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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My name’s Mark; I’m 41. I grew up in Port Melbourne and then Thomastown. We moved around a lot. I’m a gay man 100%... 110%! I think I realised I was gay at a very young age. I was always fascinated with men; I always liked them always wanted to look at them naked.
Around the age of eight I was sexually molested and that probably went on until I was thirteen. I had a gay brother as well and he was sexually molested by him as well. This man also used to get him and I to have sexual relationships together in front of him. My brother and I actually used to play with each other away from him quite often as well. The whole activity was instigated by this man I think; I wouldn’t know now.
How do I feel about it? It doesn’t concern me in the slightest; I have no issues about it. To be 100% honest, I think I rather liked it and enjoyed it. I went through the time that I felt I was wrongly done by and it was all wrong, but as I got older I got more aware and in touch with myself I was OK with it to be honest. I enjoyed playing with him and I was happy for it to happen.
We’d suck each other off and do hand jobs. He used to fuck my brother but he never did it to me. I just wouldn’t allow that to happen, maybe because I was younger, I don’t know. I didn’t allow it to happen the first time he tried it and for some reason he never tried it again. I think maybe he sensed that I was frightened of it or not too sure about it and maybe I would have blabbed, I don’t know. (Child sexual abuse)
My gay brother.
My gay brother died five years ago, of an aneurism. He was in Sydney living with his boyfriend and he just got up one morning and dropped dead; it was quite bizarre. I think most gay boys think they’re a little mystical and that they can foretell the future, and he always said that he was going to be the last of us to die, so it was quite interesting that he was the first.
It was a brilliant experience having a gay brother because I’ve always grown up thinking it was OK to be gay. When your brother is gay, you talk about the same stuff and you are experiencing the same things. He was a little bit older than I was so he went out and discovered places first, like Steamworks and the nightclubs, so I had someone to show me how to get to everywhere I wanted to go.
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I still had all those issues of coming out to friends and parents. I suppose it’s just a natural reaction to worry about whether they will they accept me. I think it made it a bit easier that I had a support system there if it all went terribly wrong. My brother and I used to talk about it – will we come out, are we going to do it? But I just decided all of a sudden to do it and, at the age of twenty, I told Mum and Dad and they were 100% fine. They had no issues with it whatsoever.
Apparently it was a big surprise. I’m quite surprised that it was a surprise, but it was! Telling them was quite easy to do and I’m glad that I did it. I wish I did it a bit earlier actually; it was a shame to wait until I was twenty because, as much as they were OK with it, I don’t know that I was OK with the fact that they knew. So it has taken a few years to develop a really good relationship with my parents – to be able to walk in their house and talk about my life as a gay man freely and openly. (Coming out)
Sometimes I used to find that when I talked about my life they’d never ask a question, and that would stop me from talking about my life a bit more. But as I got a bit older I realised that if I want them to be a part of my life I had to include them and I needed to talk to them about it continually whether they talked to me about it or not. And then eventually they’ll become familiar with it and they’ll be able to ask me questions. That theory worked and now we talk about anything and everything. I can say I went out to wherever on the weekend and Mum and Dad will ask, how’s this person going, or how’s that person?
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I started doing beats from the age of thirteen. We moved to Thomastown and I was going to school in Brunswick, so I travelled from Thomastown to Brunswick every day and it was just far more entertaining for me to go via the city because I could do the beats on the way to and from school. I did beats a lot back then and, being thirteen, I was quite popular. I used to go to Princes Bridge - that used to be fantastic, Flinders Fair, which was under the old Gas and Fuel building, and Centrepoint in the Mall.
I had a friend, a girl, who was quite out-there. She told me once that she went to a public toilet in the city and there were two lesbians going for it in the toilet next to her. I thought, if the girls are doing it in the toilets, the boys have to be. So that’s what got me started.
The other men at the beats were older; I never really ran into anyone my own age. But, to be honest, I wasn’t really interested in anyone my own age. I honestly think that you only see what you’re looking for, so perhaps that’s why.
Head-jobs and hand-jobs.
I wasn’t nervous; I didn’t really think about it; I don’t think I was ever really concerned about it to be honest. I knew why I was there, I knew what I wanted and I was doing what I wanted to do. I only ever did head-jobs and hand-jobs – and I got sucked off a lot, because older men do like a bit of younger dick! I don’t think at that stage I’d even kissed a man, so that was basically my entire repertoire at that age.
