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 don’t think I had much of a sexuality until around 20, 21. I was always called a poof at school but at the time I was heavily involved in the Baptist Church, from being a youth group leader, to helping with Sunday School and the Sunday night services. I wanted to be a youth worker because I looked up to the youth worker at church; she was amazing. Doing youth work changed my life. I started uni I decided to get baptised, so I did a six-week study course. But once I got baptised I realised that, if this being baptised and being honest with God stuff was true, then I needed to be true to myself. It was like someone turned a light on in my head and I realised, “Oh my God, I’m gay!”; but I didn’t quite understand what it meant.
The church didn’t take it too well. It was all: “Oh my God, what about the children! He’s a Sunday School pastoral care person! He’s a youth leader!” At the time I was studying for a youth work degree and I think that might have played on my mind a bit as well because, in the weeks leading up to that, we had a sexuality lecture. We learned the whole Kinsey scale of heterosexuality and homosexuality and I started thinking about myself as bisexual - what poof doesn’t go though that stage... I had a recent reunion with my uni mates: they said, “Do you remember when you told us you were gay? We all said, ‘Well, der!’.
Someone actually stood up in that class and asked the lecturer when did she decide to become a lesbian? Everyone knew she was, but it had never been spoken about before.
The whole class was horrified but the lecturer just turned around and said, “The only way I can answer that is with a question, and that is: when did you decide to become a heterosexual?”
The following week I became baptised and it all came into play. Around that time a guy I was working for got me involved with Vic Network, a gay support.
Because I was studying a youth work degree, I soon found myself facilitating support groups for gay and lesbian people there. Within two weeks of being there, I was also on the Management Committee and I was still trying to work out my sexuality! I had to handle my own stuff around my identity and sexual health and stuff all at the same time as trying to help other kids dealing with the same issues. I got thrown in at the deep end, I guess!.
Condoms on cucumbers
Because I was doing my youth work degree at uni, I had a lot of exposure to safe sex information, There was never any question about being safe back then, it was simply what you do. At Vic Network, there was lots of learning how to put condoms on cucumbers type activities - and lots of giggling about it, of course.
Back to top
My parents are separated. I found it really hard coming out with my father. Back in 1990, I was actually sharing with him - well, living in a bungalow at his place -- while I was at uni. I was 20. I wanted to tell him, but I found it quite difficult to say anything or explain anything. Looking back now, it’s quite comical. Friends would come over, some gay, some straight, on a Friday night; it was spaghetti bolognaise night and we all watched telly together. It seemed every time I had friends over ‘The Golden Girls’ would have a gay episode, or there’d be something about gays on Hinch. It was excruciating!
I had a bit of a break in contact with my father for a while. Later I found out that when he realised I was gay he was actually going to the library reading up on the whole thing, which was just amazing, but he was never able to express anything, being a bloke with a background in the building industry. That really touches me now, knowing that he did that.
Mum, on the other hand! I went to Mum’s one Boxing Day and we were chatting away. Being a fine young person empowering myself, I turned around and said to her, “Oh, by the way, I’m gay”, just like that.
You could have told me!
She stood up and fled to the kitchen. I could hear the sound of tears coming through the walls, cupboard doors were slamming, I could hear crockery, knives and forks flying around. I went into the kitchen and said, “Not only am I gay, my boyfriend’s going to be here in half an hour: he’s coming to pick me up because we’re going out to the disco tonight.” I was crying as well. I said, “I’m really sorry; are you OK?” and she turned around and swore at me and said, “You could have told me: I haven’t prepared enough food”
How I became Party Pup
During summer holidays I volunteered for Midsumma and I ended up doing a fundraiser for Vic Network that just happened to be a dance party down at the old Mandate and that’s how I suppose I got into that whole party social thing. After that, people from Midsumma set up the (now closed) gay newspaper Brother Sister. I started doing the venue photos and then I started a gossip column. I was known as Mark, the Pup, at Vic Network, so someone came up with the name Party Pup for the gossip column, and that name has stuck. Some of the best advice and support I received while I was coming out and growing up came from people I was working with such as Jeffrey Grad and Brenton Geyer – and if they’re both reading this – THANK YOU!
The few times over the past ten years or so that I have been to a sauna, just as I’m about to get it on with someone, someone else goes, “Oh, Party Pup; how’re you going?” and there goes my whole butch routine out the window!
I’ve been immersed in the scene for a long time, but somehow I’ve been able to balance it without becoming a scene drug-pig. Throwing my hat in the ring if I can help out community groups promoting whatever has probably helped keep me level. I’ve had a lot of strong lesbians around me as well and maybe that’s why the scene hasn’t swallowed me up.
Back to top
I’ve had about six significant relationships over fifteen years. Most of them only lasted maybe two or three years. The first one was kind of a long distance thing. I met him at a friend’s party. He was living on the central coast of NSW but was coming down here a bit. Unfortunately, he was HIV positive. He’d come to terms with it: sadly, he died a few years after we met. He used to call me his cuddle buddy because of the distance. He was quite amazing; a smart boy, well respected, and he helped me understand who I was a bit more.
