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 was born and raised in Melbourne. Even before primary school, my parents instilled in me that I could be whoever I wanted to be. My brother and I are very different people, but we’ve always had a great relationship. I’ve always extremely close to my family, so looking back, I wonder why it took me so long to embrace my true self.
Me before kindergarten - I had every Spice Girls and Bratz Doll imaginable.
I was a very flamboyant young boy. I loved all things Spice Girls and Hi-5. When I was in three-year-old kinder, I wore pigtails.
I remember saying my favourite colour was pink and everyone telling me, “No, that’s the girls’ colour.”
I got a lot of questions and bullying for that, but still I had an incredible early start to life.
When I began primary school, though, I began to see how different I was to all of the other boys. That’s when I started to rethink who I was meant to be. From Years 2, 3 and 4, the other kids would say, “He has a lot of girl friends – he’s gay.” I didn’t even know what ‘gay’ was yet, but I learned very quickly that people associated certain things with being ‘a certain way’.
Learning to ride my bike with Dad at aged 4
I was growing up in a society where you couldn’t turn on the television and see something that wasn’t heterosexual. I didn’t know anyone in my area who was anything beyond straight. It was this interesting dynamic between my parents telling me I could be whoever I wanted to be, and a society that only fed me one type of narrative.
Back to top
Moving into middle school and high school, I became very good at repressing things. Repressing my sexuality came later, but in my teens, I just learned to repress the flamboyant sides of my personality.
Every day, it was almost like I was grooming myself: ‘Don’t sit this way. Don’t talk this way. Don’t have these hobbies.’
I really wanted to fit in and be liked. I thought I could be a new person – one that was more heterosexual and masculine, and less me.At around 3 or 4, my room was showered in Spice Girls paraphernalia
In a way, I just shut off my feelings. I was leading this double life where I was very outgoing and bubbly, but when it came to myself, I was quite emotionally stunted, unattached and unavailable. I felt this anxiousness every day.
Because I wanted everyone at school to think I was a really nice person, I put their feelings before my own – even if I lied about my interests. I didn’t think they would accept me if I was true to myself.
I remember always going skateboarding with the boys, and I hate skateboarding.
But even though I ended up having a lot of friends, it didn’t really matter because I wasn’t properly being me. It was a really isolating and lonely time.
I also dated and kissed a lot of girls from the age of 16 onwards – partly because I wanted to fit in, partly because I was still exploring what I wanted, and also partly due to the fact that I’d been fed this heterosexual narrative.
I lost my virginity to a girl I was seeing around that age. It wasn’t a bad experience at all (in fact, it was an overall positive experience) but just I knew something was missing. I thought, ‘Surely, there’s something more.’
Whenever I watched straight porn, I would always look towards the guy.
I also went online to do a lot of research about people who had just come out or people who were queer advocates. But any feelings of attraction that I had towards guys were the most terrifying thing. I just shut them off. Being in Year 12 was a great way to distract myself because all I had time to think about was books and study.
Back to top
Once Year 12 finished, all of the thoughts I’d pushed away came up to the surface.
At this point, I still hadn’t even said the words ‘I am gay’. I couldn’t tell anyone.
One night, I started typing in a Word document about everything that I was feeling. Every night, I went back and added to that document. It kept all of my frustrations about being so angry and scared.
When I was done with it, I’d written a 2000-word letter. I decided I had to show it to someone, so I asked a friend to come with me to the beach. By the water, I whipped it out and asked her to read it; her response was great. Her just being there for me was enough. I felt a lot of different emotions, but mostly relief.
My Year 12 school photo (2013)
It was also very exciting. From then, it became this adrenaline rush – I wanted to show people this letter, one by one. I came out to four or five other friends with this letter because I still couldn’t talk about it.They were all positive, all praising – which I knew they would be - but I just had to get over my own fear.
The more people I showed the letter to, and the more they responded with absolute support, the more confidence I got to show the next person.
After I’d shown my letter to a few people, I went travelling for around eight months. It was 100 per cent an ‘I need to find myself in Europe’ scenario. I had to leave my comfort zone to reflect on who I was.
