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 grew up in a country town and school wasn’t so good for me. It was around 11 years old that I started to feel excluded from society and different because of my sexuality. There was no other example than the country-life or as a counsellor put it, “no exposure to alternative lifestyles.” I didn’t do great in a class setting – I got easily distracted and got into a lot of fights. Eventually, I was sent to anger management class which led me to talk about my family and aspects of my life I wasn’t comfortable with. It was obvious I was not portraying as a ‘normal child’ in a ‘normal family’ – I felt like a social pariah which led me to feeling further shunned and greater isolation.
At the age of 15, I ended up moving to Sydney where I was exposed to a whole new world, including a multitude of drugs. There were so many changes and it was a shock to go from feeling I wasn’t accepted at all by anyone, to a place where people actually wanted to be around me. I didn’t realise at the time, but on a deeper level, I actually just wanted to fit in. I was going to clubs a lot, mostly doing ecstasy, MDMA and G whilst also just trying to figure out how to socialise at that age in the big smoke. (Party drugs) I didn’t understand yet that there were lines in the sand that you do not cross and if you do, there’s a multitude of practices to recover from that.
I ended up becoming part of the modelling industry, which I was lucky to be a party of, but I didn’t understand my place in that industry and looking around at the faces and people involved with it – it didn’t sit well with me.
During that time, a certain look was in, so I had a booker that would say to me, “listen, looking drug-fucked is so in at the moment. You have a shoot next Wednesday and I want you to look exactly that. Here is $2000, go out on the weekend and go nuts!”
Then six months later, being physically healthy is the new in-thing, so they said, “start going to the gym for the next six months straight and go hard!”
I was still only growing up and I was surrounded by the worst possible influences. It was hard to stand up for myself when I had just moved to the big city and I didn’t have much support. All my friends were straight, except for one lesbian friend who tried to ground me throughout the whole situation. I was good at compartmentalising my whole life. There was the life that I led in front of my family, who didn’t know that I was gay and who didn’t know that I was sexually abused as a child. (Child sexual abuse)
Then I had my chosen family who were the predominantly straight group of friends who knew about everything, except for my drug use. Then there were my gay friends, who knew about my drug use, but didn’t know I had a very orthodox family or close set of friends that weren’t homosexual. The compartmentalisation further removed me from my community. That’s when crystal came in.
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At first, it was the allure of doing something that you’re not supposed to. When I was 18, I met this guy who was almost double my age, a very attractive man, who I’d get involved in incredibly adventurous scenarios with – with multiple sexual partners and I wanted to be a part of that community. We got together properly when I was 19, into a serodiscordant relationship where he was positive and I was negative. (Relationships) I got tested regularly, every three months, simply because I didn’t believe my partner, that even if we did play without condoms I wouldn’t get HIV from him. (HIV testing) Only now in hindsight, I can see you can actually pursue that connection without the use of drugs, or at least pursue it with limitations whilst standing up for yourself - it’s hard to negotiate that at the age of 19.
Eventually, after about nine months, I felt confident that I wasn’t going to get HIV if I kept pursuing sex with other HIV positive, undetectable men. (Undetectable Viral Load)
About a year and a half into our relationship, we were living together and came to the realisation that we hadn’t really had any sex without drugs.
Once we identified that, we tried to find a way to break the cycle and perhaps only use once every six months. When we didn’t follow through and it took us another six months of playing every other weekend on drugs to actually revisit that – that’s when we truly understood that we had a problem. (Drugs and alcohol)
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It’s an unusual situation to be in when you’re in a relationship and both people are quintessentially addicts. I use that term very loosely, because what’s an addict? The person you are with is looking for support and you start to get triggered by the person you’re looking to support as well. It ends up being a deathly vicious cycle. I remember being in a few scenarios that you could classify as rock bottom.
