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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Childhood was hell because it's hard being a child and it is even harder to be a parent. Parents have to look after themselves as well as the children they bring into this world. It's even harder when you add in the pressure from society that expects you to make a living and be a good provider for your family as well asbeing a protector of the life style you want your kids to grow up in. Sometimes you don't have a say into what life you are born into.
Violence in the homes is common nowadays.I don't like that truth but I don't know any child who says they had amazing parents. The perfect family is a fairy tale - like the stories of Peter Pan, children don't want to grow up. Once you grow up you can’t go back.
I was diagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as a child and I'm assuming that means I still have that disorder as an adult, though it cost a lot of money to have a doctor tell you what you already know. As a child with ADHD there was never a dull day. I guess everyone is in control of how dull their life can become. School was no easy task for me, as there are a lot of other kids. The battle of being the person you feel inside is a hard task when no one knows who they are. Growing up comes with pain and a lot of joy!
Family life at home wasn’t the easiest. My parents went through hell with me. My middle brother was severely depressed, he was very anti-social and didn’t come out of his room, so didn’t finish school. My dad had anger management issues, my older brother was very quiet and my mum tried to do the best she could.
I wouldn’t say there was violence at home, my father never intentionally hit us but when you’ve got a child with ADHD, a middle brother with depression and a father with an anger problem – things would get broken often.
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Being a gay male has a lot of shame associated with growing up. We haven't had many good role models in media to help us define what a good gay male looks like.
The playground of life is harder when people throw food at you everyday just for walking through the lunch hall.
That was my experience every lunch time at my school.Then again, I never did like bullies – that’s probably why I smile so much. Bullies are really weak at using their words. They use their fists instead. With my personality and ADHD on top of that, we have a winning combination of smarts and smart ass. It was always a pleasure when taking on bullies in the play ground. Their house of cards is always weaker than my deck of cards. The queen of hearts has a way of winning the battle in life.
As a child, finding a true passion for life is often too hard because you are trying everything for the first time but it is very rewarding. Parents push their kids into sports or an academic path; it is the role of a good parent to do the best for their children, no matter the cost. It seems that you are either book smart or creatively inclined. Singing spice girls at school while dancing with other boys had a darker side I was unaware of at the time. If you sing around and dance around school you get labelled as a girl. As you grow up you learn words and other labels which once where unknown to you.
For instance, in school I learnt what gay people were, or what it meant to be coloured, or from another country. At first we were just boys and girls, now we are so much more than that. Being different than just a boy or a girl came at a cost to my own self worth at the time. As you grow up, people learn how to shame others for being different. For me this resulted in a lot of self harming behaviour which came at a price.The liberty of privacy and being a shadow in the night came at a cost. A sentence I would not wish on even my enemies.
Dance, however, saved my life. As a child I found my passion of life and I didn’t worry about the labels because I could dance away the pain.
I got expelled or at least suspended from nearly every school that I attended. I started off at a private school then public school. I went to an all-boys school where I lasted half a year, then a co-ed school where I lasted another year. I ended up staying at Geelong Grammar School where I think I have the record for being suspended the most amount of times over all three campuses. The Toorak campus, the Timbertop campus and the Corio campus – so technically I got expelled from Timbertop but the same school three times.
I ended up being put on Ritalin from Year 4 for ADHD and it really helped in a sense. It calmed me down but it made me zombified and I had less of a personality. It was very productive for everybody else for me to be on Ritalin. It meant that I calmed down, stopped being a little brat and everybody else could learn which helped my teachers bring harmony to the larger group. I hated it because it dulled the parts of my personality which I thought shined. Never let anyone or anything ever dull your sparkle! In Year 5 I found my passion for dance and devoted the rest of my schooling to dancing. I was obsessed! Jazz, Tap, Ballet and my favourite Contemporary/Lyrical. I had a lot of energy and would dance five or six times a week and still have more energy left over!
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I identify as a male. I am 100% gay but I prefer to identify as male only because I don’t think there should be a difference. People are just people whether we’re gay, straight or bisexual. I have known I was gay for as long as I remember.
