very good at it. So I daresay he was quite experienced.
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I think I found out about safe sex mainly at school, where I learnt about condom usage and STIs. I have a naturally inquisitive nature so I kind of sourced a lot of information myself. I think one of the big problems at school is that they don’t teach you anything about lube or anal sex at all. The idea that you need to use something like lube was something I think you only discover by doing your own investigating because in heterosexual sex it is not necessarily required. So they teach about the condom but they don’t teach about the lube.
So my next sexual experience was at a gay and lesbian barn dance. They had this group in Tamworth called T-bags and it was a gay group generally made up of an older crowd. It was initially quite confronting because I hadn’t really been around other gay guys or seen them kissing each other on the cheek or having a camp sense of humour. I’d never been exposed to it and I felt kind of uncomfortable, although I didn’t really have any other options to explore so I kept going back to this group. They organised a gay dance that would be a little bit out of town and people from the region would be going and I thought this might be a good opportunity. At this stage I was 16 or 17 and, of course, there was going to be alcohol at the event so if anyone asked I was 18. I remember this guy who was quite forward and quite keen and his proposition was that he had a mattress in the back of his ute and did I want to go for a walk. He was attractive but given my past experience, that proposition didn’t really go down well. However, there was a guy who’d come up from Sydney and he was a journalist. We’d been introduced earlier in the night. So the dance was coming to an end and it was very apparent that if you were going to pair up with anyone now was the time to do it. I started to have flashbacks of all the times that I’d let an opportunity slip and not had the balls to just get up and do it.
I’d seen someone else eyeing him off as well so I thought ‘No! Fuck this!’ and I got up off my seat, walked across and asked him if he wanted to dance. The rest of the night was kind of a blur. I just remember it was a positive experience and enjoying sex with him. It confirmed for me that yes I am a gay man.
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When I was in year 10 I made up a school excursion (my only way of escaping Tamworth) and I headed down to Sydney. I took the train with a backpack full of canned food because I didn’t have lots of money. I’d been chatting to this guy online and he was going to help me get into a club. He said “Look we’ll just get you a little bit drunk and you’ll be fine”. I was really, really nervous but somehow we got through security fine and I remember it being the most amazing experience – seeing this foreign world. It was so exciting. I no longer felt isolated; there were lots of gay people. I was a kid in a candy store; I’d gone from a man drought, to it literally raining men. They were everywhere. It made me determined to get out of Tamworth.
I then started my coming out process to people who weren’t in the exclusive little T-bag set. The first person I told was a close friend at school, we were drinking at a house party. I was hoping he was gay as well. I used the analogy saying “You know how some people write with their right hand and some people write with their left hand, well at the moment I’m writing with both”. He’d recently started seeing this girl and had discovered Christianity. He thought it was maybe a good idea for me to go to church. It was helping him and he thought it might help me make sense of everything. I just remember though that the sharing of that with someone was a weight off my shoulders. Finally telling someone was the most liberating experience. I then started the process of telling close friends and I used the same analogy and it seemed to work quite well. Then it started going all through the school so I decided it was finally time to tell my parents. It got from my close friends to my sister one night. It was through a friend of mine who was chatting to both me and my sister online and he had assumed that since I was so open with my close friends that I was open with everyone. So he’d been chatting to her and gone “Oh your brother with his boyfriend problems” which started the whole process of coming out to my family, which was a fairly good experience. By this stage both my parents had remarried so I had step parents on both sides and a younger brother and a younger sister.
Mum was the first person I told out of the parental group. I felt that since everyone at school knew, at some point it was gonna slip so it was probably better if it came from me. That way I could choose how it was delivered and be there to answer any questions. We were going to go for a walk but she was a bit tired so she was like “What did you want to talk about” so I told her and she gave me a hug and said “Look I know this isn’t your choice, I still love you, you’re my son” so on face value it was okay but then it begun to sink in what that meant when I was staying over at friends’ places. I had this close female friend and anytime I was going to stay over at her house, mum would say to me “Now I don’t expect you to get married a virgin but just remember that whoever you sleep with could be the mother of your child and just make sure you’re okay with that.” So after I came out one of the first things she said was “You must have thought I was so stupid when I used to give you those lectures before going to a sleepover. You must have been laughing at me”.
