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 really small town of five hundred people. It doesn’t even have traffic lights. The closest big city is a couple of hours away and it only has 20,000 people in it. It’s really isolated and rural where I live. I went to a very small school of only two hundred people and there are about forty kids in my class. Obviously there are not a whole lot of people my age. It’s the kind of town where everyone knows everyone and you don’t really have many friends, rather you have a few, really close friends. At school you talk to and interact with everybody, but not the same amount of people who sit at your lunch table are going to come to your birthday party.
My parents divorced when I was a few months old and had other kids. I have four brothers on my mum’s side and 2 brothers and 2 sisters on my dad’s side. My stepmom and I have a fantastic relationship so the whole divorced parents thing was really a non-issue. My mum remarried a couple of times and I live with her but sometimes I go and stay with my dad who moved to another town the same size a few hours away. Either way it’s quite an isolated environment which is very frustrating.
When I finished school I went to college for a semester and I didn’t really like it at all. A few weeks into second semester one of my grandmothers died so I took some time off to deal with that whole situation and then never went back. I never wanted to go to college directly out of high school anyway. By the time you’re getting ready to graduate you’re over the whole school thing, or at least I was, so I just wanted to chill for a while but my mum talked me into going. It just didn’t feel right. I want to be a writer and there’s really no practical reason to go into debt for years and years when I’m not really going to need college for my job.
Since it’s a small town there’s not much to do, and I don’t really have a job. I spend a lot of time hanging out with my best friend. I also spend ungodly amounts of time on the computer, either staying in touch with friends or just researching whatever I’m writing at the time.
I have these moments where I stop and think to myself “What am I still doing here?” I’m always thinking about moving but until I can find a routinely paying job, moving out just isn’t feasible.
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My mother is very religious, so while I was growing up I heard the whole spiel about how it’s a choice or a disorder. I wasn’t any of the things that I was hearing about. I would see pictures of guys, and I would be attracted to them, but it didn’t even occur to me what that actually meant. Everything I had heard about gay guys was so horrific and not who I was. It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I pieced it all together.
Realising I was gay wasn’t really something I did it was more of a reaction. One of my friends asked me a completely hypothetical question and it was about a guy. It freaked me out so much that I finally owned up to it. When other people asked me (I mean it’s pretty obvious) I would just deny it because the picture I had in my head wasn’t what I was, so I never made that connection. It wasn’t until she pushed the issue that I actually wised up.
We were chatting online when she asked the question and I just said “I can’t talk about this”. At the same time I was freaking out online about it to another friend. So then after talking it through with them and calming down a bit I went back to talking to my best friend and came out. She was the second person I came out to, but probably the first to know.
She didn’t really know how to react because she didn’t know anything about it either. She told me after the first little while that she had been afraid she was going to lose me, that she thought we couldn’t be friends anymore, not because of anything either of us would do but because that was the way it had to be. As if my being gay would take me away from her somehow. Of course once we both knew more about what we were talking about, well, nothing like that happened.
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I’m really very passive when it comes to the whole coming out thing. The only time I’ve tried to volunteer the information was with my little brother and that was so weird that I just stopped. I’m not really sure where he stands on the issue. It was also weird when I told my older brother. He just called me up one day out of the blue. He was in the marines and I guess he was hearing soldiers (as they do) making homophobic remarks so he said to me “If someone says something like that about you then I want to know if it’s true so I can kick their ass.” I replied “Well I’m not really cool with the ass kicking, but yeah it’s true.” We talked about it and he was like “Yeah, okay I just wanted to know” and that was it. Everybody that I have told has been fantastic about it and I haven’t lost anybody so it seems to be working.
I have no doubt that when I come out to my mum she’ll be fine with it eventually but it’s just the whole drama in the meantime that I would like to avoid as much as possible. Which is possibly very cowardly on my part, but it is what it is. I know she’s going to struggle with it because she is religious. It’s such an ingrained part of any organised religion that being gay is a sin. I have sort of danced around the topic with her, not in any kind of confrontational way. I remember one time I was watching TV and there were lesbians in the show. She asked me “Why are you watching this?” I was like “Well it doesn’t bother me” and I thought that was all. However, later that night she came back to me and gave me that whole spiel that “True love doesn’t break God’s commandments”, so I said to her that “Maybe God’s commandments as we understand them aren’t entirely correct”. She didn’t really carry the conversation past that.
