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’m a 35-year-old gay male who identifies 100% as being homosexual. I grew up in the eastern suburbs in Melbourne. I was the oldest of three: one younger brother, one younger sister. I grew up in a very middle-class family that strived to send their kids through private schools. So we never had a huge amount of money but we were given the option - we could either have holidays or we could go to a private school. All three of us wanted to go to private school so we forewent the holidays and things like that. But I had a very loving home environment, particularly on my mum’s side of the family; we were a very close-knit family unit.
I probably had my first boyfriend at the age of 12. I was in Grade 6 at primary school. He was in Grade 5 'cause I was in a composite class. Yeah, we used to hug and stuff. It wasn’t sexual but, at that age, that really wouldn’t have worked.
When I was in Grade 6 I left and went to an all boys private school, so that pretty much ended things. He and his family moved to a rural place because his father’s job changed.
I’d always preferred the company of adults rather than kids. I didn’t like kids much. All the way through school I always got on much more effectively with the teachers than I did with the students who I was studying with. That may have something to do with my sexual identity: going to an all boys private school it was very sports-oriented and I was never a sports person. I didn’t enjoy sports because I had chest hair and quite hairy legs, whereas a lot of the other kids who were more sporty didn’t. I went through puberty very young at the age of 12. I was shaving every day by the age of 13 or 14. It was actually closer to 14 because my parents used to get me to put peroxide on my face just to make it look like I didn’t have facial hair. They didn’t want me shaving from such a young age. But I suppose that comes from having good Irish stock and being a hairy ape bastard. So being quite hairy and quite masculine, going through high school was somewhat difficult. High school wasn’t necessarily the most enjoyable time for me. I retracted into myself a lot, particularly when I started to go through my own personal coming out process. I shut a lot of the rest of the world out.
Back to top
I didn’t feel as though there was the support network there to be gay at the school that I went to. My friends used to somewhat tease me in regard to being gay. My best mate used to call me ‘pusti’ which I found out later on means fruit in Greek. He and I would have very different conversations now in regards to that. It was just name-calling. But for someone who’s 15 or 16, that can still be quite full-on. The mental abuse that is attached to that is probably even more damaging than the physical abuse that could have occurred but didn’t.
I came out in Year 12 and it was actually a lot easier after I came out. A lot of the taunting and the teasing stopped. I started telling people who I thought were safe. Probably in actual fact they were boys that I wanted to sleep with.
So I told them that I was gay to judge reactions and things like that. All the people that I told had no issue with it. The people that did have an issue didn’t have anything to say because they were scared shitless then. What they’d thought was true, and all of a sudden they couldn’t tease and taunt me about it. I wish I had come out earlier because it could have made a bit of a difference. And it could have made a difference to the people that I went to school with, that now I know are gay and who went through the same shit that I went through.
About half-way through Year 12 I came out to my family. It was an absolutely shit year to choose. And they agreed with that. They were like, “If that’s the case, we don’t care. Just try to focus on your school.” At the time, I took that as ‘You don’t give a rat’s arse, this is important to me and therefore it needs to be done’.
I think everyone, when they first come out, knows the horror stories - that they’re going to be kicked out of home and the family’s going to disown them and all that sort of stuff. I assumed that would be the case with me which, of course, it wasn’t in any way whatsoever. So the way that I came out was by dropping a note onto the kitchen table at Saturday lunch and running out of the house, and going for a walk for four hours. My parents were worried sick about where I was and were more concerned in regards to my safety than what the letter actually contained.
So when I got back they said “Don’t worry about it. You’ve got Year 12. Focus on your studies. Studies are more important right now. You’ve got the rest of your life to live after Year 12”. I think I probably went through that conversation twice with my parents and then the third time that we had that conversation they basically said, “It’s all good. We don’t have a problem with you being gay.” I know for a fact that mum has absolutely no issue with my homosexuality. My dad I think accepts it but he doesn’t respect it.
Back to top
After I came out I started attending a group called ‘Boyant’ that used to be held at VAC/GMHC. That was a really good way for me to actually break out and meet other gay people. Living in the middle eastern suburbs through the private school zone you don’t necessarily see many gay people. Or at that time you didn’t because visibility was different and my consciousness in regards to noticing gay people was different. So Boyant was a really good coming out experience for me because it meant that I could come and meet people who were my age. There were kids there who were from 14 to 26. Just having those social outings and being able to sit and talk to people was really, really beneficial.
I went straight to uni after high school and studied geological engineering at RMIT in the city. And I found my political stance at that time, and went all out to shock. I used to have a Mohawk and stretch piercings. I dyed my hair a different colour every couple of weeks. I’d wear big army jackets and skirts and stuff, walking around the streets of Kew. Probably about 70% of people in that course were from rural areas so they didn’t know what the fuck I was on about. That was good in some ways but I think in other ways it was really bad because I had my own little political stance and believed that everyone was a homophobe. I wrote for the uni newspaper and was very active in queer politics. I had to make a difference because the world sucked. The reality was that the world wasn’t fucked and that all people weren’t homophobes but, at that time, I thought they were.