I told my dad last and he was a little bit upset that I hadn’t come and told him first and he was probably the person who was the coolest about it. The person who was least okay with it was my step dad when mum told him. He started putting her under some stress, and I came home one day and my mother told me that she had told my grandparents and that I was going to be living there. This was a week before my trial for HSC. So that was probably the worst experience I had coming out but overall I was out at school and I was school captain so that was good.
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I had a lot of shitty things happen during year 12. I ended up getting glandular fever and I was off school for a term which happened just after I’d changed subjects and a range of other things. As a result the whole time I was in year 12 I was determined to finish and get to Sydney. So the day after Boxing Day I was on a train to Sydney.
My first night in Sydney was amazing, I’d only ever been to an under age gay venue. I got to where I was staying and thought ‘Right I’m gonna go out’. So I headed out in my big baggy Wrangler jeans and my chequered button up shirt that was a few sizes too big (but looked fine in Tamworth). The first place I went to was Stonewall which is like a bright light to moths for newbies to the scene. I met this guy and we just spent the whole night talking and talking. We walked down from Taylor square to the Opera house, sat on the steps and watched the sun rise. It was a great night and from then on we would go out together and make out not just because it was fun but it would stop older guys hitting on us. I think they can tell when you’re a little bit vulnerable and I found it really difficult to say no. If you’re new to the scene and someone starts buying you drinks, you aren’t skilled enough to deal with that situation. You’re not used to people who are well rehearsed at leading the conversation and events in a particular direction. I think that was one of the main learning curves, learning how to get yourself out of situations when you’re out. Unfortunately these skills develop through trial and error. I was very mindful of not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings and possibly to the point where I was being too polite and not being assertive.
So in those instances I’ve found that if someone offers you a drink and you say yes then while you’re having the drink you continue the conversation. When the drink is finished if you don’t feel like talking to that person anymore then a simple kiss on the cheek and a “It was nice to meet you, have a good night” is a good way of being polite but not putting yourself in a situation you didn’t want to be in.
When I got to Sydney I didn’t have good self esteem and I felt quite ugly. I felt out of place, I was very pale, and felt very conscious. For me that whole going out process was a validation that people might actually find me attractive. It’s a terrible way to get it but from that validation I built self confidence.
With the sex stuff I didn’t realise how much of it was in your head in terms of relaxing and doing a range of things to make sure you feel comfortable with the person. They don’t teach that in schools. I knew all about the safe sex stuff and pregnancy and contraception but certainly had no idea of the practical aspects of enjoying gay sex. However, one of the first things I did in Sydney was the Fun and Esteem program that’s run by Acon for young gay men. It goes over 6 weeks and it’s one night a week, where you cover everything from relationships, to drugs and sex. It was really good and I found I got a lot out of it.
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I deferred from uni for a couple of years because I knew that trying to focus on uni and being brand new to Sydney was going to be difficult. I wasn’t going to be able to stay focused when I had so many distractions. I didn’t go to schoolies in year 12 because I didn’t see any point. It would have been just like going to The Imperial in Tamworth and watching all my straight friends hook up, with me being the chaperone. I don’t think so. So I thought I’d make Sydney my schoolies, and it was amazing. I got to experience Mardi Gras which was a bit disappointing but the after-party was amazing. I felt like the closet door was well and truly wide open. I don’t know if other people go through this but I became this uber gay, scene engaged, twinkie guy. I had a job which was awfully convenient as I worked from 12 to 8 so I could go out till 3 am every morning have 8 hours sleep, get up at 11 and go to work. I also lived just off Oxford St, so it was really cool for the first month and I had lots of fun. After a while it got a bit repetitive and I realised I was actually quite unhappy. I felt like I wasn’t making genuine connections with people. The penny dropped for me when I was out and I would observe the same people and I’d think ‘Isn’t that really sad that these people are out all the time’ and then I realised that the only way I knew they were out all the time was because I was out all the time. I was also living alone then and so if I didn’t come home one night, nothing would change, no one would miss me. It was a really lonely place to be even though I was surrounded by people.