It’s difficult to pin point because it’s like asking anyone else, “how long have you known you were straight?” It’s not like I woke up one day and thought, ‘oh shit, I like penis.’
In school I was very honest and open about my sexuality and have been openly gay since Year 6. A lot of guys in school would go out of their way to harass me about it. It never stopped and only got worse the older I got. My best friend at the time was also gay, another friend of ours was bisexual and another friend was straight. It got to a point where our straight friend couldn’t hang out with us anymore because he couldn’t take the bullying. He got bullied for being friends with the gay boys in school.
I was expelled from Timbertop in year 9 for being in a girls’ dormitory at midnight. I was only talking to some of my female friends but I did break the cardinal rule where no boys could pass a certain boundary of the boarding school. I was only sitting next to one of the girls but two other boys and I got made an example of for breaking the rules. They even had the “one-metre” rule where you literally weren’t allowed within one metre of the opposite sex. It was their attempt at trying to control the students. How are you supposed to control adolescence with raging hormones and charged sexual energy, confined in the middle of the remote bush? An impossible task!
We could take it because we’d just laugh it off and sing Spice Girls’ ‘Stop Right Now’ and do the dance. It was hard to be a straight male with gay friends. He couldn’t handle it in the end and had to change schools. It was sad to lose a friend because of other people’s problems with my sexuality.
The bullying got worse when I went to boarding school at the Geelong Campus. The only support I received from my head of house was he told my best friend’s parents that she shouldn’t hang out with me anymore, that I was a bad influence on her and that I would damage her success at school. Her parents told him politely to “fuck off”. I am still friends with her to this day. That was the kind of schooling environment I was stuck in – that was my teacher.
Standing up to bullies is always hard when you are up against packs of men. I just dealt with it like I deal with everything else. It’s their fear, their insecurity and their problem, not mine. Own who you are, not what someone says you should be.
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From the age of 17, I worked as a professional dancer but then stopped at 20 years old. There were three reasons as to why I stopped. The first being that in that industry, people over the age of 35 still worked at cafes and didn’t have a lot of money but followed their dreams and gained wealth of inner peace instead of materials. Secondly, I wanted a lifestyle with security so I thought that if I stayed dancing I likely wouldn’t have been able to buy a house, or have a life which would be sustainable. I loved to dance but at the end of the day, what would my life look like? Thirdly, I became addicted to crystal meth from 18 to 20 years old.
I used to rock up to gigs so high that one of my mentors turned around in front of everyone and said, “you look like a fucking junkie, what the fuck are you doing?”
That shocked me to my core and I refused to go back into a dance studio because of my drug usage. I was ashamed of who I had become. A fine line for me, the social user or the social needer.
I quit meth because it got to a point where it was out of control. On a New Year’s Eve I had not slept for three days, high on GHB and meth, people were filming me outside the Market Hotel because I was that far gone. At the time I didn’t care but looking back I should have cared, I was that blotto I was a shell of the man I wanted to be. I also had crashed into a parked car because I fell asleep at the wheel only a few weeks before trying to stay awake without substances. I turned around and locked myself at home for two weeks and that was that. I gave up drugs and I gave up dancing. I gave up dancing which was my passion in life. I went from doing it every day for nearly five years to not at all. I had to find another passion.
After giving up dancing, retail gave me people and movement. I could be in a store that had music on so I could do twirls and dance around to most customers’ appreciation. A customer actually complained that I danced too much in store. Thankfully they told the customers that they enjoyed my spirit and work ethic. It was nice to be supported by a company. Work was one of the main reasons I was able to stay clean from meth. Working somewhere that challenges you as well as supports you gave me connection which I had lost during my battle with drugs.
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Standing up to bullies has become second nature to me, odd but something I am not use to doing is stand up for myself. I never thought I would feel the way I do now about standing up for who I am! This year I have been assaulted four times. In only 6 months I have defended myself for being gay, defended myself against taunts of being too flamboyant or too effeminate.I’ve had to stand up for my belief in God despite it contradicting the mainstream view of “Man Made” religion. I’ve been dragged from my car by the collar, throwing me around effortlessly whilst yelling, “I’m going to kill you”. I’ve even received death threats via text from my so called family and physical beatings from a so called brother. Has mankind really sunken to a new low of self control and the simple label that I am gay gives another man the right to assault another man? Has mankind really sunken this low?
