About Staying Negative

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.


Classic late developer


1. Classic late developer

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I’m 45 years old. I was born in Doncaster, South Yorkshire. It’s a medium-size mining town. I’ve been in Australia just over four years now.

As far as sex is concerned, I was a bit of a classic late developer. Looking back, at school I had a crush on my best friend, in fact I was totally in love with him, but I didn’t quite realise it. I wanted to be with him all the time. He started seeing this girl, who he subsequently married. I can remember feeling very jealous that he was hanging out with her and I ended up going out with her best friend. I thought I liked her, but actually I was just going out with her so we could all go out together and I could be with him.

When I finished school

When I finished school I went to university in Liverpool and studied zoology. I wanted to be a vet but I didn’t get high enough A levels. The show ‘All Creatures Great and Small’, about the life of a country vet was on TV at the time and everyone wanted to be a vet, so they put the entry grades up and I just didn’t get the three A’s required. Zoology seemed like the next best thing so I went off and did that instead, not really knowing where it might lead.

When that was over I thought I’d quite like to do Hotel and Catering Management because, in my naiveté, I thought it would be like having a party every night. I did a post-graduate course in Leeds for one year and then started work in that area. The reality of hospitality was quite different so, after a year, I started working with people with special needs for a while and that got me into the whole making-the-world-a-better-place headspace.

Ooh, how exciting!

I think I was still denying being gay even through university. I had a job in a supermarket and it was very well known that one of the guys there, who became - and still is - a good friend of mine, was gay. I was drawn to him, not sexually, but we got on like a house on fire. He went off to Leicester University. I went down to stay with him one weekend and he said, "Do you want to go to this gay club?"

And I was saying, "Oh yes, I’m OK with gay people!" when inside I was probably thinking, "Ooh, how exciting!”

Gang bang.

So we went off one Saturday night to this gay club in Leicester. Even in those days gay places were still pretty secretive – you’d knock three times on the door and a shutter would open and they’d look at you and say, yes, you can come in. To cut a long story short, I got picked up by this boy and he took me back to his house. The boy who picked me up called some friends around. They were obviously much more confident about their sexuality than I was because they were saying, "Let’s have a gang-bang". I just freaked, not realising it was just banter - maybe it wasn’t… Anyway, I’ll never know because I went to the toilet and climbed out the window and ran away! I completely panicked! I had steeled myself that maybe I was going to try the gay thing that night, but no way was I ready for that!


Like a virgin


2. Like a virgin

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As part of the Hotel and Management course in Leeds, I went to do work experience placement in a hotel. There was a guy on the course who was very overtly gay and he and I got placed in the same hotel in Chester. We bonded – not sexually – and again this friend took me to a gay club. I didn’t do anything that night but I decided that night that I was going to go back there on my own at some later stage. I was terrified of my friend or anyone else I knew finding out I was gay, so I decided to go back alone in the dead of night!

I tried three times to go, but the first two times I chickened out at the front door and couldn’t go in. On the third time I managed to get myself inside: I remember it was in the middle of winter on a Tuesday night, so you can imagine how many people were in this club – three or something! Within milliseconds of getting in there this guy came over and he was just not someone I was interested in at all. He was trying to chat me up. Then this other boy came over and rescued me and he was my first sexual experience. The song ‘Like a Virgin’ was playing at the disco that night and I can remember smiling to myself about that.

Caravan in Queen’s Ferry.

I couldn’t take him back to my hotel and we couldn’t go back to his place for some reason, but another guy who was sitting near us said he had a caravan in Queen’s Ferry; would we like to come back there? He was not at all attractive. I was completely naïve and thought that was such a nice thing for him to offer us his place, but he was thinking about a threesome. Queen’s Ferry is a very dull little town in North Wales. It was about a 45 minute drive to this caravan park. So when we got back to his mobile home and he tried to join in, that was another freaky experience for me. We made it very clear that we weren’t interested so he went and stayed in another room and let us get on with it.

It was just sex.

The next day I thought the two of us were in love and it was all going to be wonderful, but of course I learned that that wasn’t quite how it works! It was just sex. It was all very clumsy, though he seemed to know what he was doing. That was just before Christmas in 1984. I never heard from him or saw him again. I would have been 21, 22.

So that was my first time and even though it wasn’t ideal, I thought, I quite like this. I went back to that club again and met a boy who I saw two or three times - which I thought was a relationship! On another night I was there I was seen by someone from the hotel I was working in at the time. I was completely mortified that someone had seen me there. I was supposed to be seeing a girl from the hotel at the time, so I’d been caught out on both counts.

No-one cared!

I was ready to hide in my room, I thought everyone was going to be laughing and pointing at me. Everyone did know I’d been seen at the gay club, but the revelation to me was that no-one cared! Nobody was any different. That was quite an experience for me, the revelation that, at the end of the day, everyone in the hotel was more interested in the gossip that the girlfriend found out I was gay than the fact that I was gay. It reassured me that people didn’t actually care.


Coming out


3. Coming out

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I don’t ever remember my parents coming out with homophobic statements but I remember as clear as day when I was twelve years old watching some television program with my mother and the word ‘lesbian’ came up. I asked her what lesbian meant and she said, "It’s a woman who prefers the company of other women." I said, "Is that like when you have your coffee mornings then?" She said, "Not quite", and that was that!

I didn’t really come across any gay people in my circle of existence and it wasn’t really talked about: it was only later on when I came out: my father was fine: he said, "If you’re happy lad, I’m happy." That was his only comment, but when I told my Mum she had a complete freak out and said I’d be a music-hall joke and laughed at in the street and I’d be a lonely old man and other outdated stuff about the terrible life I’d lead. (Coming out)

I didn’t take it that badly; it just showed me that my mother was so far from the reality of my life to say that. It was more that I felt sorry for her for missing out on so much of my life and for thinking that her son was having such a terrible life. I know my life’s not terrible and I think she’s starting to realise that. I think she had images in her head from the 1940s and 1950s when perhaps people did shun you in the streets and throw you into prison if you were gay.

I didn’t take it that badly; it just showed me that my mother was so far from the reality of my life to say that. It was more that I felt sorry for her for missing out on so much of my life and for thinking that her son was having such a terrible life. I know my life’s not terrible and I think she’s starting to realise that. I think she had images in her head from the 1940s and 1950s when perhaps people did shun you in the streets and throw you into prison if you were gay.


Pandora’s box


4. Pandora’s box

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I came back to Leeds and thought, well, that’s it, I’m probably gay. So I started going out on the Leeds gay scene and the heady days began. That was the mid-1980s. Pandora’s Box was open and the party began! I became part of the furniture on the Leeds gay scene. Between 1985 and 1988 I was going out practically every night. Clubs closed at 2a.m. in those days. I met lots of new people and had lots of casual sex during that time.

Staying HIV negative.

Around 1986 we had these very dramatic AIDS ads narrated by John Hurt and AIDS began to be discussed in the gay press. I’ve never really been into anal sex – it’s never really interested me; I’ve never wanted to experience it and I still never have, so I guess I was lucky in a sense. I was never into giving anal sex either, so I’ve never had anal sex, even to this day. So, by virtue of that, I probably practiced safer sex. My friends and I were aware of AIDS and we’d talk about it but it wasn’t as big a problem for me.

I’ve been very lucky as far as STIs are concerned as well, because all I’ve ever had is crabs. My first boyfriend discovered them on me once and I still honestly don’t know where they came from. (Crabs)

Young and silly.

It was just a crazy hedonistic time partying. I’d have crushes with someone I liked and have a big drama when it finished and then I’d get over it and go out and meet someone else and start all over again. My friends and I weren’t the most compassionate group. We were quite well known on the scene; we knew a lot of people. The Leeds gay scene at that time wasn’t particularly huge: it was one nightclub and the occasional one-nighters and three pubs, so you were talking to the same people a lot of the time. We were just young and silly and not really interested in other people’s feelings: it was all about us, getting dressed up and going out.