I only really had one bad experience: this man who really liked me used to try and take me away to have sex with him in different buildings around the city. I didn’t like him but I’d go with him because he said he’d tell my parents and that type of stuff – try to have it over me. I think he realised I was just young and naive. Finally I sent my brother out and he sorted it out for me. He just went and spoke to him and told him that I wasn’t interested in him and to leave me alone. That got rid of that problem. (Beats)
I never had any trouble with gay bashers but my brother got bashed twice. I think, back then, beats weren’t that known about: if you weren’t using them you didn’t know about them, whereas, these days, everyone seems to know what gay men are getting up to. A few years later, maybe when I was about twenty three, twenty four, people started to understand what beats were about, because I got busted for doing one and I actually wasn’t doing anything at the time, so I was spewing.
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They said I was doing the beat but I actually wasn’t. This was when I was about 24. I was working for Spencer St Station. I was in uniform and we had to use the toilet downstairs, which is open to the general public. I went to the toilet and as I was walking out there were two guys at the urinal. They were being quite abusive about gay boys and all that kind of stuff so I was a bit fearful and I didn’t want to walk out past them. They saw me just hanging around there and they walked out. When I walked out they called me over and said "You’re here trawling for sex". They were actually undercover police.
They charged me with loitering with intent. I was found guilty for it and fined. I chose not to go to court. I went to see a solicitor and he said you’ll have a harder time trying to prove you’re innocent and you’d be wiser to wear the fine. I thought it would be recorded as a conviction and I was really concerned, but I had a really influential boyfriend at a later stage in my life and I told him about it and for some reason it just magically disappeared. Whether he did something about it or not, I don’t know.
I was starting a new job and I had to have a police check and I was very concerned about the conviction because I wanted the job. I told him about it and then when I went in to ask the police about it they said there was no record of a conviction, so who knows…
By the time I got to the age of 18 it was time to go nightclubbing, have some fun and to go and meet some boys. I had a very basic relationship at the age of 18 with a guy from Sydney for about three months and, again, it was just head-jobs and hand-jobs and kissing. I went to Mardi Gras for the first time and had my first line of speed. Mardi Gras was quite good fun but I was still a fish out of water; I just walked around all night and danced a bit. I think I was a bit overwhelmed at the sheer quantity of gay people wandering around; I’d never seen so many in one place in my life! (Getting out there)
Experiencing the Scene for the first time can be exciting and terrifying. It is best not to go by yourself. Try looking up a youth group in your area – that might be a good way of making other gay friends to go with or if you have already come out to your friends maybe they will go with you. You should always think of your personal safety when you are out in pubs and clubs – if you go home with someone, make sure your friends know where you are going and who with.
Then I had a boyfriend for six months – the best relationship I ever had. We experimented in sex a bit more; that’s when I started with anal intercourse, rimming and all that type of stuff. None of it was safe because we didn’t know about HIV then.
The Sugar Daddy
After that I had a relationship with a man who was sixty seven. That was interesting but yet again it was all about getting sucked off and kissing, nothing really serious. It became more of a companion type relationship – a lot of gifts and that type of stuff. I suppose you’d say he was my first Sugar Daddy. My friends and I all wanted one back then; we all wanted rich boyfriends to support us and give us this fantastic lifestyle.
He came into my work – it was a take away sandwich shop and he used to come in and buy his milk there - and invited me over to his place for a party. And when I got there, I realised I was the party! It was just me and him. I was really gullible when I was younger; I really used to take people on merit, so I wouldn’t have thought that’s what I was actually going over there for.
He told me he had money – he put the offer right out there on the table. He offered me some cash for some sexual experience. It was alright the first and second time I did it; after that I really wasn’t interested. But we still remained friends and he still looked after me financially. It became a real companionship-type relationship but I just didn’t like the way I felt afterwards. I thought, "This is no fun, having some old man sucking my cock and saying how fantastic it all is, and I’m thinking ‘it’s not fantastic, I’m not finding it fantastic, I’m finding it’s all awful.’
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After that I had a relationship with a guy for six years. That’s where all the alcohol came into my life, because he was a bit of a drinker. Sex was a little more full-on, so now we’re really talking getting into anal sex, fucking each other, really getting into sex. We didn’t use condoms at the start and then all of a sudden we started using condoms.
It went through stages. We’d use them and then we’d stop. AIDS was around before we got together but I was never in situations where I needed to worry about it until this relationship where we were fucking each other and not using condoms. I was really in love with him: he could do no wrong and it was all fantastic and fine as far as I was concerned. It was a whole new experience for me; it was probably the first time I was with someone that I was fully sexually attracted to.
Out of control.
We had this crazy relationship for six years: it was basically out of control. We lived together and then one of us would move out. We’d get back together. He was 100% unfaithful. It’s funny, I mean, even though I was still doing beats I knew what I was doing – from a sexual health point of view. I wasn’t getting fucked or anything at beats, because it’s just something I’ve never done at a beat and probably never will do. But the problem was that he drank so much that I didn’t know what he was getting up to.
I never spoke up.
I didn’t want to have unsafe sex: I didn’t like it; it didn’t really do it for me. It used to make me worry too much but I never spoke about it, I never spoke up. Why would I? I was in love! I’m supposed to have it like this! If I’d had a conversation about it I would have had to reveal too much about why I wanted to have the conversation, about doing beats.
Then he’d instigate using condoms all of a sudden without any explanation and I’d think, 'What’s going on here?' but he’d deny anything was going on. It was just dumb love. It’s amazing what being in love would do. And then there was the alcohol and a few drugs and what have you got?
He just drank continually and that was all very new to me at the beginning. I think that’s why I was stuck in that relationship for such a long time: it really was a blurred mess because I was always drunk because I was trying to keep up with him. (Drugs and alcohol)
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We would split up for a while: he’d have an affair and I’d just have beat sex. I’d know he was having an affair because there’d be a new name on the answering machine or something new would be in the house. He even had an affair with my brother. That was the point at which I became a bit concerned about my safety because my brother told me what they got up to and I thought, 'Gee, if he gets up to that with him, what is he doing with everyone else?'
When I found out my brother was having sex with him I hated my brother with a passion. We were getting really stoned together and I knew something was wrong because every time I looked at him he’d look away. He started crying and said, "I have to tell you, I’ve been having an affair with ____". I walked out and the next day I demanded to know what had happened between them. I blamed my brother because I was in love with him. I totally blamed my brother for that. We got over it eventually.
The open relationship
Towards the end of the relationship we decided we were going to have an open relationship because I was bored; I didn’t know if I still wanted to be in the relationship. Yes, we were already having an open relationship, but we didn’t actually know that we were at the time because he denied everything and I wouldn’t admit to anything either. (Open relationships)
He’d go out and come home the next morning: I’d ask him where he’d been and he’d tell me he fell asleep on the train! I did have suspicions and I did question him about it but he’d deny it but I was in the mindset of, "Oh, you’re in this relationship, you say you love him so you’re in it to the end", all that old-fashioned bullshit.
The open relationship failed miserably, it just didn’t work. We went out one night and picked up a guy; I didn’t really like him; I don’t think he really liked him either, so it didn’t really work. I think we only attempted a threesome once. That was our idea of an open relationship: we weren’t going out solo yet. And then he just went out one night and came home with this other guy. And then moved him in! He said, "I’m in love with him, I’m moving him in". And I said, "Oh, OK".
I moved out
So I moved out. But then we kept on seeing each other for the next twelve months. I think he thought that I would just stay there with him and this other guy and we’d all live as a happy family but it wasn’t going to happen because I didn’t like this other guy anyway. It might have been different if I’d liked him, who knows? Go figure…
We still saw each other a bit afterwards. I said to him, "I have to get away from you because I’m really worried that you’ll make me HIV positive. It really, really concerns me". He was like, "No, no, no, I won’t: I wouldn’t". And then it got to the stage where it really ended, which was fantastic, we were actually separating ourselves.
I was happy to get to that point because I was still being drawn to see him. Occasionally I’d still have sex with him and we wouldn’t have safe sex – it was really bizarre – and then worry myself sick afterwards, thinking, "Mark, what have you done? What have you done?" But I’d never let him fuck me after that point, I’d always fuck him. I felt I was a little bit safer, more in control, if I did it that way round.