Owning who I am has come at a cost, one which you can’t buy, one which I have willingly earned when you stand up to giants and are as impulsive as I am. I was born with the fight not flight gene, no matter how big a challenge I stand my ground in the heat of battle. I stand up for the right to be who I am!
The only difference between this year and my previous 28 years of my life is that this year I stopped physically fighting back. I value the ability to use my words to win my battles. Most men who come up against me can’t use their words to save themselves. No matter the scars, I’m proud that I can stand up for who I am. One day I hope I don't have to stand up for being who I am, one day I hope it is accepted in our society to be homosexual.
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If you get to know me, I am an alright person - I am really kind and sweet, most of the time I hope. A lot of the time there are assumptions made of what type of person I really am. People perceive what they want to, not what is always the true reflection of who I am. Not portraying the truth probably comes from hating yourself. It took me a long time to come to terms with loving myself and being ok with being gay. It has taken me nearly 30 years to be able to say that I genuinely love the person I have am and have become – imperfections and flaws.
I have seen HIV play a large negative role in other people’s life, especially when it came to people close to me. I have met and been exposed to the effects of a HIV diagnosis long before I became positive. At one stage I had a boyfriend who had HIV. He hated everyone and was so negative in his approach to life. He thought it was okay for him to not disclose his status if people who didn’t ask. He would respond with, “well that’s his fault for not asking.” I would respond with saying, “that’s someone’s livelihood,” and I could never understand it. I never will be able to understand people who willingly want to harm others out of spite or a sense of ignorance.
My second boyfriend also had HIV, he was a drug addict and he was one of the sweetest, nicest most beautiful boys I’ve ever met in my entire life. He did hate everyone though, he hated himself the most, he hated the person who gave it to him – it caused him to lose his sparkle for life. HIV caused him so much grief and caused him to turn to drugs in a dangerous way.
I am quite lucky in a sense because drugs have always been kind to me. Drugs didn’t actually do all the bad in my life. They were never as bad to me as the people in my life who were sober. I turned to drugs as a result of that. Drugs don’t lie, they don’t cheat, they don’t mislead you.
They tell me all their side effects of what can happen and I can always find them no matter the warning signs. They’re always on-hand or just around the corner. People are not so open and honest as the warning on the packet of smokes. People are never there to help you when you need it. No one can help you.
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My insecurities killed me, but then I got a second chance. HIV is my second chance. If I do good by it, it will do good by me.If I take my medication, if I live a healthy or reasonably healthy lifestyle I’ll be okay. That doesn’t mean you have to stop partying or you can’t live, it just means you need to manage it and live a balanced life. Harm minimisation instead of stopping completely. If you take care of yourself you can have the same life expectancy as anybody else. What other disease gives you that chance? Cancer definitely doesn’t. I’m not glad that I am HIV positive, but I am glad for the chance to change the parts of my life which were self destructive.
I was on PrEP for a month and I then contracted HIV a month later. There was only a two month window between when I got HIV and my last known negative diagnosis, so I can narrow it down pretty accurately.
Unfortunately within that two month period I had shared a needle, even if I cleaned it, I still shared a needle. Somebody wanted to overdose me and I let him.
I watched him give me more than a single portion but conceal the amounts that he was trying to do – I even told him to up the dosage. I even ended up running into a wall which resulted in me bleeding from head to toe. I just wanted to be numb. This was all before I got my HIV diagnosis. I wanted the pain within me to just STOP. I knew what I was doing, it was as if I wanted to kill myself slowly. Failing in life over and over became common for me. One step forward, two steps back.
