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 Ringwood where I still live in my family home with my sister. There’s only my sister, myself, my mum and my dad. I’m very entrenched in my family.
I think I had a fairly normal upbringing. My mother was pretty controlling and my father was never around. I had the typical 50’s 60’s father who would work, earn the money, come home, hand it to mum, go down to the pub and drink until seven while mum basically brought us up.
I did the whole primary school playing with the boy’s thing but nothing serious. Prior to that I’d just gone into my sister’s bedroom and checked out the Cleo centrefolds.
When I was around 22 I went overseas with two of my girl friends and backpacked around Europe. We travelled for six months, and whilst I never had any (gay) experiences, I was able to be myself and felt free to express that. We went to South England, Belgium, France, Italy, Germany, and Spain. We had an absolute ball. It was a typical adventure and we spent a long time planning and saving for it.
One time in Austria I found a gay magazine on top of a cupboard in a hostel. It’s so miniscule now, but to me (back then) it was huge. We’d been on the Sound of Music Tour that day and danced around the gazebo. That night the girls went down to the rec room to watch the sound of music and recapture the moments of the day. I pretended to be sick so that I could flick through the magazine and feel connected. It went back in the cupboard when we left. Which was exactly what it felt like when I went back home. The main thing for me was that the trip allowed me to discover myself.
So it was a shock coming back home and having to fit back in the box of ‘old Mal’ that everyone expected me to be. I remember thinking “Oh my god, now I have to go back to wearing straight clothes”.
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I think the pressure to fit in a box was something I brought on myself. It’s hard trying to put a square peg in a round hole. I guess it was just growing up in such a homophobic society and knowing the whole attitude towards gay people that created this pressure for me.
So when I came back I went through a major depression. I knew I’d come back too early. I had emotional issues that were unresolved. I was with a girl at the time and I don’t think she ever loved me the way that I wanted her to love me. She seemed to just be going along with it.
We fluffed on through life like that for about six years till I was about 28. She eventually went on and did what she had to do. I on the other hand set out to find someone. She’s still my best friend and if the cards had fallen in a different way then I’d still be in the wings with a bunch of flowers waiting to step into the spotlight with her.
I then met this girl at a party and we got married in May of 1994, I was 31. We ended up being together for eight years. I knew she wouldn’t challenge me. I was still free to think the thoughts that would haunt me every day. She was safe for me. We worked well together as we both had the same philosophy and outlook on life. I loved her with as much understanding of love that I had at the time. I guess it’s as simple as that. We have a vision of what we want our lives to be, sometimes without any thought of whom we may hurt along the way. There is still a large part of me that feels guilty about it all. It didn’t matter what way I looked at it, I still found myself perving on men.
We had a son together using IVF; I was about 36 when we had him. IVF is not for the faint hearted but if that’s what you want then that’s what you do. When you go down the IVF path, you feel like your whole life is nothing but a menstrual cycle. It can be pretty draining. Our first attempt at IVF failed which we found out just before Christmas. That was a bummer of a Christmas, but we tried again in February and our son was born in November.
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I had created the most beautiful ice castle. It was everybody’s perfect image of what a young family should be; a husband, a wife, a beautiful home and a picket fence in the sun. It was perfect. I had good wages coming in and I found myself doing things and going ‘Look at this, look at how wonderful it is. Don’t look at me, just look at what I can do’. I didn’t like me and I still don’t like me a lot. Thankfully I had enough love for myself to realise I was worth saving.
There’s a general idea that something’s wrong if you’re a guy in your thirties, unmarried and still living at home. So I think that once I started down that pathway I felt like no one would question my sexuality. Not that I was even willing to acknowledge it openly to myself. I was labelling it as anything I could such as, a fantasy, being bisexual, or just a thing I’m going through. For me my only way of expressing my sexuality was through beats. I would go and I was happy to park the car and just watch knowing that I was in the company of like minded people. It made me feel secure knowing that there were other guys in my boat.
I remember standing in the shower banging my head against the tiles saying “You’ve just got to get through the day and you’ll be fine”. I’d have a sexual experience and go “Right that’s it. That’s done I’ll never do that again”... till the next time. I remember when I met the guy who I had my first sexual experience with. That was the turning point.
We met at a beat and he gave me his card, which at that stage had never happened before. A couple of weeks later I met him there again. He said “You haven’t rung me” and I said “No, I’m not going to either”. Then we met a third time and he mentioned that there was a construction site nearby and an old house that they used for the plans. So he said “Do you want to go over there” so I said “Yeah”. I was telling myself ‘You’re strong, you can do this’. So I did and I wasn’t. He offered to help me through it. He said “This happened to me and I vowed that I would assist other people going through the same thing and give them guidance”. It became a bit of a fling but in the end it was more of a counselling thing.