Leeds 80s style.

We thought we all looked fantastic but in retrospect we would have looked pretty hideous; there was a lot of eyeliner and looking dark and serious, and baggy trousers and Tukka boots – they were kind of pixie boots… So, very fond memories of that time! That came to an end when I met Robert.


The psycho


5. The psycho

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Amidst all of that I did meet someone I quite liked, who seemed to like me, but who turned out to be a bit of a psycho. He very cleverly manipulated the situation to keep me to himself. He closed down all the going out and cut off contacts with friends, so the partying came to an end. I quite liked it at first so I was prepared to do that. That lasted three years.

He was desperately insecure, he was very manipulative and he was violent; he used to do all sorts of crazy stuff.

I wasn’t allowed to speak to anybody. He wasn’t working, so the options in terms of going out were either to not go out at all, which suited him, or for me to pay. We went out less and less because I became resentful about paying for everything and he wasn’t making an effort, so there was a financial issue there as well as the insecurities and emotional inadequacies.

What’s happened to me? In the end I started turning into something I wasn’t: From having a wide circle of friends and going out a lot I’d suddenly think, "What’s happened to me? This isn’t who I am: I hardly seem to know anyone any more." It took me a couple of years to figure out that this wasn’t right and then another year to actually get rid of him: he wouldn’t go.


The violence


6. The violence

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The violence was kicked off if I spoke to somebody he didn’t know or if he thought there was some sexual possibility and that I might go off with them. He was absolutely paranoid about me running off with someone else. If he saw me talking to someone he’d go, "Who’s that? Why are you talking to him? What were you saying?" - all this kind of stuff. I’d say, "Nothing: we’re just talking about the weather" or whatever and he’d get so frustrated that three or four times it erupted into violence and he’d attack me. He’d punch me and smash my things up. I had a cat I was very fond of and he used to threaten to hurt the cat as well.

I wouldn’t fight back because I thought it’s going to get worse if I did that. Friends would say, "Oh you should sling him out; throw his things out on the street", but he said that if I did that he’d skin my cat. They’d tell me to go to the police, but I thought what would the police do except think, "Silly queen, serves yourself right." He cut up loads of my clothes one night and another night he threatened to commit suicide and tried to overdose on a packet of throat lozenges! (Same sex domestic violence)


Getting him out


7. Getting him out

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I knew we had to end the relationship but he couldn’t accept the idea of ending it, so I said, "We just need some space; let’s have some time apart". But of course he was always too busy or couldn’t find or afford anywhere, so I found him a house, put the first three months rent down on it and said, "Right, there’s no reason for you not to move: you’ve just got to go and live there now", which is eventually what he did. That space was what I needed to be able to gradually get away from him.

If you’d asked him at the time, he would have blamed me for everything that was wrong in the relationship. He would have said: "Well, if only Simon didn’t talk to other people and if Simon didn’t do that we would be very happy together". He subsequently moved off to London and has done very well: he’s a bit more mature now obviously.

He was only nineteen. I would hope that it’s something that he has grown out of now, because he was only nineteen when I met him. He lied to me about his age when we met. I’d said teenagers were too young for me so he told me he was twenty.

Later I organised a surprise 21st birthday party for him and discovered he was actually only twenty! Looking back, that whole experience taught me what I don’t want and today I’d be completely across the very first signs that someone had any of those abusive tendencies.


The open relationship


8. The open relationship

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After that I had a ten-year relationship. I wanted to be settled in a cosy relationship. He was kind and caring and considerate and lovely in every respect, so he was very different from my previous partner. He wasn’t at all jealous: he was like, "Sure, go out, and would you like me to give you a lift and pick you up at the end?”