The day I found out I had contracted HIV was a day I’ll never forget, I went straight from the doctor to my drug dealer’s house and put a needle in my arm. That was at about 3pm in the afternoon and at 8am the next morning, I went to go and start treatment. I was still high, I hadn’t slept but I walked into a clinic in Sydney and said, “hi, I was diagnosed with HIV yesterday, I need to start treatment.” Three weeks after I started treatment and I am undetectable, and I am no longer a risk to others or to myself.
Everything is a journey and nothing happens overnight. With everything that we go through, we fail over and over again. I have failed millions of times in my life but I will never stop trying to be a better version of myself since my diagnosis. I have been in so much pain and I wanted to consider suicide and I have hated myself for 20 years. Pretty much until the age of 29, which I am right now, I haven’t cared about my future. I haven’t cared about what I’ve done, haven’t cared about who I had sex with and I haven’t cared about a serious relationships. If you can’t love yourself how the hell are you going to love somebody else!
I got to a point recently where I was done with feeling like shit. I was done with hating myself and I was done with doing drugs. I was done with waiting for people to change, hoping the world would accept me for me. I was done with society and their views of gay people and the inequality we have in my government’s legal system. I was done with my own personal view of who I am. I have never really had a positive gay role model to look up to,
I was constantly told that I was wrong and that being gay was a disease. I have become the role model I lacked in childhood. I hope I can inspire other people to write their stories
HIV looks different these days compared to what it used to. Treatment is significantly better than it was, stigma has majorly reduced and the community reducing it through education and campaigns. Diabetes can be worse than HIV in some ways – someone might shoot me for saying that, but I think it’s true. HIV is a manageable and sometimes diabetes isn’t as easy to manage as HIV.
I know some people who have gotten HIV and have gone down the rabbit hole so to speak, allowing themselves to let their diagnosis control their lives. They don’t care about getting Syphilis, Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea from ‘Party n Play’ parties.They partake in unsafe sexual practices, they’ve stopped testing regularly and they’re not taking their medication as prescribed, so their virus is actually becoming resistant to the medication. They have the potential to ruin all the current medication effects because they’re in such a bad head space and they’re letting it happen with the self-sabotage.
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It turns out that when speaking to drug addicts and from my own personal experience, I realised all we want to do is drugs because they don’t know what else to do. That is how I have been able to put down the drugs and having pride in what you do is what keeps me determined to do it. I take pride in my appearance, so I eat good food from the earth and enjoy fast food on occasion. Ice cream will always be one of my favourite meals because it’s not a meal it’s a treat. I exercise because it makes me feel good and helps keep me looking good.
I take pride in my work, which is why I have always been successful. I work hard and put in overtime. I have pride in my social skills and ability to talk to most people. I get along with nearly everyone except those who only have negative things to say or complain a lot. I don’t get along with those people because I find them a little empty and boring.
Since my diagnosis in January, I don’t want to be a sad song, I just want to dance to my own song. I don’t know how to create music but I feel like music knows me. It knows what I’m thinking as well as how I’m feeling. Music makes me feel proud of whom I am and the journey I am on.
If you are struggling with a choice and don’t know how to move forward - stop, look and listen to what you want. If you don’t know what you want, then you have to figure out that first.
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Telling my story is pretty scary. I have three sides to my personality. Brave Nathan says, “hell yeah, I don’t care what people think.” Then there is inner Nathan who is very caring, calm and loving but worries about what people might say and then there’s a third side of me who is in a world of his own. The free spirit who dances every night and every day. I’m scared of what my next employer might think if they see this campaign, I’m scared for being associated with HIV and the ramifications on my life and scared of the judgement of society. My HIV diagnosis sent my world into chaos, among a long list of other situations pushing me down.
With some time and space I feel at peace with the idea of telling my story. Its only words, it’s only my past, it doesn’t define my future. ‘Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.’ I can hope. I wanted to ground myself and become a better version of myself. I have come to terms with sharing this openly and talking about having a drug problem and life problems. So what if people are going to find out, I’m sure they’ve got one or two problems too! I’m sure they have an addiction or some sort of issue. Most people in life have issues and we all have to deal with our own shit in our own time. This is my way of dealing with my life, by letting it be. Letting it go, letting go of the power of shame and embracing the new path of my life.