I saw someone getting beaten up, close to death, because of a psychotic episode; our whole house was flipped upside down because there were voices in the walls – this was all whilst there were between six to eight men just fucking in the rooms. (Party n' Play)
One of the biggest aspects of that era was seeing my partner deteriorate over time which caused him to turn into a type of person I didn’t really identify with. About three years into my drug use as an intravenous drug user, I actually looked back to my eighteenth birthday and thought, ‘wow, how quickly have I changed?’ A couple of days later, my partner and I had an altercation, so I went back to some of my close friends and found out that my partners has basically told them everything. As far as my friends go, their drug use extended as far as smoking weed and taking a pill, so for them to hear from my partner, someone they barely knew, that I was injecting crystal meth into my arms and telling them a lot of lies – it hit them pretty hard. (Injecting Drug Use)
I didn’t know he had told them, so I turned up to a friend’s birthday party and the party turned very quickly into an intervention for me. They pointed out that I had changed so much from the person they had known since I was 15. At first, all I could think of was, ‘they don’t really understand me. They don’t get it. They don’t understand what moderated use is – I’m a functioning member of society, I use and I go to work. Yeah, I lie, but so does everyone else, so I don’t understand why the magnifying glass needs to be on me right now.’ It took me about six months to actually explore what they were saying because I loved them so much. I had to try and rekindle this bridge with my friends who I loved like my family because I would not let it burn.
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It took about a whole year from realising we were regular users before I actually decided revisit it all. I realised that I was becoming a person I did not want to be – that’s when the battle truly started.
The intimacy and connection that I thought I had whilst under the influence, was simply not the case afterwards.
I had to literally pull out every stop, such as deleting all my contacts on my phone and starting from scratch, removing all my online profiles from BBRT, removing hotzones for triggers, everything. I even took myself to Narcotics Anonymous and it was at the point of exhaustion, because it comes a point where you tire yourself out and that in itself ends up being a trigger. It pushes you to use again because you’re basically burning the candle at both ends and by the end of it, you just go, “fuck it, it’s just done!”
After a full year of attempting different pathways to maintain my sobriety, it eventually started to wane. By my 24th birthday, I could actually look back and see everything a lot clearer and understand the decisions I had to make whilst trying to maintain sobriety. I knew I was still under the influences, to some degree, of crystal meth whilst making those decisions. Going through that has actually helped me help others I knew from my meth days, who are going through the same thing. I can help them understand that a lot of life decisions they are making are purely under the influence and that it requires a lot of time to actually understand the impacts of those decisions.
After being injected, you get this intense surge of energy and you’re romping like crazy for about three to six hours without having any concept of time and when that wore off, I actually felt ready for a next go. (Crystal Meth)
It’s not like you totally lose control of yourself, but looking back, I can’t remember what was going on in my head. You are being overloaded with synthetic endorphins, everything is euphoric and you just can’t comprehend. Even if you were to simply caress my arm, I would have found it incredibly enjoyable.
It was very weird to go from such intensity, synthetic intensity maybe, but still intensity – to nothing. In making the decision of wanting to stop, not only did I have to tackle stopping the drugs altogether, I had to revisit getting to know myself in a sexual sense, as a sober person. There was a lot of trial and error involved. Every time I would hook up with a guy and it was uncomfortable, all it would take is a question from them, “do you want to have some G?” Then the G would always lead to some crystal. (Party n' Play)
Then I’d have to go back to the drawing board and figure out a way to fix this up so it doesn’t happen again.
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Ultimately, it led to a multitude of failures. The failures being resorting back to using drugs again. Then I got to a point where I said, “I’m not having sex for 12 months!” This was the first year I actually started seeing results from trying to be sober. After a whole year was over, I was kind of sick of my hand and it was finally time I just got out there and went on dates with people. I think the biggest thing that helped me maintain sobriety was to be brutally honest. Brutally honest about my usage back in the day and that I still struggle with triggers. That is how I rekindled connection with people. The vulnerability led me to the climax of sexual activities with another person without having to explore treatment with drugs.