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I used to get picked on at school. For a while the hot new thing was whenever the jock guys saw me they’d be like “Can I have a hug” and stuff like that. It’s hard because you can’t walk through the halls of an American high school without hearing the word “fag” 50 times. Part of that may be because I live in a country town and, not to be stereotypical, but I’ve found people who are rural to be more homophobic then people who are urban. There was definitely shit that I took for being gay which made me angry a lot of the time. None of those guys were my friends, they didn’t know me, they didn’t have any real problems with me. They were just bringing that up because it was convenient for them. I was never hurt or scared or anything like that but I was always mad at them for being so stupid. It just seemed like such a stupid thing to do for no real reason and I never understood it. Calling someone gay is an easy target, most guys will react if you call them gay because they view it as emasculating. Calling someone a fag is an easy way to cut someone down. It’s like when people are saying something is really lame and they say “Oh that’s so gay” which is really a less extreme version of the same thing. It’s all tied up in that same homophobic package that still exists today.
There is no-one else in my age group who is gay which is definitely one of the reasons I’m single. That was kind of hard for me at first but it’s really not much of a big deal to me now. I go through moments of “God, I really want a boyfriend!”, but then I just figure I’m still young, there’s plenty of time, and when it’s right it will happen. I try not to worry about it too much because at the moment there isn’t much I can do to change it. Spending a whole lot of time worrying about it won’t do anyone any good.
There is an older gay couple who lives here, which I can never understand. I mean why here? When you are an adult and have a choice why would you choose to live here? The town’s view on them is really funny. It’s like, ‘They may be the weird gays but they’re our weird gays’. My best friend used to work for them at the bakery and she’d always come home and tell me about how demanding they were, so I could be biased but I don’t really have any relationship with them.
They used to run a restaurant which had a blinking light around the window. People in town would always be like “That’s the fag tag to let other gays know that there are gays here”. I was always like ‘There’s three of us in town, a blinking light is kind of unnecessary’. I’m sure that’s just the story around town. I doubt that it was true.
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I did a lot of research into being gay and looked at the leading research into why gay people even exist and all that rhetoric. I ordered movies that had gay characters in them from the internet. I was trying to familiarise myself with what was out there. Thankfully my mum doesn’t really spend much time on the computer so it’s really easy to order something off the net without her finding out. The movies come in a box at the post office and my mum doesn’t really know what’s in it. She might ask me “What’s that?” and I’ll say “Just some movies” and that’ll be it. It’s actually stupidly easy.
One time some friends and I went to see Kathy Griffin who has a huge gay following and is very vocal on gay issues. Most of the guys who go to see her are gay so it was a chance for me to engage with the community. My friend’s cousin who’s gay was there with all of his friends, so we talked to them for a bit but we didn’t stay and mingle. My friend had talked to me about him but I hadn’t met him until then. He lives a couple of hours away. My friend keeps saying she wants to take me up there so I can meet him properly but it hasn’t happened yet, which is a shame. For me it’s the only person-to-person interaction that’s likely to happen for a while so it’d be great to get to know him and his partner, but it hasn’t happened yet.
The internet is a wonderful thing and there are a lot of information sites about being gay that have everything from using lube and condoms, to different sex positions. I haven’t tried to engage with the community on a chat line or anything but there are gay websites that I read. It really wasn’t hard for me to educate myself about safe sex. I don’t like talking about that kind of stuff with older authority figures like my doctor. I’m sure there are some things that it may be better to go to a doctor to find out but I prefer to do it by myself.
I haven’t done anything really with a guy sexually. I mean there was getting to know your body type fumbling with me and my brothers when we were younger which doesn’t really count.
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I’ve always been interested in writing. The first thing I remember writing was copying down the basic plot of fairy tales when I was younger, and then changing them. Of course as I got older I developed more skills. I’ve always had worlds and characters and fantastic situations in my head. For me it’s a case of either get them out somehow, or go crazy.
Dead Boyfriend is an online serial. It starts with Regan, a professional vampire hunter. He’s 18 years old, so isn’t out of the school system’s clutches just yet. He has to go to this town where he can take a test to prove that he’s learning being home schooled. While there he meets Ira and doesn’t realise that he’s a vampire at first and then wackiness ensues.
My serial came about because there’s not much original fiction that is very gay inclusive. Really my first experience with gays in fiction was fan fiction of TV shows. I just started thinking, “How come not many people have done this on their own?” Then Regan and his world came to me and away I went.
Dead Boyfriend isn’t like a regular novel because I put it up online a chapter at a time, for free. Anyone can read it any time they want to, no strings attached. If they read it and happen to like it a whole bunch, or hell, even just a little, they can donate through PayPal to show a little appreciation. Not everyone does, and I don’t expect them to feel obligated.
A lot of the inspiration for doing it the way that I do has been from other authors that put their stuff online like Alexandra Erin. She writes and puts it online and actually supports herself that way. It’s her only income. With enough time, patience, and body of work it’s possible to support yourself without going to a publishing house. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the big houses, I just know that an explicitly gay sex scene would never sell for them, or they would say it wouldn’t, so if I want to tell my story I have to do it my way.
It’s sort of like a series in my head. As of right now book one is complete, and I have plans to continue it in book two. Hopefully the audience will get bigger and it will draw more income as time goes on.
In chapter three there is a sex scene between Ira and Regan. I didn’t waste any time. In the scene they have safe sex because obviously it’s a very important issue, but I think that to have an unsafe sex scene in a place where it wouldn’t make sense is just irresponsible. Also from a character perspective it made sense that they would have safe sex. Even though Ira is a vampire, Regan is just a regular guy so he uses safe sex practices because he can catch diseases, which is obviously something he wants to avoid. Part of it is me as the author thinking it’s something important to show, but also it was being true to the characters.
I’ve always been more interested in fantastic worlds rather than mundane worlds. We live in a mundane world, and that’s just not interesting to me. I’d much rather read something that is fantasy or science fiction. Unfortunately, in the States at least, vampire romance is really, really popular at the moment and most of it is crap. Like I said, part of doing this for me was ‘Oh my god I can do this better’ (not to toot my own horn), the other part was, the characters just came to me.
There are lots of stereotypes in vampire romance fiction where the vampire’s this tortured brooding lover and the human is this innocent mouse. I just didn’t think that made any kind of sense, so my human character is certainly not innocent. Writing it was really a way to break a lot of those vampire genre stereotypes and also to break other sexual stereotypes. My biggest regret with the series is that we don’t get to see Regan do more vampire hunting because I think that having a gay guy be good at his job is a hole that hasn’t been filled as well as it should be. There are small ways that I’ve tried to show that he’s good at what he does. Regan’s competence was really important to me. I wanted to write a smart human and vampire that wasn’t ashamed of himself.
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There’s always other stuff that I’m writing and thinking about. I get ideas ten times faster than I write so with all the ideas that I already have I could probably write for the rest of my life. However, the frequency that something comes to me with enough interest and excitement attached to it that it motivates me to write about it isn’t a frequent occurrence. I’m going to start posting more stand-alone pieces on the site to get more of my writing out there. Hopefully, some of those pieces might inspire me to continue writing longer projects with them, but there’s also a lot in the Dead Boyfriend universe that I’ve been thinking about. It just depends what happens in the future. I’d love to keep going with Dead Boyfriend which is going to be my main thing and I might do other things on the side.
Catharsis and escapism
My inspiration comes from many places. Part of it is human nature – the grass is always greener somewhere else, and part of it is because I haven’t had a lot of experience in the big bad world outside of my little town. Exploring the world through other people’s eyes in ways that I can’t is a big a part of where my writing comes from.
I think for any artistic pursuit that’s what it is. It’s a way to bring the world down to size so that you can experience it in a way that’s in your control. For me any artistic thing is always an escape because in practical ‘real world terms’ what else is it good for?
While it is an escape I do it because I can’t not do it. I also use my writing as a way of coping and processing my experiences. I could go out now and find some nine to five job, but people already do that and I feel like this is what I can do. I also used to write poems and songs that were not so much an escape, but more cathartic.
I guess I would want people to come away with the impression that there is no right or wrong way to handle things. The ‘gay community’ probably sees the fact that I’m not out to my parents as not the best way to go. However, I think every situation is different for every single person and every person should deal with every situation as the unique situation that it is. Some things work for some people and some things work for others. Since we’re pretty much outcasts anyway we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves.