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’m 38. I first came out in 1995 when I was 26. I was attracted to men before then but I didn’t acknowledge it. Even when I was beginning to feel comfortable acknowledging to myself that I was attracted to men I didn’t feel comfortable with the ‘gay’ label, until I hit 26.
I came out on September 13, 1995: my memory of the occasion is very clear! It was during a ten-week court case in which I was a juror. It was quite an emotional period for me because one day I was there as Michael, the sort of heterosexual, amorphously sexual person, then the next day I was gay.
It happened like this because I was listening to this man on the radio talking about how he grew up gay and I thought, 'I feel like this person he’s just described, and he’s gay, so I guess that makes me gay'. I felt very comfortable with the identity that he had described and I was confident from that point onwards. I think it was an emotional maturity that just happened. I woke up just feeling like a completely new person who could take on the world.
Previous to that, I was very insecure. It was difficult for me to form interpersonal relationships. I’d never had a partner prior to that – male or female. I tried to, but I wasn’t successful with girls. I just didn’t feel comfortable expressing myself fully: I was very guarded all the time; I had to watch everything I did or said; I didn’t want people to think things about my sexuality I wasn’t comfortable with. I also used to get panic attacks a lot in social situations: I just couldn’t deal with social situations very well.
There was an ad for the Jewish and Gay support group – it’s called Aleph Melbourne - in a Jewish newspaper - I have an Eastern European Jewish background. I contacted them and spoke to this guy at his house for a couple of hours one night - he was the first person I told. I was shaking and really nervous. He didn’t know what I was there for. I said, "I think I’m gay”.
Just saying that word, those three letters, made it feel like the whole world had been lifted off my shoulders. I’d never said it before. My brother had asked me if I was gay and I’d always said no. We talked about it. He gave me a book to read and told me to come back in a week..
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Two days later, I told my parents. I had dinner with them every Friday night – the Jewish Sabbath. My brother was there; we were both living out of home. My parents had gone to bed: I knocked on their door – I can’t remember why I was still there – and I said, "I want to talk to you". I sat on the floor by the bed and they were lying in it - we often had conversations like this in their bedroom. I said, "Something’s been on my mind for along time now: I’m gay". There were some tears. They said, "How do you know?" and I said, "I know; I just feel it”.
They knew too, but there’d been all this denial over the years. They’re not stupid; parents know these things; they just choose not to acknowledge it because they feel scared or don’t know how to deal with it. No-one else in their sphere had any gay children, that they knew of.
Things got a lot better
My father handled the news better than my mother. It took her a couple of weeks to come to it. Her visions of grandchildren were flying out the window and stuff like that. But, over the next few months, things got a lot better. I also had this other bridge that I had to cross, because I’d not been very good at communicating with my father in general, over the previous five or six years at least. It was tense in the family, but after I came out I started to repair the hurt that I felt towards my father.
It wasn’t that coming out caused me to be able to do the other things; it was all happening at once. Something changed in my personality that allowed me to talk to my father, to start making friends, to be able to communicate and express myself and do all the things that a normal person would probably be doing since their teens.
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You can imagine the overwhelming feeling of relief and happiness and euphoria. At that point of my life I think I actually stopped eating for two weeks I was on such an emotional high. I was just so overwhelmed with this emotional burst that my body was just completely beside itself; I was even unable to have any form of sexual release at the time; my body just wouldn’t let that happen. I don’t think any drug in the world could have put me on such a high – not that I’d know, mind you!
I took my Dad to a PFLAG meeting. He met Nan McGregor. Mum didn’t go, but she was reading books from the library. They were both very supportive - my Dad especially: he was the one who would actually tell people that his son was gay. Remarkable. Family was always very close to me: I have a very close relationship to my family.
If only I’d known they’d respond so well! Part of the terror in my life was that I’d be kicked out of home if they found out. If I’d known that they’d have been supportive it may have changed how everything worked out years before. So, now my thing is that, if parents talk about it with their children and let them know that if they’re gay they won’t be kicked out of home, and won’t be made to feel that it’s their fault, that will change the outcome for the better.
I was working at RMIT at the time: I contacted the RMIT queer society. I met people through that and started going to parties and got introduced to the gay scene. I discovered a whole new world out there: people, places, occasions, festivals, media - all sorts of things.
