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 started using drugs when I was about 12 or 13, in early high school, which initially started with alcohol and taking pills. I was accessing both of these at home and using them before I went to school. A lot of it was around very secretive use, experimentation and hanging out with some older kids. Right from when I first started, it was all about getting really out of it and pushing the limits.
As I got a bit older I started hanging around pubs or clubs and hanging out with people who were much older. A lot of them were sex workers and had access to different drugs so as soon as I caught on that they were using other drugs, I would hassle them and hassle them because I wanted to try them.
The first time I used speed was at this club in the city which was open every night of the week. There were always lots of underage kids and I clearly shouldn’t have been there. It just became something my friends and I did together for a while.
A lot of my friends from that time were either able to stop, they died, were murdered or went to jail.
I managed to hold it together and ended up using speed every day for years and years. It wasn’t until much later on that meth came into the picture.
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Meth was obviously a lot stronger than speed and it seemed like an obvious choice for me to go from speed to meth.
When I first started using, I was injecting straight away.
I had some people help me because I had no idea what I was doing. This was all prior to HIV awareness and I had no idea about blood-borne viruses, Hep C or anything else like that.I certainly didn’t know about the HIV status of people I was injecting with. There was a real hierarchy around injecting practice whereby I’d end up going last because I was the youngest. The needles I would end up using had been used by a few others before me, which was a pretty high risk thing to do.
I was using in really dirty places, like nightclub toilets, public toilets and laneways. Sometimes in really secluded places with some other dodgy characters, using dirty equipment. Basically anywhere that was dark and private. This was before the time of needle exchange programs and you had to drive six or seven suburbs away to a pharmacy to access clean equipment. I didn’t have access to transport or anything so I was really dependent on other people for equipment.
In some ways, that level of danger was part of the enticement as well. Being young, I enjoyed hanging around with dangerous people doing dangerous things as it just added to the excitement.
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Midway through the first couple of years of me using, HIV awareness came onto the scene. It was really difficult for me as a young person to go into clinics to get tested without feeling judged or without getting a lecture from the nurses.During that time, things were really different – drug use was really frowned upon and harm minimisation was nowhere to be seen. People were not having those conversations and the answer was always, “just don’t do it!” That doesn’t really sink in with a young person who was using and having a good time with it.
Lots of my friends tested positive for HIV which was a bit of a deterrent but also helped us get more educated around what we were doing. We tried to change our behaviours where we could, but there were still times when we were either pushed for time or money or just didn’t care.
When we got our hands on our drugs, we just wanted to use, no matter what and we took a lot of risks.
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When meth came into my life, everything changed. I went from using drugs with other people in the party scene as a way to fit in with people to only using it on my own and only at home. I was still using every day, very secretively and it was a way of keeping other people away. I managed to get through day-to-day stuff like going to work and keeping things in order which made everything look okay from the outside.
The truth is, I was using every day and I couldn’t stop. I was completely out of control.
Using on my own and keeping it a secret suited me in a lot of ways because it meant I wasn’t accountable to anyone. I didn’t have to show anyone how disgusting my life had become and I didn’t have to share my drugs with anyone.
It got to a point where I was so out of control that I really wanted to stop, but I didn’t know how to stop. I would wake up every day wanting to kill myself
I didn’t know where to go for help.
My drug use was completely to the point where it was becoming really dangerous. There was a lot of unsafe sex, lots of sharing needles and hanging out with dangerous people a lot of the time. I would end up doing things I didn’t want to do in order to get my drugs. I had become everything that I never wanted to be and was going against all my values, with no idea how to stop.
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My first attempts at stopping were horrendous. I had no support and I hadn’t accessed any kind of therapy. I hadn’t done any work on myself and I was just a person who had been addicted to drugs and after trying to stop, I was completely miserable.
Along the way, I came across some other people who had managed to stop using for the first time. I had never met anyone who had been through what I had before that. I was able to ask these people for some help and basically try to copy what they were doing. They were taking steps in their life to keep themselves safe to get out of the habit.