I travelled with a few people from school who didn’t know, and I didn’t want to tell them yet. I kissed a couple of girls there, but never any guys. There was this beautiful moment in Prague where, after I kissed a girl I met at a club, I told her I was gay. She was the first stranger I ever told. She was so above me in terms of maturity, and I was so refreshed by her perspective. That moment stood out to me. By the end of the trip, I knew I was ready.Lake Como on my Europe trip, 18 years old
Back to top
A day or two after I came back – I would’ve been 19 – I came out to my mum and dad. They were sitting outside. I was pacing back and forth upstairs while chatting on the phone to one of my cousins, who had come out to me when he was 14 and had become an incredible source of support.
Before I had any time to take it back, I went outside and just blurted out, “Mum and Dad, I’m gay.”
It definitely caught them off-guard, but they responded, “That’s great. Do you want to go inside and have a chat?” We sat down and the first thing Mum said was, “Are you wearing protection.” I just laughed. It was awkward because I hadn’t even gotten with a boy at that point, but it was a really nice chat.
The following day, I decided to tell my brother as well. He was playing guitar, and I barged in and said, “I need to tell you something: I’m gay.”
He replied, “That’s awesome, Louis. You know I’m going to love you no matter what.”
That was it! The next day, he came into my room and told me, “Just know that you can come to me whenever you want” – which was, I’d say, one of the first real emotional conversation we’ve ever had in our lives. I knew this was going to be that start of a much closer bond.
It probably took my parents a few days for everything to sink in. That week, Mum called out of the blue to say, “I feel horrible that you went through all these years feeling like you couldn’t talk to anyone.” I think she felt some guilt – but I also know that if they’d tried to talk to me about these things, I would’ve just pushed them away. I had to figure things out by myself and talk to them when I was ready.
Me coming out to my family was the start of us really growing stronger as a unit.
It forced us to talk about things that really mattered. After that, I was on a roll and, a week-and-a-half later, I’d come out to everyone.
Lagos on my Europe trip, a few days before my 19th birthday
Back to top
One night, my school friends and I hit some bars. It was all super fresh to me. At around 2am, a cute guy from the other end of the bar came up to me and we started talking. When everyone was leaving, he and I got in a cab back to mine.
This was my first ever encounter with a guy. He stayed for a few hours. We kissed. It felt comfortable, like this is what I was meant to be doing.
Afterwards, he said, “By the way, we can’t tell my girlfriend this.”
At the time, I laughed about it. I hadn’t realised this would be a common thing where I’d get involved with a guy who either had girlfriend or was closeted. This happened with the first few guys I got with, actually, and I soon developed this huge complex about being a ‘secret’ and not being worthy.It was like I’d come out only to be closeted again.
Later that year, I started seeing a boy I knew through a mutual friend; we were on and off for a few months. He was 24 and had his life sorted out, and I really idolised him. But it was also terrifying because it made me realise how far I still had to go in terms of figuring out who I was. I still felt like I was undeserving of love, so I pulled away from that experience. When it came to being vulnerable, I just shut off – much like I did in high school.
He was also the first guy I ever slept with. He knew it was my first time and was so gentle about it.But the most full-on thing was the emotional intensity: staying over at the guy’s house, waking up and cuddling.
I just didn’t know how to show affection to someone else after so many years of shutting my emotions away.
Things between us started fizzling, and around that time I met someone else. This guy was younger – still in Year 12 – and going through what I had at that age. I didn’t go into it thinking it would become anything, but it escalated very quickly. He also hadn’t come out yet, so once again, it was: ‘Why am I this secret?’
That really fucked me up for a while. It was toxic because I wouldn’t put pressure on anyone to come out – it’s their own journey. At the same time, I couldn’t stand to be a secret anymore, but I couldn’t leave because I had feelings for him. After about eight months, I knew I couldn’t do it anymore.
Becoming an activist at 20
Back to top
Around the same time, I began seeing a psychologist, which eventually led to me seeing a psychiatrist. It started from feeling so drained. I felt drunk all the time – foggy, not present, permanent butterflies in my stomach.
It was as if the way I’d repressed my sexuality had morphed into me repressing my sadness.