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I had a sexual relationship with the first person I met after coming out! It was probably the most complex relationship I’ve ever been involved with; it was really intense. There was a lot of cheating going on and it wasn’t by me; it was by him, with his boyfriend! I learned all of a sudden that not everything is what it seems in relationships, in the gay world particularly. He was the first guy I had sex with.
Through him, I met the man who was to be my partner for the next seven to eight years – I moved very quickly from being single to being in a relationship. I seem to be the sort of person who gets into very stable relationships. I don’t do relationships lightly and I want them to work. He was pretty much lovely. We didn’t have everything in common; there was almost a ten-year age gap - he was older. But there were some things that didn’t work out so well, which over the years became problematic and we split up in 2003. We were adult about it and we’re still in contact and friends, but we don’t see each other all that often. I think there’s a distance there that’s necessary for our friendship.
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I was single for nine months between my first and second relationship. During that time I was a megaslut – free, gay and very happy! I think, on average, I was having sex with one guy a day. I met men on-line or out – not at gay venues; at beats. I was also using gay.com, which I haven’t used for ages, and also Hot Gossip, the telephone chat line.
I used to call the number for girls to meet guys and leave a message there. There seemed to be a lot of guys on there interested in meeting guys. Bi-curious would be a good way to describe them. They were generally guys from the outer suburbs who didn’t have internet access, and usually blue collar. I hooked up with quite a few of them: sometimes I’d drive a long way for very little return!
I was having sex with a different person every night of the week. One night I ended up having a three-way in my lounge room, which I wasn’t even planning to have, doing things I’ve never done before – like being the meat in the sandwich. We actually took a video of it; I think I’ve still got it somewhere…
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Sexual health for me has always been about making sure I had condoms and lube with me and going to have medical checks every three or four months.There were times when I’d get skin infections like crabs or scabies, which, when you have a lot of body hair like me, can be problematic. Not everyone’s personal hygiene is as good as you’d like it to be, so that can be an issue: I didn’t like that at all. In fact, I stopped going to saunas because of that.
I came down with a sore throat from sex every now and then as well. I don’t know if it’s from oral sex or just kissing, but if you come into contact with a lot of people you tend to get throat irritations.
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I also discovered you can’t always trust your partner to use a condom, even when you believe they are. Once I went out to this guy’s place and he was about to fuck me: I thought he was using a condom but when I looked around I saw the condom on the ground. I just went instantly cold. I said, "Where’s the condom?" He said, "It must have fallen off". I was beside myself: we’d agreed to use a condom and he’d probably not even put it on in the first place.
Once is maybe an accident but it happened again another time, with the same guy. We were camping one weekend and the same thing happened. I thought, "This guy’s mad!" We were in the Grampians, miles away from home, and I just wanted to get home as quickly as possible - it was horrible.
A footballer’s build
I’ve been tempted not to use a condom myself - very tempted. Late one night I was walking down the street and I met this guy. I gave him a lift home, it must have been about 28 degrees; it was a warm February night. When we got to his place his girlfriend was sleeping on the couch and he said, "Let’s go for a walk". This guy was seriously hot; he had a gorgeous body: a footballer’s build. We were walking through a park and all of a sudden he seemed to have an erection so we started doing things.
”I want you to fuck me”
He said, "I want you to fuck me". This must be the most beautiful person I’ve ever had sex with – and my condom was in the car. I thought, "What do I do?" He was saying, "I’ve never been with a guy before" and I thought, "Bullshit!" It was so tempting but I thought it’s so not worth it. We ended up not doing anything. Well, we played around but neither of us had an orgasm. I’ve always practiced safe sex. For me it’s been easy. I know that some guys have trouble keeping an erection with a condom, but I never had that problem.
It’s just self-preservation: I never wanted to catch a disease that I couldn’t get rid of. I didn’t want to have any health problems, particularly one like HIV, because it’s just so insidious. I always knew the choice was to either use protection or put myself at complete risk and there was no alternative for me; if I wanted sex, I used a condom.
I don’t use condoms during oral sex because I know the risks are very low. To the best of my knowledge, there are very few cases of men getting HIV from oral sex. I think I heard about this from having done ‘Young and Gay’ at the VAC back in 1995.
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My ex-partner and I didn’t use condoms but that was after we’d been through the process of getting HIV tests together and all that. We both knew what was required, that is, to get tested, and then, after the incubation period, to have a second test. After the doctor gives you the all clear on the second test its OK to stop using condoms together – if you’re monogamous. In that relationship there was no sex with other people at all.