So I studied geology for about a year-and-a-half but my focus was always on being queer and political, which I think was a continuation of my coming out process and finding myself. While I studied, I worked in restaurants where they wanted people who had Mohawks and piercings. Places where I could be self-expressive.
Back to top
I had my first real boyfriend when I was 18. He was an interesting boy. I’ve always tended to have a thing for bad boys and he was slightly evil from a legal standpoint. He wasn’t the nicest of people. Not from a criminal perspective but I had experiences where I could have possibly had him gaoled. That was an experience for me because that type of person was not someone that I’d ever met growing up.
I always have liked bad boys. It’s meant that I’ve had a lot of relationships that have gone for very short periods of time because there was no way that they were ever going to work.
From eighteen through until about my mid-twenties the majority of people that I would date, would have followed that sort of suit. Bad boys that my parents would never have agreed with.
I think it gave my mum a lot of grey hair. Once I had a short relationship with someone who was trying to start up their own brothel and things like that. He was perfect gaol bait; hot as hell, the sex was great, but from a mind connection point of view it was just never there.
From a sexually adventurous point of view, it was all very vanilla. But it’s what I thought was racy at the time. Like when I say ‘vanilla’ I mean just intercourse, head jobs, stuff like that. So it was never racy from a fetish point of view or a non-monogamous point of view, or anything like that. It was all just very straight-laced and probably the best way of putting it is just ‘normal sex’.
After a while I met a guy that I dated for a number of years. I actually moved in with his parents and him for a little while in Broadmeadows, which was interesting. He came from an Italian background. His parents were very rural Italian. It was a great experience because I tried amazing food and experienced amazing culture and he was a lovely, lovely boy. But it got to a stage where I wasn’t ready to settle down with one person at the age of 27. He was about 10 years older. We had some great times, but it wasn’t necessarily right for both of us. He wanted to settle down and move out to the suburbs and have a house, and that’s never necessarily suited me.
Back to top
I probably didn’t find myself until my late twenties. That’s when I probably became more comfortable with my body, my sexuality, and my own personal identity. I worked for a year then switched to an arts degree at La Trobe. I did that for a little while to try and work out where I fitted with the world. Then I worked as a waiter for a little while. Then I entered a relationship with someone who was based interstate.
We managed the relationship for a year between here and there, and then he moved down here. We were together for six years, but we broke up last year. In some ways, I regret that relationship because it went too long. It didn’t need to be as long as it was. After about two years; we didn’t need to continue it. We did because it was comfortable. He was coping with life dramas, and it became destructive because we didn’t communicate. It wasn’t comfortable for us to communicate with each other. We were two polar opposites, one that was in control and the other that was out of control. It was a relationship that was built around a lot of lies.
Anyway, we sat down one night and he said, “This isn’t working.” And I agreed. We tried to be friends afterwards but there were so many past issues that there was no way that a friendship could continue. He has moved out of Melbourne. He started going out with someone the week after we broke up.
When he moved to Melbourne, I’d been working in hospitality in bar management. But he worked Monday to Friday, 9-5, I worked Tuesday to Sunday from four ‘til 11, 12 at night. We would never see each other. So I decided to make a change and got out of the hospitality world, and moved into the corporate world. I worked my way up in contact centres up to the stage where I was up to recently managing the customer service and admin department of a company. I think that focusing on work and focusing my career progression was based around the ineffectiveness of my relationship. So I moved my energies away from the home into work.
Back to top
He was really good at giving head. He was vacuous. I held the cards. It continued for a little while. You know, when you’re 15, a head job’s a head job. It doesn’t really matter how old they are. This all happened when I was in my school uniform. It was great! You know, it was a bit of fun. Because being at school there was no-one else that I could experiment or experience with.
I actually don’t remember the first time putting on a condom. I don't know whether that was because it was instinctive or it’s forgettable. But I don't remember. Thankfully I was always a fairly in-touch kind of person so I’d grown up with the Grim Reaper and things like that around HIV and AIDS. So I was aware of condoms in Grade 6. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think the Grim Reaper was positive. I think it was negative. It scared the shit out of me when I was a kid. What forced me to know to put a condom on was my parents and the sexual education at school. It had nothing to do with that Grim Reaper ad because that gave me nightmares as a child. I’m thankful that I had parents who educated me and were very open about safe sex. So if I was doing anything that involved more than head jobs then I knew that I needed a condom. It’s funny: I remember my first head job but I don’t necessarily remember the first time that I had anal sex or the first time that a condom was used.
One of the most memorable sexual experiences that I had was being stuck in traffic coming back from the bush. The traffic was so thick that it was taking like an hour-and-a-half to get through Woodend. That just turned into my boyfriend’s dick being out of his pants and me taking care of it while stuck in traffic. One-lane traffic though, of course.
There have been times I haven’t used a condom but that’s my conscious decision not to put the condom on. It’s my choice. Generally, when I’ve been in a monogamous long-term relationship, I haven’t used condoms. That’s still safe sex because it’s with a trusted partner. However, my last relationship wasn’t necessarily with a trusted partner, which I found out through the relationship and at the end. So I was putting myself at risk during that period. Thankfully, that risk didn’t eventuate to anything but it was putting me at risk because that person, from all accounts was not monogamous. I don't know what risks they were taking but it still was placing me at risk. I didn’t know. They may not have taken any risks.