He went overseas.
Then he went overseas for about six years. He used to send me cards and stuff and I eventually sent him one back saying don’t send them to me any more because it’s just upsetting me – because I was carrying a torch for someone who wasn’t even there.
I needed time to get myself over the situation. I went out occasionally and occasionally I’d pick someone up for sex, but I’ve never really been good at taking people home for sex because I don’t like having them at home. You can’t get rid of them the next day, that’s why. I can do beat sex, one-on-one in broad daylight and that’s fine, but get a few drinks in me and I can’t do it. When I’m not in control of what I’m doing I don’t want to do it. When I drink I don’t want to have sex; I don’t know why. I wonder if it could be because when I was molested he’d give me beer. I don’t know.
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Then I discovered ecstasy. Ecstasy changes a few things, doesn’t it! It made me a bit freer to get to know people and talk to people, but I still didn’t really take people home. Occasionally I’d have sex on site, like in the toilets at The Peel or some building site near the Peel, but only once or twice that I can recall. Other than that, for sex, I was just doing beats, because by this stage I had discovered Sandridge. Sandridge was busy and popular and everything I needed was there.
I met my next boyfriend at The Peel. We dated for about sixteen months. We got tested, had safe sex for the first three months, did the test again, got the results and went from there, you know, Talk, Test, Test, Trust. The tests came back negative and we stopped using condoms after that. I wasn’t unfaithful with him at all. I made the decision with him that that’s how it was going to be. (Monogamous relationships) (Negotiated safety)
That relationship ended because he was a pot-head. I don’t like pot, can’t stand it. Meanwhile, he didn’t like alcohol and I drank, so, towards the end, his being stoned or my being drunk didn’t seem so cute any more.
Nightclubbing and shiftwork.
I wasn’t just taking ecstasy, I was dealing in the stuff. I was nightclubbing to the max. I was going to The Market, to the Diva, to the Peel, to the Dome, to White Bar, Freakazoid… I was also doing shiftwork – I was working at the casino – so it was a whole lifestyle change. Basically, at the end of that sixteen month relationship, it was ecstasy, casino, whole new world. I was a waiter, then a room Host and then a croupier. That’s when I started having gay friends, because I was meeting gay people at work with similar lifestyles. You know, we wouldn’t be able to sleep after work, so we’d all go to the Prince of Wales or somewhere.
I was into bodybuilding a lot and it was all the tight jeans and no shirts and lots of fun and dancing, but I still didn’t take many boys home. After a dance party or something, with the ecstasy, I just used to sit at home and wank for twelve hours solid or however long it took. That was OK because I just never felt comfortable taking anyone home on ecstasy. That’s just how it was.
Stop, I want to get off!
That’s changed now because I don’t drink, I don’t take ecstasy, I don’t take anything. I went out one night, took ecstasy and ended up in the Alfred Hospital with a dislocated shoulder. I fell over on the dance floor apparently and they dragged me off the floor. I can’t remember it at all, not one bit of it.
I’ve changed my friends too because they just put me in a cab and sent me home. So I’ve gone home not knowing what’s happened and I look in the mirror and I’m covered in blood. I just remember the next day going to the Alfred Hospital and saying I think there’s something wrong with my shoulder because it’s stuck at this angle and I can’t get it out.
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So, after that, I sat down for a little while and thought about everything. At that point I decided never to do ecstasy again. I’ve done it once since, I’m totally over it. I was so ready to make that decision because I was over what it was doing to me, I was actually becoming a bit pathetic and it just wasn’t working for me. Life wasn’t fantastic like it used to be and I wasn’t fantastic like I was. My friends were saying that I was a mess and I was becoming a bit of a sleazebag because I was trying to hook up with anyone I could - but I’d never take them home, I’d just feel them up.
I was getting a lot of negative feedback about that and I’ve always thought that when you hear stuff about yourself you need to take a certain amount of it on board because people don’t make that sort of stuff up. I thought they were right and I was ready to give up, I didn’t like what it was doing to me any more.
Cleaning up my act.