It was very awkward after not having sex with anyone for about a year to then realise how bad I was at everything. When I think back about what I thought intense pleasure was, I look back and realise it was actually just two whacked out guys with no comprehension of exactly how docile they look. When you’re in that frame of mind, you think you’re active, doing a multitude of different positions – but you’re not. It’s kind of sad really and it has actually killed porn for me.
I can very quickly identify the ones that are really off their face, even the ones that think they’re deceiving their audience. You can see it, either in their pupils, the way they’re sweating or the way they’re breathing. The worst part – it either triggers you or it’s not even a turn on anymore.
If we were to review me, my sex was terrible, I couldn’t watch porn and I had to try use my imagination for the perfect scenario to try and get some sort of sexual alleviation.
Another year later, after being patient with myself, understanding what support services there were out there, doing a lot of hypnotherapy and psychotherapy to help my depression, it slowly started to get better. I started practicing how to be a dominant master or a passive bottom. I started to branch out a little more and I wasn’t limited to a six hour window or a weekend. I could actually get the intense pleasure out of an hour with a person and I could remember every single detail.
I had a few friends message me and ask me, “how do you walk away from just having sex like this to nothing?” They don’t realise that they’re the living embodiment of a sloth right now and they think they’re performing like a jackrabbit but you’re not. The first telltale sign is that their speech is slurred or they’re not pronouncing their words properly. That’s a good indicator that their body isn’t working as well. You don’t really see it because you’re whacked out of your mind as well. I realise it now because I documented the experience, from someone injecting me and how every hair on my arm is standing on its end and I can feel every single bit. I’d feel really turned on and ready to go.
I am helping a lot of people on a personal capacity at the moment who are trying to stop. I tell them - I know what they are going through and I know it’s hell right now but it comes to a point where you’ve had enough.
You will do everything in your power to stop and for me, I couldn’t have sex for 12 months. That was the worst time of my life and I hated every single second of it, but I made it through.
If you really want to stop, be honest with yourself and find your triggers because you know when one thing leads to another.
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I think the biggest regret that I would have about being an ex-intravenous drug user would be the subconscious, lasting psychological effects it has had on me.
It sucks because it triggers me going to a movie with my partner at the moment and seeing someone getting injected on screen.
It triggers me to go to my doctor and get a blood sample just to check my HIV status, just to make sure my blood counts are fine.
It triggers me to smell the alcohol swab used to clean my arm.
The worst one is when I go to sleep and have a regular dream, then in a split second my dream turns into me looking at my arm, always my right arm, then seeing a needle penetrate my vein and then suddenly waking up shivering and nauseous, sometimes vomiting. You’re just looking for a way to get that high again, your body is just craving for it.
I still get these even after three years of sobriety. It bewilders me that my mind still subconsciously wants it, even though I consciously don’t. I’m still craving the substance, it scares me and it is one of those things I am terrified of. My partner now can identify these kinds of things and actually allows me to take a step back and now blow myself out with anxiety and stress, because it ends up being a trigger.
I know I feel different to others. I have gained a lot of insight from my experience and I feel different, but it does sometimes suck to be so different from other people and it does suck to be referred to as the meth guy on TV. It’s important to learn from others and take in those key messages. Make sure you know what works for you, whether you’re going to be a sober user, whether you cut drugs and alcohol off completely or don’t do drugs and only drink alcohol.
It was from pursuing a connection with my community that I actually realised, that was the antithesis of addiction – me connecting with my friends and rebuilding the relationships with my family. Talking to them about being sexually abused as a kid actually built up the support structures that are in place today. (Talk to someone)
I have become a contributing member of society in a loving relationship, with a partner that loves me back.
Most importantly, being in a relationship with myself where I love me back. I wish I could’ve achieved this without the whole drug addiction thing but I know for a fact it wouldn’t have happened. I would have been some naive 26-year-old out there. It’s nice to have insights that have given me greater perspective to my life.
* All images used are from stock photography and in no way depict the appearance of the participant.
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.