Back to top
If I have to identify as anything within the gay scene, I identify as a bear/cub. I always relate with that area of the gay scene better. Mainly to do with my physical attributes. However, as much as I may presently fit in with the bear archetype, I don’t fit in with a lot of other bear stuff as well. I don’t fit in with the community all that well. But that’s my own fitting and I don’t want to fit with that community. I’m not rampantly into having open relationships where you go out with your partner and it’s all about both of you trying to pick up someone else. A lot of them, if you don’t want to sleep with them, they stop talking to you. I’m also a little bit well-dressed for the bears. I might like my designer labels and things like that and a lot of the other bears will, for example, overtly not wear designer labels 'cause it’s not the bear way, apparently. But then there are some bears who believe that you shouldn’t wear underarm deodorant or after shave because you should embrace the correct smell of yourself. I’d rather smell Gucci than I would my own BO.
So from that perspective there’s a mismatch there between me and them, which I don’t mind. It’s not a bad thing. I don't necessarily need to fit-in with that side of the community. I can feel comfortable wherever I want to go and it’s taken me years to realise I don’t have to fit with someone, I don’t have to fit somewhere. I don’t have to fit with going out to The Greyhound every Saturday night, wax my body, and to be thin, and ‘gorgeous’. I can be myself and that’s what pleases me more than anything else. And it generally pleases other people because they see me being happy.
Back to top
My dad’s side of the family and my mum’s side of the family are very, very different. I’m extremely close to my mum and we’ve travelled overseas a couple of times. She’s one of the first people to meet new boyfriends. I speak to my dad once every few months. And even then it’s fractured and short. That’s how I like to keep it because he’s the sort of person that doesn’t have a huge amount of space for other peoples' emotions or requirements. My father has gone through years of battling alcohol. Emotionally, he’s not a strong person. So the way his family would deal with things generally is by ignoring it and hoping it goes away. Whereas my mum’s side of the family is more like if you face it head on, it’s gone, you’ve dealt with it, you don’t need to deal with it in the future, which is where my feelings on this come from. You don’t have that little ghost waiting in the closet to come out.
My dad can get quite caught-up with himself. I always interpreted that as a lack of respect for me and a lack of respect or understanding of my sexuality. He’s accepted it, so there isn’t a problem there, but he doesn’t go out of his way to say, “Oh, so are you seeing someone now?” Or, “How is such-and-such?” So we don’t converse in regards to my sexuality a huge amount. My parents have divorced now and he lives up in Queensland. My current partner and I stayed in his house whilst he was there and he gave us his bed. That’s probably the closest ever that he’s got to respecting my sexuality and actually making me feel comfortable about talking to him about my sexuality, and about my partner’s and things like that.
Back to top
I told my story because if it can make a difference to someone else who feels similar about themselves then that makes a difference for me. So if someone has body identity issues or doesn’t feel as though they fit in any part of the gay community and they feel the need to seek out a place where they fit, I encourage them to realise that they don’t have to fit anywhere. There’s nothing wrong with being yourself. Even if society sits there and tells you that you have to conform to some sort of ideology or some sort of identity.
I was so obsessed with having to identify with certain areas, and whether that was what I wanted to be, which was a bad boy. I wanted to be that bad boy because it was hot and wrong, and all those drivers that went with it. However the reality was I’m just me and I could have accepted that a lot earlier. Instead it took me a number of years to come to that realisation. Don’t think I don’t still have that bad boy in me. But I don’t have to outwardly show it. It doesn’t necessarily play a part in my average, everyday life. I used to think that bad boy was the Torana-driving, gaol-bait, hot-walk boy and that’s what I wanted to be with, and that’s what I wanted to have sex with. That’s what I wanted to represent. The reality is that I can be myself but what I am in the bedroom can still be quite different to that.
The bad boy thing was all based around sexual attraction. It was completely and utterly about I like the fact of having sex with a hot wog boy who’s just dirty and wrong, and goes home to live with their mother. I’ve come to the understanding that I can still be bad but where do I want to be bad? How do I want to be bad? So I kind of went from this really straight-laced school upbringing to this wild side and now I’ve kind of come to somewhere in the middle where I choose where I want to express whatever elements I want to express. I’ve always been a little edgy about who I am and still to this day will occasionally have body issues. But I think everyone has those; it’s a matter of how well you hide it. I don’t tend to hide anything anymore. Generally my view is if you’ve got a problem with something about me well it’s your problem; it’s not mine. But it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy.
I met my current partner through the internet and we went out for coffee at a time when I wasn’t looking for a relationship. I’d dated a couple of people. None of it was successful and they were very short-term things. I’d come to the conclusion I was quite happy just being single for a little while. But I met this guy on the internet. We had a couple of really good conversations and we decided to meet-up for, for breakfast. When I found my current partner, my focus moved away from my work onto a relationship and work became less important. Money became less important to me. The rest is history. It’s been ten months of joy.
Matt grew up in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne