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 was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee. I lived here for the majority of my life, until recently when I moved to Florida. I found out I had type 1 diabetes when I was very young, only three years old. It was unfortunate, but I have long vowed never to let it slow me down.
Living with type 1 diabetes is not easy. It means that I spend a good deal of my day thinking about what I'm eating and how much insulin I'm taking... It's something that's always with me. It's always on my mind.
My parents have been married for over 37 years. I have a half-brother and a half-sister, both from my parents' previous marriages. When I was born, my brother was 13 and my sister was 14. It was almost like I had two sets of parents just because they were so much older than I was. I felt like I always had someone there, you know, who could help me with anything I needed.
Growing up, I went to a private school for the first eight years of school. It was a small classroom; I think there were maybe 30 kids in my class, total and everyone knew each other really well. There were people who didn't get along as well as others but, because it was such a small environment, we all accepted each other.
Then, before I started high school, I switched to a public school. I made the decision to switch to public school because they had school nurses. They had someone at the school who was a healthcare professional that would be there should I ever need it. It ended up being better for my education because there were more opportunities, more clubs to be involved in and more social interactions. There were about 250 people in my class at that point. It was challenging at first dealing with that many people all at the same time. But there was nothing I could really do to change it. So I learned to cope.
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I started at a local school and wasn't really sure what I wanted to do.
I met lots of people at college and I ended up getting a job at a bank through one of my friends. From there I spent about five years working for that bank while they helped pay for my college where I earned a Bachelor of Marketing and Management. In our school system a bachelor's degree is four years. But I was doing it part-time so I took about five-and-a-half years to graduate.
When I was out of my parent’s home and living on campus, I could really come and go as I pleased and do what I wanted. I had complete and total privacy with the exception of my roommate. I had the opportunity to get out and explore what I wanted to do with people I was attracted to. You know, college parties and those sorts of things.
The first time I kissed a guy was maybe six weeks after I started college. I had been in class with this person. I kind of knew a little bit about him and we got to know each other better. We ended up hanging out at a party after class one day and of course I was nervous around him. He could tell I was attracted to him, but I was nervous about kissing him. I had never kissed another guy, and this was all a new feeling to me. He and I first kissed one evening and it heated up from there. I quickly learned it was something I liked. He and I remained friends after that, but that was the first time that I'd ever touched another guy and messed around with anyone of the same sex.
During my first sexual encounter, I had no idea what I was doing at first. Like trial and error was how I learned along with watching clips on the internet.
At that point it was a big deal. I was comfortable knowing who I was but not with what I was doing. So I kind of struggled with it for a few days or a couple of weeks or so. I then just realised that that's who I was and that I just needed to learn how to deal with it.
A couple of weeks after that happened, I was still 18 and I went to the only real gay bar that was in this area at the time. It was probably a 45-minute drive or so from where I was staying for school. I went down with a couple of friends and we all went out dancing and had a good time. We ended up driving back to school really late in the night, or early in the morning. I think that was the first time I went to a gay bar. I thought it was great. I felt like I could be myself, do what I wanted to do and just be normal.
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The school that I went to required freshmen to live on campus. During my first semester away I decided to move back home and attend a different school close to home. I preferred to live at my parent’s house rather than staying on campus. I decided to come out to them about a month or so before I moved back into their house from school so that they would have time to adjust.
I was terrified. I come from a part of the country that is notoriously conservative. Fortunately for me, my parents are a little more open-minded than most people in this area and I think that that helped me be comfortable with who I am. They reacted positively.
I told my mother first and she had tears in her eyes.
She gave me a hug and said, "Son, I'll love you no matter what."
I asked her not to tell my dad at first but then I found out probably a week later or during that next week that she had told him. It was kind of awkward for a little while but he came around, he adjusted. I feel that he has always supported me.
I had relationships off and on during the remainder of my college years but none of them really lasted more than a year-and-a-half or so. The longest relationship I had while I was in college was with one of the first people I dated. He was about six years older than I was. I was 19 and he was 25. We both met at the bar through mutual friends because we were always at school together. His mother, who he lived with was very accepting so it was a good environment for the two of us.
The best thing about that relationship was the fact that it was my first serious relationship with someone who I enjoyed. We shared not the same professional goals but the same types of professional attributes. He knew what he wanted for his career and he was going to school for it and I was doing what I wanted to do.
I think the hardest part of that relationship was probably the distance. I was working in a different part of town then. He was close to school and my job was on the opposite side of town. I was working about 30 hours a week while I was going to school so that was the most difficult part of it.
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After I graduated I left the bank and went to work for a company that sold diabetes testing supplies. I thought that it would be a really good fit for me because I know so much about what they were selling. But the company actually ended up being a very bad company to work for. I developed a conflict of interest because I didn't agree with their business practices. I didn't agree with what they were charging insurance companies for the products that they were selling.