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Then I basically nearly had a breakdown. I just couldn’t do it. I discovered that if you work a lot you can run away from a lot. I had a small offshoot from work that I was allowed to run which was a small catering business. I was cooking at that stage as a qualified chef. I was working 18 hours a day and I was gradually removing myself from the people around me. I found that was a good way to hide because it was commendable. People have admiration for people who work hard. If you work hard you’re obviously a good person. However, it just wore me down. I never got suicidal, but my biggest fear was that I was going to kill somebody on the road or endanger my son. So I found myself removing myself from him and my family.
I often speak to guys who get to that moment and have that realisation and then find the energy to dive back into the marriage only to find out that the problem is still there.
The guy who I had the fling with was a very good person to talk to and he put me onto a very good counsellor. So I went along to see the counsellor who asked “What’s your relationship like with your son” and I said “It’s fantastic, the only thing I want for him in this life is for him to be able to become the person he wants to become”. My counsellor turned around and said “Well if you can’t become that, how can you teach him to?” and the light bulb came on. I had this absolute Matrix moment where the world just stood still for about five seconds and all the blocks fell into place. I realised I had to get through this, get on with it and get over it. So I came out for my son. I realised that I can’t teach him to be a man if I can’t be one.
So I always say “I’m a better man gay than I ever was straight, because I had the balls to grow up and deal with it”.
It was actually my wife who confronted me. I was going through a breakdown and I just wasn’t myself. I’m usually a very motivated person and I was bursting into tears at the drop of a hat. I knew I was losing the battle. It was then that I started to accept the reality that I might have to deal with this.
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I was having a pretty rough time and there had been a couple of times during the marriage that had alluded to my wife that I might be gay. One such time was when she found some phone sex numbers I had, but I managed to lie my way out of it. So I was going through this rough time and she just confronted me and said “Are you gay?” I said “I’m wrestling with my sexuality”. So we took our son to my parents so we had some space and we went on a great big long walk. I said “This is the last thing I expected to happen and I don’t have a plan b. I don’t know what happens next”. There were times that she got angry and there were times that I got angry but they never lasted long. I pulled the rug out from under her and I don’t think I’ll ever get over that. I will never forget the feeling that my perfectly carved ice sculpture, was melting and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. It’s not like you can come out and then a couple of days later go “Ha ha tricked ya I’m not gay”……. It doesn’t work like that.
I know we have to do what we have to do but nothing changes the fact that we pull the rug out from under them. That will never sit well with me that I did that. The nicest thing about the marriage was that she said to me “I don’t want to do a post mortem... I loved it”.
She said to me back when this was going on “If your parents ask me what’s going on, I’m not obliged to lie for you, so I will tell them." Which I thought was the most admirable way of kicking me up the ass and making me take that next step.
So I went to my parents and howled my guts out the whole way there but once I arrived I must’ve been channelling, because I sat there calmly, said it and didn’t cry once. My mum was sitting there with a cup of tea and the paper and she just looked up and said “I knew, I knew all along” I thought “That’s nice! Wish you could have told me”. My dad on the other hand looked at me with tears in his eyes and said “I’m a broken man” and walked outside. So I got up and followed him and I said to him “I’m sorry that you feel that way. However, I’m not responsible for your feelings but I am responsible for being honest.” I then said to him “There’s just two things I want you to know; one day I’m going to bury you. You’re going to die and I’m going to be left with arranging your funeral. So when you’re laying in a coffin in front of me, I want you to know who I am. It’s too late then. I want you to know that now. I want you to get to know me now. The second thing is that I believe that when we die we become energy. We start as energy and come through a physical life and then we go back to energy. So at that point we meet and you turn around and say “Why didn’t you tell me?” and I say “Because I didn’t think you’d love me” to which he nodded his head and said “I get it now”.
So once I got that through to him he just went “Yeah, I was wondering why you had to work so much”. All of a sudden bang it was over within about 5 or 10 minutes. Now both mum and dad have been to the Laird and are by biggest supporters. So there are big gaps in our relationship because you can’t go back and recapture those past days. However, I certainly feel that I am closer to my dad today than when I was growing up.
