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 in Bendigo in country Victoria during the 1970’s, so that makes me… older than I wish I was! Growing up in the country, I didn’t have any positive exposure to sexuality. As a kid, I felt different from other people; I was attracted to both sexes so it was really confusing. Back then, in the media, you were either straight (normal) or gay (strange), with no in-between. I had no idea what was going on. I knew I wasn’t Straight but I knew I wasn’t Gay.
At High School, I mostly chose friends based on my perception of their sexuality. If there were any doubts about someone’s sexuality then I stayed away from them. Some of the people I hung around with were a bit homophobic, but I was hoping to hide behind them. I look back now and wonder about the friendships I missed out on.
I also developed a bit of a crush on a girl, who had absolutely no interest in me other than as a friend. I followed her around like a lost puppy for two or three years. Again, it was a way of hiding the truth, distracting others (and myself) from what was going on inside my head.
My first sexual experience.
My first sexual experience was with another guy when I was about 15 and afterwards I pretended that it didn’t happen. It was just kids fooling around - it wasn’t anything serious; just blow jobs. I didn’t say no when he started coming onto me and everything was going along nicely when all of a sudden I realised; this isn’t straight sex! What if we get caught? We’ve got to stop! I got dressed as fast as I could and that was the end of it.
These days people might think that oral isn’t such a big thing, but it had a huge impact on me back then as a kid. Maybe I was in such denial that I just pretended he didn’t exist, but I can’t recall seeing him after that at all, ever. I pretended it didn’t even happen for another ten years.
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I met my wife when I was 17. She had a show on a community radio station and I rang her up one night. She played an album straight through as we just kept talking on the phone. We had quite a few phone conversations over the next two or three months.
I was in Year 11 at the time and she was out of school – she’s older than I am by a year or two. I dropped out of school, got some small jobs, did some building apprenticeship training. I did miserably at that! I got some dead-end jobs, then one that was so bad that I went back to school.
My first child was born when I was 18 but our daughter was no accident. Having kids wasn’t about proving I was straight – I wanted kids - but that was one of the benefits of it.
We got along quite well for a few years and had a second child in 1999. Over 18 months we built a house together in Bendigo as owner/builders (it’s still standing). But the thoughts of my sexuality started to come back to the surface again. When they did, I distracted myself by working harder or longer to avoid thinking about it.
We had just built the house and were trying to pay it off. Things in the job weren’t going so well. I was getting pretty stressed and it got to the point where she asked me to leave. Looking back, I really was being a complete and utter bastard to live with and she was well within her rights to kick me out under the circumstances. I wouldn’t have wanted to live with me as I was back then either.
One of the best things that happened to me was losing my job in Bendigo on Christmas Eve. I was doing a lot of military and government contract work that I found stressful as well; I didn’t ethically agree with some of the projects we were working on.
I was looking around Bendigo wondering where else I was going to work but I didn’t see anyone I wanted to work for, so I jumped ship and moved to Melbourne. We were still separated at that point. I moved down to Melbourne on my own and I haven’t really looked back. In the three years since, I’ve hardly been back to Bendigo.
I guess that’s because in Melbourne I feel I don’t have to walk a certain way or worry that I’m holding my hands the wrong way. Whenever I went back to Bendigo I could feel it coming back on again – that tension of having to put on the Straight persona again.
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I’d actually started to think about who I really was before I moved down to Melbourne. I had to admit to myself that I wanted to fuck guys, but I also couldn’t pretend I was never sexually attracted to my wife. I was visiting the Country Awareness Network office in Bendigo when I had my first real chance to find out about bisexuality and that it was a legitimate choice. After a lot of thought I realised that pretending to be gay would be the same as pretending to be straight; I wasn’t going to be gaining anything from that.
I now hate describing sexuality as a choice; I see it as something that just is, but also something that can change over time. We can try to force our behaviour into a shape that others find acceptable, but it is never something that we chose.
It’s all about personality.
For me it’s all about personality. I’ve had sex with both genders and for me it’s really down to personality. I don’t have a tendency for one gender or the other. I can be shallow though! If someone puts a photo of a naked male and a naked female in front of me, I might think that one person is more sexually attractive than the other - but it’s a decision based on the confidence that person displays in themselves and their body, not their gender. For me it doesn’t matter what you have in your pants.
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After I moved to Melbourne I joined a group called GAMMA and met some really great people there, one or two of who I’m still pretty good friends with. We went and did the clubs, a few beers at each other’s houses and that sort of stuff. I went to all these wonderful new places that Bendigo didn’t have.