I started uni, studying a business degree. Uni was really important in hindsight not so much for the education aspect but for the queer collective at uni. Meeting other lesbians and gay men who had a social conscience, who wanted to do more than just go out and write themselves off every weekend was the most useful experience in grounding me.
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I volunteered to supervise at a dance party in Sydney which I will never do again. It’s an awful experience when you’re watching everyone having fun and you’re stuck at the base of a DJ box checking ID. I noticed this guy dancing and he sort of stuck out because he was wearing a collared shirt and everyone else either had a singlet or were topless. He was also the only other person who didn’t appear to be on drugs or off his face on alcohol. He kept coming over with a friend, and after a few chats we agreed to meet when I finished my shift. As fate would have it, he ended up being a great guy and we began a relationship. He lived in Wollongong which made it difficult to see each other but we still managed to see each other 3-4 nights a week.
We used condoms at the start and then we both got tested and waited the three months, and then we preceded to no longer use condoms. We were both young and we hadn’t been with many people, so we were wondering if there were other ways of doing stuff or learning different techniques. Towards the latter part of the relationship we started to bring other people into the relationship. So it was a process of finding someone that we both found attractive and experimenting with them to see what they did and if there were other things we enjoyed because otherwise it did feel a little like the blind leading the blind. This was a way for us to gain additional experience. We used to take turns picking who it was that we wanted.
While we were together we went to Melbourne for a holiday and one of the first things I noticed was how friendly everyone is. I noticed that on trams people would get up to check what the next stop was and they’d just leave their bag on the seat and come back and no-one would have taken it. I found Melbourne had a really different vibe and I really appreciated the decentralised nature of the city and the different festivals. I found it a bit artier and that it had a bit more of a cultural feel to it. I could see myself living there in the future. I think I learned a lot about myself through that relationship. It was the first time I’d had a relationship with someone I clicked with and could see a future with. It didn’t end up working out in the end because of the life stages we were at.
When I was in Sydney I discovered this thing called Tropical Fruits which is a party in Lismore and every new years gays and lesbians converge to this place and it’s this massive NYE party where everyone who doesn’t feel like being in a city just goes and lets their hair down a bit. Then there is a pool party the next day which is awesome so my summer always involves a pilgrimage north and visiting family along the way.
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Once I finished uni I got a job in Sydney, working for a company where I still work at the moment. I’ve been there for over three years now and when an opportunity to transfer to Melbourne came up I grabbed it with both hands. I figured “When else are you going to find a job waiting for you in the place that you want to go?”, so all I had to do was find a place.
The first time I went to a gay bar in Melbourne it was a stinking hot Thursday night, and we went to IQ. A week later I met someone at IQ and we started dating. I guess different people look for different things in prospective partners and there’s a significant supply of men with the sort of qualities that I value in Melbourne. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of guys in Melbourne, which was significantly better than Sydney.
I guess in contrast with my body image issues from before, I’m now much more comfortable with my body. So for Midsumma mooning I made a very impromptu decision to do it. I was out with friends for dinner before the event and we were all heading off to the mooning. After a couple of drinks I began to wonder, “Can anyone enter themselves?” to which a friend replied “No, no, no, you don’t want to do this. In a previous year someone pulled a (rubber) chicken out of their bum, and another year someone had billiard balls come out his bum”. However I decided to sus it out and found out you didn’t need to do anything like that, so I entered and before you know it you’re stripping down and getting super soaked in your jocks which is an interesting experience. Following that was the actual mooning where you are baring your bottom to the world. It was fun, and as fate would have it I won. I didn’t know much about the event itself. I since found out that it’s a fundraiser which makes me feel good about participating. It’s novel and different. It’s not often that you can take your clothes off in front of a packed bar and I found it very liberating.
I think Melbourne will be home for the foreseeable future. I’ve joined a choir and discovered a passion for motorbike riding which has been awesome for clearing my mind and meeting some great gay and lesbian people with different interests. I’m not sure what the future holds, but I’m happy now and optimistic.
Keegan was born and grew up in Tamworth
Keegan moved to Sydney after he finished school
Keegan spends New Years Eve in Lismore before visiting his family up north
Keegan now lives in Melbourne