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After coming out, my wife asked me to get out of her face. So I rang a friend of mine and told her what had happened. She lived in Queensland, and she told me to come up and stay with her. I was only going to go up for a week but I ended up staying there for a month. I rang all of my friends in the week before I left to go to Queensland and came out to them. That’s just what you do “Isn’t it?”
In Queensland I found my strength again, to know what to go and do, which was to go back and finalise our marriage in a way that was dignified for both of us. It’s all very well to say you’re gay, but when your ending a marriage there’s a lot of other stuff to sort out. I had no gay friends, no-one to turn to, so I had to establish some like minded friends and contacts which I’ve done now.
There was nothing written. In my previous life it was all kind of expected. You grow up, go to school, get a career, find a girlfriend, get engaged, get married, buy the house and have kids. It’s all Ken and Barbie’s fault, Mattel have a lot to answer for. That’s how we’re led to believe it has to be. So now I didn’t have a plan at all.
I met a guy three months after coming out. He was so handsome and he liked me, me of all people, me who didn’t like me at all. In hindsight he was a bit of a life-buoy in the vast ocean. So I sort of latched on to him for a bit of support. I met him at the Laird. We stayed together for three years and he was positive. I felt at peace, being in a community of like minded people.
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I went and did a course with the Victorian AIDS Council called Momentum which was great. I think you get more from those courses in the months and years after than what you get at the time. I also did another course called the Negative Partners course for guys with positive partners, which taught me a lot about dealing with issues.
After we split up I was single for about 18 months. I decided to use the time wisely. So I spent that time loving the freedom and having a great social network of friends to lean on. Not just because I could bonk my brains out but because I finally had a chance to learn who ‘me’ really was.
It was really funny because after I did this I met my current partner, despite my “I’m happy being single thank-you very much” attitude. I did just about all I could to warn him “I work shift work, I have a son” etc, but still he said “Yes”
If I put together a checklist of all the traits that I’d want in a partner... he’s it. He’s a wonderful support for my son, we laugh a lot, we have some serious conversations and sometimes we agree and sometimes we don’t, but I feel like I can be myself with him more than I have ever been with anybody else in my life.
When I was in Queensland (just after I came out) I remember sitting on the couch with my friend saying “I think I like leather” to which she said “So do I”. So I went to Spit and Polish which was scary but I followed through with it. In my mind the image is masculine more than sexual and fits in with my identity.
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I really enjoyed the competition. It had its ups and downs, but for me it was an opportunity to get involved with the community. I was at the point of wanting something to happen (in my life) and when I entered, I felt like a door had opened. I really enjoyed fundraising for Joy radio station. I’d finally found something that I could do and learn along the way. The exposure was a bit daunting at time. Seeing my face on posters all the time never sat well with me. So from that point of view I’m glad it’s over but I was happy to help out. My biggest thing is that I do want to be involved in the community.
It’s a lot more political over there in America. I don’t think I could ever see that happening over here. We’re just too laid back. They are very politically motivated in how they run their life. Ask you’re average gay guy and they really wouldn’t be able to tell you about gay politics or where our issues stand in a political arena. Over there they know.
There’s a lot of terminology thrown around in the gay world in the leather community that I didn’t know. They asked me questions like “If you were successful would you be prepared to blah blah blah”.
If you win you are virtually advertising. The leather competition is the third biggest convention in Chicago. It’s quite amazing to see, even if you’re not into leather, because they black out the whole hotel. The whole hotel becomes leather.
I got there a few days early to warm into it and it was really funny to see the transformation. When I got there it was mums and dads, men in suits and women with shoulder pads and as the week progressed it changed. One morning I went down for breakfast and the windows were all blacked out. You weren’t allowed to walk outside in your chaps. They were handing out napkins at the door to cover your butt crack with. It was hilarious.
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One thing I’m really grateful for is that my parents have taught me to be the adult I am today. I have been able to take what I like about them and apply it to my life and my parenting skills and to really know what was not good.
I wrestled with that (my dad’s absence) when I was in my early years of fatherhood, but I learnt to embrace it and learn from it. So actually he did me a great favour because now I’m able to be the father that I always wanted. It’s quite therapeutic for me to now parent my son because every time I do something for him, I’m also doing it for my inner child as well.
I think one thing about coming out late is that you don’t tolerate bullshit. You’ve been through that stage of your life. I also find that there are a lot of similar threads when hearing other peoples stories and I often think that it is these threads that link us all together.
Mal grew up in Melbourne
Mal backpacked around Europe for 6 months when he was 22.
Mal spent a month in Queensland with a friend after coming out.