I guess the anxiety from my school days never went away. As soon as I woke up, the fight-or-flight response would kick in until I went to bed.I told my parents about it, and they believed me that something must be wrong. At first we thought it was physiological, so we got my eyes tested, then I got a brain scan. But everything was fine, and I began to feel like I was going mad. My GP eventually recommended that I see a psychologist.
I saw a psychologist over four months, once a week, and I hated it. I didn’t know you could trial different psychologists, which I should’ve done because I was so emotionally unstable. I hated the ‘bad psychologist’ (as I liked to call her) because she kept connecting everything to the fact that I was gay.
It irritated me because, while I did have anxiety and stress from my history of repression and feeling unworthy of love, I also worried about things like my career and wondering if I was a failure. She didn’t get it.
Following those sessions, I knew I was ready to trial medication. I was at a very good point in my life and had friends to talk to, but I needed something to help me function again. It was really hard to book that initial psychiatric appointment – there was a three-month waiting list, and it was almost as if you had to prove you were on the verge of killing yourself for people to finally pay attention to you.
Once I finally saw a psychiatrist, I was put on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication. At the start, it helped my anxiety, though it took me a long time to get stable with my sadness. But I was relieved to know I had started this new dialogue and gotten rid of the fogginess. It was comforting to know that medication was there if I needed it.
At the rally for marriage equality in Melbourne, age 21
Back to top
I was also drinking a lot; I’d go out every Thursday, Friday, Saturday. I’d become so immersed in gay nightflife culture, and that’s what I thought everyone did. These were our safe heavens – the only places where we felt extremely comfortable. It was addictive. My parents worried about me going out too much.
To be honest, I did use drinking as a new way to repress my stresses and anxieties.
One night it all got too much. My friends and I were at a club drinking, and soon I wasn’t in control of my own body or mind. We went back to someone’s house.
Everything’s really hazy, but I recall being held back because I was trying to jump off the balcony.
The next thing I remember, I was crying hysterically in an ambulance until we got to the hospital, where my family were waiting. It would have been 7 or 8am, and I was still so drunk. It was ridiculous how much I’d consumed.
After that, it was back to square one and trying to regain trust – including trust in myself. It took me a long time to find my feet, and I was very low-key following that incident.
It was one of the scariest moments of my life, but also really liberating: once you get so close to the edge, it makes you realise what you do have.
It made me think about where I was at in life.I stopped going out as much. I didn’t drink for eight months after. I focused on my work, uni and my friends.
Six months later, I got to a place where I felt I could trust myself again. I do have the occasional Ativan or Valium to calm my anxiety, but I’ve weaned myself off antidepressants because I’d grown confident enough that, whether I felt happiness or sadness, I can get through it on my own.
Back to top
Around the time I started medication, I realised that writing had been my vice all along. My journey helped me understand that writing is how I express myself, and I turned that into a career. I started pitching my work.
The first thing I ever had published was an open letter to my closeted ex, for SBS Sexuality. I’m so thankful to SBS for giving me that chance, and I started to write more for them. On National Coming Out Day that year, I published the letter my friend read at the beach.
I felt I had come full circle because this letter I thought no one would see was now online.
From there, it escalated to the point where I was writing article after article about mental health and LGBT+ rights – SBS, The Guardian, The Sydney Morning Herald, for example.
I feel like everything I’ve experienced over the past few years has given me a lot more insight than most people my age. I’ve had to develop emotional maturity to talk about and deal with things, and it’s also given me a great deal of perspective. I love sharing my stories, and the stories of marginalised voices.
I’ve found power in my vulnerability.
If I could tell my younger self anything, it would be that it’s okay to feel what you’re feeling.
Or that the things that made you feel like you’d never fit in or don’t deserve happiness are the very same traits that will help you stand out.
Me in Prep school (2001)
Embrace your sad days just as much as your happy ones. Be patient with yourself. I don’t want to sound condescending because I’m not above it all yet, but there may be times when you feel there aren’t people you can talk to, or there aren’t options you can access. But you can and you will find them.
Sometimes you can’t see where your future’s going. But take it day-by-day, focus on the small things that make you happy, surround yourself with those your lift you up and reach out to that one person you’ve never met but really inspires you. It’s a lifelong journey for everyone.