It is impossible, improbable and impractical to believe that you’re alone in life. In my darkest hours when I considered suicide, I was so alone and isolated.
Support is only a phone call away, a phone call which saved my life. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’ve come from, we are all in the same boat - this world is isolating, it’s cruel and it is painstakingly destructive to our identity and if you allow it, this world will eat you up and spit you out. Stand up and help yourself by reaching out to the support networks out in your local community. Connect to people around you.
The devil inside of us will take your soul if you allow him to take control. You must remember that you need to help yourself and choose to be a better version of yourself. You will fail but that is ok, I have failed a million times but never lose sight of the light of a new day. It’s not easy or simple and it won’t happen in a day but just know you’re never alone. Make the choice and choose to be better version today, than you were yesterday and if you fail, try again. Please never stop trying to be a better version of who you are. The day you stop learning is the day we die. Death is the only rock bottom I believe in. I am not willing to ever give up on who I am, or who I want to be - whoever that will turn out to be. Hopefully by sharing my story, someone who may be alone like I was might read my story and take comfort in knowing they’re not alone in their pain.
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Life has a way of kicking you while you’re down. It throws us a curve ball when we least expect it, causing us to lose balance and fall over until we stand up again. Suicide is a choice, not a solution for today's problems. Life can always get worse, no matter the pain you already carry on your shoulders. Like atlas, fainted to carry the weight of the world on his back. Pain is not designed to be easy, it's designed to hurt you any way it can. Life is full of pain but what we forget when we feel pain is that it only lasts as long as we are willing to try to be better. Being in the moment and living for every moment is the meaning of life. It gets easier with time but never leaves our hearts.
A rabbi reminded me at my best friend’s father’s funeral earlier this year that words are just a part of language, but language is made up of more than just words. The way we walk, is just beyond the words written on a page or heard by our ear. Words are only true if they are followed by true actions. If we intend good, only good can happen. If we intend to hate, hate becomes us. It's only takes a moment to forget about what we truly want for ourselves and not the people we are yelling at.
Feeling isolated and fearing being alone nearly caused me to commit suicide but clearly I won that battle on those dark days.
I didn’t follow through because I decided to take a breath. Three deep breaths and mutter to myself “it will get better, you will get through this”. The pain of loneliness and being isolated at some point changes. I didn’t kill myself because of the small things in life. The birds, the ocean, trees in a forest, the power and fury of a storm ending with a rainbow, fire at night around a camp fire I remember on a safari in Africa, nature in its finest glory with wild lions, zebra and giraffes the gentle giants, peoples laughter, smiles and the history culture they have lived and are passing on through generations of families.
Mankind has a lot to proud of even in the darkest moments of our history. The beauty of life is far more important than the pain in life. My personal trainer use to always tell me that pain only lasts while you push the boundaries of your own personal limitations. If you can find the beauty in a bottle of water or in the rain, you can find the beauty in life.
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The aim of staying negative is to give a voice to your own personal experience to hopefully aid in the understanding of health practises to staying negative. This for me has caused a trail of thought - on one hand, I don’t know how I got HIV. I have had unprotected sex several times, in hindsight, sometimes a little too drunk. I practised safe standards with my issues along the way. There is the other side of the coin where I know that some people in this world believe it is ok to infect another human with HIV and it is the victims’ fault for not being safer. I have met quite a few of these people along my travels and some I have been in relationships with.
If you chose to live a good life, a life of self respect and dignity, you will stay negative. If on the other hand that choice is taken away from you, at least you will be a positive type of guy like myself. Most people I have met in this life are really positive influences in my life. All those negative people will never understand what it’s like to be called a positive guy. I’m proud of being positive. I walk with my head held high and a little jazz in my step. Hopefully by being a positive role model for my community, I can inspire others to be the same. This means more to me than anything else in this world.
OWN WHO YOU ARE AND EMBRACE LIFE - DO NOT EMBRACE WHAT OTHERS THINK WHO YOU SHOULD BE. Thank you for reading a small part of my story, there is more to life than the pages we write. Life is worth living.