I guess for a while I thought I had it pretty easy: I had the nice, cosy, domestic relationship to go home to and I could go out and party to my heart’s content, so I thought, "Brilliant!" I’d go out drinking and dancing and popping the odd E and have some casual sex - it was officially an open relationship - it seemed like a dream existence. Open relationship. He played around a little bit as well: he liked to go to saunas occasionally, which is just not my thing at all. He was so much more tolerant than my previous partner. It wasn’t ideally what he wanted, but he wanted me more, so, to keep me, he’d just adapt more and more to what I wanted. Ideally for him we both would have stayed in and watched DVDs all night. (Open relationships)

I’m OK, you’re OK. The open relationship thing came about when it came out in conversation that one of us had had sex with someone else and the other of us said, "Oh, so have I!" "OK, so how do you feel about that?" "Oh, I’m OK, if you’re OK." "Yes, I’m OK." "So that’s alright then?" And that’s how it transpired that we were having an open relationship – no drama whatsoever. We agreed there’d be nothing unsafe with other people and, obviously, with each other as well. I had absolutely no trouble trusting him about that.

I had one freak-out experience when I met a guy I was quite smitten with, who I had casual sex with and dated a couple of times.

Then he told me he was HIV positive and I remember that was the first time HIV had actually entered my life directly and that kind of threw me into a spin.

I’d probably had sex with other people that were HIV positive in the past, but I hadn’t known, and I guess this was the first time I definitely knew that someone I’d had sex with was HIV positive and it was a bit of a jolt. He wasn’t interested in a relationship with me, but we’re still friends today.

Diverging paths. Towards the end of the ten-year relationship I realised I wanted a bit of balance – the old party animal was returning with a vengeance – but my partner wasn’t particularly interested in partying. Over a period of time he would accompany me for a while and gradually he’d say, "Oh you go", and he’d stay home.

We just had diverging paths until there wasn’t much of a relationship left. We got along fine, we lived in the same house, but towards the end of our relationship I met someone I became smitten with and it just reminded me that what I had in my relationship wasn’t enough.

We had a rule that we could have sex with other people but if you actually start to date them – go out for dinner and so forth – that’s a different ballgame. I started seeing this boy on the side – which I’m not proud of – and then my partner found out and it was definitely time to call it a day. Then the opportunity to work in Australian came up and the timing was right to disappear for a while. It was supposed to be for three months but I quite liked it here - and then I met my current partner Jonathon.


Why I came to Australia


9. Why I came to Australia

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I was asked to come to Australia and look at the feasibility of establishing a business/community engagement model based on work I’d been doing in the UK. I worked for an organisation called Business in the Community. It was a three-month stint initially, but everyone we spoke to in the feasibility study thought it was a good idea and wanted it to happen, so I was asked to stay longer to take it to the next level and start making it a reality.

The organisation was established and I was asked if I’d like to head it up which I did for the first two or three years of its existence and then towards the end of last year it was time for a change and I decided to move on and now I work on the corporate side in the area of corporate responsibility.


My partner


10. My partner

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We met for coffee and he came around for sex and then we had something to eat and watched It’s a Wonderful Life on DVD and I lit the fire and it was all very cosy and that was it! He was all very new to it all: he hadn’t had much experience and, coming from Malaysia where it’s still illegal, he was at that stage of describing himself as bisexual.

We gradually saw each other more and more. He was gradually coming to terms with who he was. I remember us being out with friends of mine on a Friday night and he completely freaked and had to leave, because it suddenly dawned on him that all these people would know that he was with me and therefore they would "know". It was a bit like my experience back in Chester; he slowly realised that they knew and that it wasn’t a problem. We moved in together about a year ago.

Now and the future. I feel quite balanced now. It sounds obvious but it takes quite a while to go through life and work out what you like and what you don’t like and get yourself on an even keel.


A. Location

Simon was born in Doncaster in South Yorkshire

B. Location

Simon moved to Liverpool to attend university

C. Location

Simon studied Hotel and Catering Management in Leeds

D. Location

Simon made the move to Australia for a job opportunity

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Tell us your story

Tell us your story


Come and tell us your story! We would love to hear from you! If you want to find out a little more about how it all works, give Jessie a call at VAC on (03) 9865 6700, or email staying.negative@vac.org.au