For the first time, I was able to surround myself with people who weren’t using, drinking or in the party scene.
Making these connections were key for me because it allowed me to get away from it. I had been doing what I had been doing for so long that I had no networks outside of that circle and no idea how to get out of it. Engaging with people who had gone through what I had was so important because it helped me with accessing services and support groups that were able to help. Seeing other people managing to do it was so important for me because it made me realise that finding a way out of the big hole I was in was actually an option. I never thought I could get out of this before.
When I attempted to stop again, I had a lot more support and managed to do a lot more work on myself. I worked through understanding why I had used in the first place and why I had used in that way. I was able to revisit my values and maintain them as well as understand what I wanted out of life. I was able to set goals for myself, go back to school and have healthy relationships with people. I had blocked out my family for a really long time and I managed to re-establish with them again.
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The whole process of moving away from that was really difficult for me because I had grown up in the gay/queer scene and I really identified with it for most my life. I put up a lot of resistance to leaving because I had to separate from people who had been my peers for a really long time but were no longer a safe option. Going to pubs and clubs were also no longer a safe option and I just had to give up a lot of it.
I had to let go of socialising in the queer scene because everything is so focused on alcohol and drugs or being around all that sort of stuff. I found it really difficult breaking out and having to find another identity away from it all.
It felt like walking away from family in some regards. Even though it was incredibly unsafe to hang around with those people, they were still my people. I cared about them deeply but I had to make the cut in order to save my own life. I felt pretty humiliated by it all because it felt like I was being judged. I couldn’t understand why these other people were able to stop and I wasn’t. I had to find ways of being part of the community but also be away from drugs and alcohol because in my experience, everything I ever did in the community was in some way associated with alcohol and drugs.
It has been a really long process trying to work out a new identity away from the queer scene but also within it as well. I have managed to come to a place where I still feel like I belong but without feeling like I have to engage in alcohol and drugs to belong. I give myself permission to not take part in certain things. I don’t feel obligated to go out for a drink or go to pubs and clubs. I am really careful now with who and where I hang around these days.
I still miss it sometimes and I really do feel like I’m missing out at times but that was a decision I had to make. I have been able to stick with it for a while now and I have found other things in my life that I strongly identify with. I am able to stick to my values now and whilst it was a really tough, the pay-off has been really worth it and I’m really glad I did it.
Having said that, I still look at people now who are using or drinking and I do get pangs of jealousy. I do wish I was able to do it in a safe way but the way I was using just wasn’t safe at all.
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Nowadays, there are a lot more services available to people and the attitude of health care workers are completely different. There are non-judgemental services geared up primarily to support people who inject drugs. People can access as much equipment and information as they like if they wanted to continue using.If people want to access treatment services, they can do that too. That kind of help was nowhere to be seen when I was using.
For young people using now, there is a lot more support. It is a lot less punitive than it used to be and people don’t need to take the risks that I was forced to take. I think it’s really important that people know, no matter where they are at with their drug use, there is help and support out there for them – whether they want to keep using or stop.
I haven’t used any drugs or alcohol for nearly ten years now.
I am so much happier with who I am now and have developed a lot more life skills. I am a lot more assertive and able to communicate with people. I don’t feel like I have to get trashed to be around people anymore and I think that is one of the biggest changes – I don’t have to alter myself with chemicals to feel comfortable with myself and other people.
For more stories that explore meth use amongst gay, bisexual and trans men, visit Touchbase Stories.
For more information on drugs and alcohol, how they work, how to stay safe, what happens when you mix your drugs, how they interact with your meds or hormones, or how they could affect your mental health, visit Touchbase.org.au
Re-Wired is a free, eight week program run by VAC for men who have sex with men (MSM) aimed at helping you to learn skills and strategies to change your methamphetamine use and better manage your mental health. For more information, visit Therapeutic Groups.