I couldn’t dance for shit!
I wouldn’t say I picked up a great deal in the first few months but I went out there trying. I wasn’t really good at flirting and I had absolutely no idea how to do it with guys. It was really scary. I had absolutely no confidence in myself because for the last thirty years I’d been telling myself that I was this horrible person.
I went with some of my GAMMA mates to the Greyhound and it was the first time I had ever danced at a club. I was on the dance-floor – sober, no drugs – and I was dancing. I suddenly realised; this is so different, I’m actually enjoying it, why haven’t I done this before? I was finally allowing myself to be me and I wasn’t holding myself back. I knew at the same time that I couldn’t dance for shit but I just didn’t care!
I had a really incredible experience when I picked up once on the bus. I was just in a good mood. I felt bit of a vibe from this guy, flirted and actually asked for his phone number. It turned out he lived the next suburb over from me. I called him the following week and he ended up a one-time fuckbuddy. It got a little bit awkward because things just weren’t moving smoothly. I’d spent so much time pretending to be Straight I still had this whole thing of specific passive/aggressive gender roles going through my head. I was still getting over the taboos too; “Can I do this? Can I do that?”
Experiencing the Scene for the first time can be exciting and terrifying. It is best not to go by yourself. Try looking up a youth group in your area – that might be a good way of making other gay friends to go with or if you have already come out to your friends maybe they will go with you. You should always think of your personal safety when you are out in pubs and clubs – if you go home with someone, make sure your friends know where you are going and who with.
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I went to a few queer groups looking for a bit of support. I knew that I was having problems with depression and that I needed help with it. All of them helped in their own way, but some a lot more than others. Bi-Victoria. I contacted Bi-Victoria after being in Melbourne for a while. The people were really supportive and knew exactly what it was I was going through. That’s where I met my male partner. I can’t remember if it was a social or a discussion meeting we were having. We met a few times, dated and kind of just hooked up and we’ve been partners since.
He introduced me to the idea of Polyamory, where people have relationships with more than one person at a time, while being open and honest about it. When I was first coming around to the fact that I was Bi, I thought that my future relationships were going to be reasonably short-lived and would seesaw between male and female. Poly though is an alternative to serial monogamy.
Some people would say I have two primary relationships, but I don’t like classing them like that because it values one type of relationship higher than ones that they would call secondary.
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I think I would have been denying a very big part of myself if I’d just decided it would be easier to be either straight or gay when I wasn’t. I still would have been denying who I really was and limiting the experiences in life that I could have. I don’t feel thinking I was Gay would have made it any easier than being Bi.
I’ve marched in Pride March with Bi and Poly Vic here in St Kilda and I’ve heard comments shouted at us from the crowd about bisexuals being Gays who haven’t come out yet: “Decide!”, “Stop being greedy!”, “You’re only transitioning!” – things like that. It’s really depressing to be among this supposedly queer-friendly people and still have these comments made. You even get comments in the Gay press about Bi’s just transitioning, but as one of my friends put it, “He’s been transitioning for thirty years!”
I had a t-shirt made up that was just an ‘I’ and a love-heart on my chest for when I marched in Mardi Gras. It was an open statement that Bisexuals love without limitations. I was hoping we wouldn’t have criticisms from the crowd at Mardi Gras but we did. I walked up to them with my I LOVE t-shirt on and lifted it up to show “EVEN YOU!” written on my stomach. That shut people up, which was good!
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I’d been in Melbourne about six months and it was the usual separation arguments about the kids and all that sort of stuff. I decided to sign up and do Momentum (a peer education workshop at the Victorian AIDS Council). It’s like an intro or catch-up course to being queer - it’s not really a support group for coming out - but it ended up being a good space to have around me while I went through the process.
My thirtieth birthday was coming up so I decided to take the plunge and come out as a new beginning, having a re-birth day, so to speak. I went up to Bendigo, had the birthday dinner and all that sort of thing with the kids and her at the house we’d built together. After the kids went to bed, I sat down with her and said: “There’s something I want to talk to you about. When we got together I said that you weren’t the first person I’d had sex with; one thing I didn’t tell you is that it was a guy and that I’m queer”.
She loves reminding me how I was so nervous when I told her that my eyebrows were quivering! I’d gone to the house making sure I had enough money to take a taxi out of there because I really felt that she was going to kick me out again. Instead she just leaned across, held my hand and said, “Sweetie, I’ve known for years.” All I could say was “Why the fuck didn’t you tell me?!” All these years pretending to be straight and it turns out she knew anyway. Mind you, she had me in drag on the second date so that might have been a bit of a giveaway!