Serious relationship #2
Not long after him I met another guy, though I had on-and-off boyfriends in between. Everything was really good: we went away and stayed at a friend’s beautiful mansion in Malmsbury and did the candles and bath thing – and then he told me he was HIV positive. He went downhill really quickly, but he pushed me away before things got that bad, which screwed my head around a little bit.
I was a mess more for the fact that he pushed me away than because of what he was going through, which is a bit bizarre. He was looking after me more than himself, thinking, “You’ve got your own life; you’re young; get out there and experience it all”. There was also an incident where we thought we’d fucked up in the safe-sex department and that threw me around a bit as well. I had to wait three months for the test results and that was fairly full-on.
He died too.
Back to top
I think my mum would kill me if I started going out with someone else who was HIV positive, because of the stress she went through at the time, but I think it’s part of who I am: if I love someone, then I love them no matter what. I don’t know why, but it just didn’t bother me that they were HIV positive.
Maybe it was a bit of a political statement as well, because I was involved in Act Up there for a while.
It was a very interesting time: I was thinking, why do I keep having relationships with HIV positive guys? I had to explain to my Mum and my friends that I’m not running out looking for these people! I meet people; I find them attractive; I have a one-nighter with them, it’s all fine, we start to catch up again and start dating and then they tell me they’re HIV positive - after the L word’s been mentioned– which is fair enough, because it would be fucking hard, you know. I mean, if you love someone and you’re scared they’re going to run away because you’re HIV positive, that’s hard to deal with.
Serious thing #3
The third man I was serious with was more serious: we moved in together. We even had an engagement party upstairs at 3 Faces! The relationship got a bit funny though: a third person got introduced into the relationship. They were staying up until four or five in the morning because that was their lifestyle and I had a normal nine-to-five, so it went a bit sour.
He ended up in hospital from trying to overdose and I almost ended up slashing my wrists because I couldn’t cope - and we were supposed to get married. I moved in with a lesbian friend and started to work full time at Brother Sister and started getting back into it all.
Back to top
Then there was a chef; he was very flirtatious. When I’m in a relationship, I don’t flirt: if someone flirts with me half the time I don’t even realise or, if I do, I make sure they know that I have a partner and I’m not flirting. He wasn’t like that. On the dance floor occasionally he’d back up on someone and flirt with them and I was just like, “Nah, I can’t cope with that”. He even did it in one of the venues I was running, which was even more of an insult. So that relationship was on-and-off, but the sex was great.
The used condom in the bin
This one guy denied he ever cheated on me but I found a used condom in the bin that I know wasn’t ours: it’s a dead giveaway and, because we had a shared email account, some of his emails ended up in my account and I discovered he had a profile on gaydar and paranoia hit me big time. I checked the messages in his phone and there was a “Thanks for last night” message... We’re good friends now, though.
Back to top
I decided, “Enough of boyfriends!” and slept around and did all that type of stuff. When I’m in a relationship I’m 100% monogamous, but I’m happy to say that if I’m not in a relationship I’m a whore. What gets me to the stage of wanting to go out with someone and call them my boyfriend is that I don’t get turned on by anyone else; my eyes don’t wander and, sexually, that person does it for me totally. If those three criteria are met then all my needs are met and I don’t want anyone else.
I might be going out with someone I think is really attractive and we can be good in bed but if, all of a sudden, I’m out with some people and he’s not there and I find myself looking at someone else and thinking, “Gee, you’re sexy”, or someone hits on me and I get excited, then I start thinking, “Hang on, the person I’m dating is not for me, because I’ve been aroused by this other person”.
When I was younger, I liked the guys who were early mid-thirties. As I got closer to my thirties that age started going down and eventually we met in the middle! Like most gay men I like a man who looks like someone out of a Titan video. All of a sudden the beauty of youth has been hitting on me and if they’re cute then I’m not going to say no, am I? It has been quite interesting; there have been a few around the age of 20.
With picking up people, I have to be in the mood. I’m not thinking, “Oh, you’re cute; you’ll do”; there’s got to be something there. But they can’t be effeminate; they can’t be wussy! Sometimes my friends say I’ll go home with anything, but I have taste!
One young guy freaked me out: he was a bottom. We were doing the business and he had to go and pee halfway through, so I just lay there on the bed waiting. We’d been using condoms but when he came back into the bedroom he almost sat on me without a condom and I freaked right out: I was shocked that someone would be so stupid as to do that and got on my moral high ground!
There was another young guy who didn’t want to use condoms and I started to get agitated that, within the space of a year, there were two guys who were totally blasé about it all. Considering what I’ve gone through in the past, it’s just horrifying.
Mark lives in Melbourne