That wasn’t difficult: I just replaced ecstasy with alcohol! I started drinking more and then, on my 39th birthday, I had another wake-up call. I went to the casino, where I’d worked for eight years. I was in there drunk and gambling and I lost my money. They threw me out because I was swearing at the dealer – I stood there shouting, "Do you know who I am? I used to work here" and ra-ra-ra. They couldn’t care less and basically asked me to leave. I woke up the next morning and thought, "That really did happen last night: is this really how you want to live your life?" I realised I was holding my life back by drinking so I gave it up that day. I haven’t had a drink since and I probably never will either. I think if it’s what you really want you can do it. (Drugs and alcohol)
That bottom rung.
I changed jobs too and I think that helped. I now work for welfare and I see people at that real bottom rung. It made me realise that I’m an exceptionally lucky person to be who I am, to be able to look after myself the way that I do, to be able to deal with my issues the way that I do. Why was I being so down on myself? Why not treat yourself really well and have a really, really nice life?
And that’s basically what I’ve been doing. Doing this job, I realised I was basically living my life like these people on the other side of the counter, who had no control over anything. It just made me realise that it wasn’t me and to become who I am. And that’s what I did.
The two years since I gave all that up have just been fantastic. I love my life. I don’t have the worry of what I might have done or said the night before. And my life’s real, what I’m experiencing is real, there’s nothing artificial about it. I feel like I’m actually learning things about myself that I should have learned when I was twenty.
I changed my friends as well when I stopped drinking: that just happens automatically. I got to the stage where I found them a bit boring because they’d repeat themselves and talk all this crap. Eventually they lost interest in me.
I know now that I’m HIV negative but because I’d had unsafe sex with that boyfriend who was sleeping around and hadn’t been tested I didn’t know back then and I went through that whole torment where every time I had a cold I’d think, that’s it, I’ve got HIV. One night I went out with a friend I’d made at the gym; he told me he was HIV positive and I absolutely freaked out. I realised I had absolutely no idea what was going on with me after that relationship because I hadn’t been tested. I was totally paranoid. (HIV testing)
I went and got a test and I was really worried until I got the results back because I had no idea what he’d been up to; all I knew was what my brother told me. I considered myself very lucky that I came out of that relationship HIV negative.
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I did the Relationships workshop at VAC recently. One of the guys I met at gym does a lot of courses and one night when we were out for dinner he asked me if I wanted to do a course together? I said that’d be fantastic. I said, "You choose it and I’ll do it". He chose it because we both said we wanted to have relationships. I did it to change my ideas about relationships and open up my life a little more to the possibility of having one.
(Relationships) (Peer education workshops)
The workshop was fantastic. It’s good fun and I learned a lot. An HIV positive guy came in and told us his story one night and that just blew me away. The depth of the HIV conversation and the realness of it was really interesting. You can go out there and be unsafe and think "I’m OK, I’m OK", but you’re not OK if you’re not looking after yourself – becoming HIV positive is not just something that happens to other people.
For me a relationship was actually the riskiest situation. I mean, I remember with my ex, you’d wake up in the middle of the night and you were doing each other, no thought of a condom, because, in relationships, people just do have sex without thinking. I think that if I was in a relationship now I’d be better able to stay HIV negative than I was back then: I think I’d be able to have a better relationship full stop because I’m less inclined to compromise my needs and wants.
It took a little while to adapt to having sex sober. I still haven’t taken anyone home and I haven’t had a one-to-one intimate moment with anyone. At first I found I was thinking about every single thing I was doing, I’d think, "I’m going to suck his cock now", and I’d do that and then I’d be thinking, "Gee, am I really enjoying this? I don’t think I’m that excited: am I that excited?"! All these questions; it’s bizarre! It took me a while to relax and not worry about that stuff. It just sorted itself out though with time.
Now, when I’m having sex, if it’s not working for me I won’t do it; I’ll only do what suits me. If someone’s showing signs of unsafe activity I’ll just say, "No thank you, I’m not into that". I’m in more control and I’m not worrying the next morning.
I would never put up now with what I put up with in that six year relationship; it just wouldn’t happen. My life is about different things now: it’s about health and wealth and comfort and stability and maturity and about enjoying life.
Mark was born in Port Melbourne and grew up there.
Mark then moved to Thomastown when he was still quite young.
Mark went to school in Brunswick and would often travel via the city so he could go to the Beats before and after school.