We were using condoms together at first; that was for a few months. I think it was just a mutual decision to stop using condoms. We talked about it, made an appointment and went off to the doctor together, to the Prahran Market Clinic. We booked in together, as a couple.
Getting tested together
When you get tested as a couple, the doctor talks to you both and takes blood samples and then you book an appointment to come back and get the results. That way you both get the results together – hopefully good results – and talk about other vaccinations like Hepatitis A, B or whatever, so you know there’s a trust there. Because you’ve got the results together, you both know each other’s status and you can then have a conversation about what you can and can’t do: about what the boundaries of the relationship are.
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I did beats. It depended on the weather, my mood, where I was. At first I didn’t realise just how many beats there are out there. The first beat I ever went to was probably Sandridge at Port Melbourne back in 1996. I was working near there and one day this guy I was working with said, "I’m just going down to Sandridge". I said, "What’s Sandridge?" He explained it was a beat and told me all about it. I was excited that this place was near my work. I was literally working two minutes away.
I was very apprehensive but very curious. I drove past there a couple of times before I drove in. I was so nervous I was shaking. I could see all these cars and lots and lots of men - this was daytime. I drove straight in and out again. It took me a couple of times to get the confidence to get out of my car and walk around – not do anything, just walk around. I thought it was really exciting. I used to go and sit there and eat my lunch and watch all the men meeting each other and going into the bushes and coming back, which was entertaining. Eventually, I wandered around and participated. There were a couple of guys there I’d catch up with from time to time. We’d do things in the bushes or the toilet block. It was a good way to spend a lunch hour or after work.
No-one was using condoms
I saw things happening there that were amazing. There were things that you couldn’t describe; things that were scary. Once I saw this orgy happening in the bushes; there was one guy standing there and everyone was taking turns fucking him, but no-one was using condoms. I thought it was outrageous; I mean, one person could have passed something on to everyone else - everyone could have ended up with something.
I saw things I’d never seen before. I had all kinds of sex there – oral, anal, mutual masturbation and sometimes we’d just talk. I always took protection – never leave home without it! I’d leave some in the car, I’d keep some in my briefcase, because you never know. Be prepared!
After that, I discovered other places, by word of mouth. There were places I avoided because guys would get bashed there or even killed - Alma Park, for example.
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I’ve been a member of Aleph, the Jewish gay group, since 1995. We have functions throughout the year and we keep in touch as a network. I’ve also helped start a social group for GLBT Jewish youth called Young Aleph; it’s a spin-off of Aleph Melbourne. It’s predominantly university students; it’s very dynamic – they’re enthusiastic and they’ve enjoyed the events we’ve held so far. They marched in Pride March for the first time this year. We’ve had a couple of dinners – one of them was hosted by the parents of one of the organisers.
My Jewish heritage is important to me; it’s my identity in some way. If I don’t have a connection with my family and my community, my identity will diminish in some way. I’m Australian-born and to look at me you wouldn’t necessarily think that I was from any one particular country - I don’t look or sound especially different - yet my upbringing is different to most Australians.
Religion and homosexuality
Judaism is more than a religion; it’s also a way of life. For me there was no problem being Jewish and gay. Some people say it’s all in the interpretation of the Bible. Some people have a literal interpretation and others don’t. The Bible is all words that some people have written down way back when. These words were originally written to grow the tribe and as two men having sex together is not really productive for the community, in terms of having babies, homosexuality was banned. That then gets interpreted as meaning homosexuality is sinful and homosexuals should be put to death. I don’t actually believe that and a lot of others don’t – in fact no-one actually does believe it any more in civilised society. There are a lot of Jews in the Progressive movement for whom it’s not an issue.
I was talking last night to an Orthodox rabbi who is 32. I was talking to him about my sexuality and he told me that his wife has a gay and a lesbian cousin and that they have stayed with them. I thought, this is interesting; we have an Orthodox rabbi whose beliefs say it’s sinful to practice homosexuality, to have sex with another man, and yet in his immediate family there are people who are homosexual and he doesn’t have a problem with it. So, whilst there’s the general understanding that the conservative elements of a religion shouldn’t accept homosexuality, maybe now, as society is evolving, attitudes are changing. I have no issue around religion and sexuality. As long as you obey the laws of the country you are living in, and your own personal morals - you live to your own standards.
Michael is born and bred Melbournian who had a Jewish
Michael has an Eastern European, jewish background.