If you are looking for support, friends or tools to help you with coming out. Go to the coming out page for all this and more.
I told her that I had a boyfriend and she felt like she was now the ‘other’ partner. I explained Polyamory to her and she was like, “OK, I have no idea how that could work, but we’re not fighting, we’re talking and that’s great”. We slept together that night - no sex - but we slept together when for the past nine months we’d been at each other’s throats.
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I decided I was going to have to come out to my kids straight away or I would never find the right time to do it. The day after I came out to my wife we all went out to a park and I told the kids. I said, “Remember the guy that we watched a movie with one night? Well, I’m queer and he was actually my boyfriend.” They just said, “Oh, OK: let’s go climb that tree!” It just wasn’t an issue. They were about six and eleven at the time but I was still worried that they might reject me.
Momentum helped me understand that I had a lot of internalised homophobia. When I began to realise I was queer, I didn’t want to put myself alone with my kids, I didn’t even go into their rooms to say goodnight. I just felt that if anyone ever found out about me not being Straight, they’d think I was a paedophile or something. I thought that no one trusted queers around kids. I know I was wrong, but I just felt it was safer not to be around the kids. I just didn’t want to run the risk of being perceived that way.
I always had it in the back of my mind that I should teach my kids not to care if people aren’t straight. One of the things that really helped was when ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’ came on TV. That was good because it gave the kids and me a chance to talk about people not being straight and what being queer was. I never said anything negative about it: hair colour, eye colour, sexuality, what’s the difference? I’m glad I taught my kids that because they haven’t had a problem at all with me not being straight.
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My wife moved to Melbourne about twelve months after I did, which has made things a hell of a lot easier. I try to spend at least one night during the week at each partner’s house and we alternate weekends. The rest of the time I live in a share house because it’s more convenient for work and I enjoy being with the people I have there.
My male partner's wife is poly as well. All of us are free to hook up with anyone we want, however we have rules that we have negotiated, such as not over committing ourselves. Some of us choose not to have other partners at certain times, due to the time commitments of work or being a student.
There were issues around jealousy and communication to start with but we just had to learn to make sure everyone feels as valued as the other partners. He was poly before I came along and I was sold on the idea of poly before I came out to my wife, so she’s had a lot of catching up to do. There is a book called The Ethical Slut that is kind of like the Poly bible, which has been a great help for all of us.
All relationships are equal.
For me, all my relationships are equal but I try to take my kids into consideration first when making plans. Both of my partners spend time together because they enjoy things I don’t, like movies that scare the crap out of you. My wife and I go out on dates too, while he babysits the kids. Things are going really well at the moment with our little tribe.
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Early in our poly relationship we knew that STI testing was important and we sort of talked about it but we just didn’t end up going. There wasn’t any particular reason, it just didn’t seem to fit into the calendar. We knew that condoms didn’t protect against everything, but each of us was sure that we didn’t have anything.
We need to do it right.
Us two guys had a few fuck-ups where we did have sex without condoms. We knew there was a risk having sex without them and we realised that this was going to happen again. We need to do it right, talk to my wife and make her aware of what’s happening, then get tested, wait for three months and get retested.
These days if any of us has sex with someone outside of the regular partners, everyone else is told what’s happened and whether or not condoms were used. There is no embarrassment for us to talk about it because we know it’s important that we all know what is going on.
But we know that when you think you are playing safely things can go wrong without anyone realising, so we get re-tested every six months. We also trust that if one of us has done anything that might put the rest of us at risk they’ll let us know straight away and we’ll just go back to using condoms until the next round of tests clear. No big issue.
I picked up a lot of my safe sex knowledge after I started volunteering at the Victorian AIDS Council. I decided to volunteer because I got a lot of support from the VAC, through Momentum and just having the GAMMA meetings in their building, so I felt I should give something back. I originally volunteered to fill safe-sex packs but at the intake training some people come along from the Outreach team and I decided to do that instead.
We go to sex-venues and sit in gay chat rooms to answer men’s sexual health questions. I do actually feel I’ve helped and reassured some people. People say things like: “I gave this guy a blowjob; is it safe?” I walk them through it and reassure them that it’s extremely unlikely they’ve picked anything up. The role’s not about evangelising for safe sex or anything: we’re there to help if you ask for it.