So I left there and actually went back to work at the bank where I worked while I was in college. I was back there for about another year when I received a bulk email distributed to everyone in our company from our marketing department. It was asking if anyone wanted to start a team for different events that were going on. One of those events was for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. I volunteered to lead our walk team for their major event and that was the first time I met with the woman who is now my boss.
They had another event in the spring which was a black tie dinner and fundraising event. I helped with their registration area and their accounting. Shortly after that they approached me about working for them. I was interested because the organisation means so much to me. So I started working for them two or three months after that. I now work for the organisation that means so much to me. I am a type 1 diabetic and their work benefits me – and millions of other around the world.
I think one of the very best things about what I do is the fact that there's almost never a day that goes by that I don't help someone with an issue that I've dealt with before or that someone doesn't say thank you to me for being able to relate to them.
It means a lot to do what I do.
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I graduated college in March of 2009 and a few months after I had probably the most serious relationship I‘ve had to this point. He and I were together for two-and-a-half years in total. We dated for about a year while he was in college still and I had already graduated from college. We broke up for about a month-and-a-half or two months and then we were together for another year-and-a-half after that.
During that short time that we were apart, we each kind of had our own things going on. He was dealing with finals, preparing for medical school, and things at home. I was dealing with a change in my job and we just found it really difficult to get along. So we decided to take a break from each other thinking that we would probably end up getting back together but we needed time apart to deal with our own things. We connected again after that and ended up getting back together.
A few weeks after we got back together, that's when he found out he was HIV positive.
It was devastating news for us. I was there to support him. I really wasn't sure what to do at first and I went back and forth with myself and realised that if this person was going to be the love of my life, I needed to be there for him no matter what – so that’s how it was going to be.
I was very worried about my own sexual health. We had had unprotected sex once or twice after we got back together. I think that the most upsetting part for him was that he was thinking he could have also given me HIV. I don't know that I would be able to deal with having type 1 diabetes as well as HIV. So I went and got tested as well. It was very nerve-racking.
Before his diagnosis when we started out dating, we had protected sex. We then both got tested and we were both negative so we began having unprotected sex. After we had split apart and got back together again, we had unprotected sex and then found out. We began having protected sex again, and that was pretty difficult. When we got my all clear, I think that was one of the happiest days of our relationship. We knew there was a very distinct possibility that I may also be infected. It was a huge relief for both of us!
I feel like the best sex of my life, to that point, was with my fiancé. This made it pretty difficult for us to deal with his diagnosis. It also made it hard for me to let go when we broke up.
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Neither of us really knew how to deal with it, not only because of me also having type 1 diabetes but he now was also having to deal with HIV. We managed to work through it.
After he had graduated from school we had been together for quite a while. Frequently, my partner would stay out late, partying and drinking. Occasionally he would end up not coming home and staying with his college classmates. This probably happened a total of three times. He knew that it was causing stress in our relationship, and promised it wouldn’t happen again. A couple months later we went on vacation and he surprised me by proposing to me. We had an extensive conversation about where we saw our relationship going and other things that were going on in our lives. We decided that we wanted to go for it.
We were not allowed to get married in Tennessee. The plan was to go and get married in one of those states in the U.S. that allows same-sax marriage. So our engagement went on for a few more months. During that time, he had gone out once with his friends again and stayed out late, and not come home. That was the snapping point for me. That's where I took our engagement ring off and said that I wasn't going to put it back on until I knew that he was serious about it. So the ring stayed off, in a box, in our closet.
One day the ring disappeared out of our closet. When I asked him about it he said that he had put it in a safe place and that we would discuss that at a later time. Our relationship was already pretty rocky and he was going out drinking even more. Things were not getting better. We weren't communicating well and, ultimately, ended up just deciding that it was not good for us to be together.
We broke up in January last year. It's taken me a few months to get over it but I feel, at this point, I can be friends with him again.
There was one person that I started seeing shortly after he and I broke up. Things were never great though and I knew that he wasn't going to be a long-term prospect. I definitely know now that he was my rebound guy.
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We have a community outreach program here for HIV prevention and other things that come along with that. They provide free HIV testing and they also have a case manager and that person was the one that was helping us deal with the diagnosis. We had a wonderful counsellor who gave us tips about using condoms and getting comfortable using them. The counsellor was available to discuss anything we wanted to talk about. He helped us navigate this difficult time and also helped me realize just how much I cared for my partner.
I decided to share my story because I want people to know that, even though you are dating someone that might be HIV positive, there are many things you can do to protect yourself, and your partner, from having to deal with another diagnosis in your relationship.