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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Introduced to open relationships by a former partner, Travis, 27, has been a fan of saunas and sex parties for a number of years. He describes how he learnt the importance of honesty in relationships and how having HIV positive friends and fuckbuddies has strengthened his determination to stay HIV negative.
My name’s Travis: I’m 27. I’m Sri Lankan/Portuguese on my Mum’s side, and I’m Dutch/English on my Dad’s side. I was born in Dubai in the Middle East. I travelled extensively with my parents, mostly around the Middle East, pretty much up until I was about 11. I arrived in Australia 16 years ago. Every couple of years we’d move somewhere else. I had this nomadic lifestyle for so long, my parents just wanted a place that I could call home. They chose Australia and I’m pleased they did because I really like it here.
We moved first to Alice Springs for eight months and then to Melbourne. Melbourne’s really where I met my first openly gay people. They were neighbours of ours and I remember the first time I met them I was like, ‘Oh thank God there’s someone else’. They had a different energy compared to most the people in my life, and it was an energy that I could relate to.
I’d known gay people back in the Middle East, but as prolific as homosexuality and gay sex is over there, it’s really underground and invisible. Suddenly I’d come to a country like Australia where it’s celebrated, and I remember being awed the first time I saw Mardi Gras broadcast on the ABC. That was pretty cool.
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My parents have always known gay people. Mum grew up in Sri Lanka, which is a very conservative society, but my parents don’t have a conservative outlook at all. They were always quite cool, up until I actually came out to them, which they found a bit of a shock. They didn’t mind other people being gay, but it was a bit harder to accept when it was their son.
I’m an only child as well, so I can understand their initial difficulty in accepting me being gay. I came out to Mum first and she was a bit disappointed. She was worried about the typical things like grandkids and all that sort of stuff. She just had to process it. My Dad was exactly the same; I mean, he lived a pretty wild lifestyle when he was growing up, so he’s not very judgmental. He said, ‘Well, look, you’re happy, you’re successful and that’s all I really care about’. They’re totally cool and supportive. My parents have always been my best friends.
I might bring some trade home…
I still live with them. My Dad’s working overseas at the moment, so it’s pretty much me and Mum these days. Mum probably knows more about my sex life and boyfriends and stuff than anyone. We share a lot of stuff, even things like my recreational drug use.
They’ve always said to me, ‘We’re not going to judge you, it’s your choice, but we’d rather know what you’re doing than have you hiding things from us’.
I just like to let them know where I’m at and if I go out at night or something I just say ‘look I’m going to be staying over or I might bring some trade home’, which I really don’t do very often anyway. It’s a very close relationship because it’s built on love, trust and respect, as cheesy as that sounds. I don’t know too many people who have that situation.
Mum can always tell..
I don’t go into the nitty-gritty of details with my parents, but if I’m seeing someone sometimes I might talk to my parents about relationship advice. Even though they’re both straight and have come from a completely different world, I do talk to them. There have been moments where I thought I might have been positive or contracted some kind of STI and Mum can always tell when something’s up.
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My first sexual experience was probably when I was eight; my parents used to holiday with friends of ours, every year we used to holiday together. They had a son, he was extremely gorgeous and we used to play around pretty well every year that we were down there.
But in terms of being with an out-there gay guy it was probably two years after high school. Most of my friends at high school were a lot older than me and were a year or so ahead of me. I was a huge nerd and I finished school at 16. By then all my mates had already gone out and experienced the club life. So by the time I got to 18 I was just bursting to experience the scene that I’d heard so much about. Even my parents had been to gay clubs to watch the drag shows. I was just ready to pop!
There’s this whole world out there…
The first gay club I ever went to was 3 Faces (now The Market) and it was there that I met a really great guy who I ended up dating. When I was younger my expectations were more like straight relationships. We got on well and went out for three months or so before we went our separate ways. Soon after I realised that there was a whole different world out there to explore. There are all sorts of possibilities and relationships don’t have to be like I’d initially thought. They’re not this box, where you go out on a date and you don’t sleep together on the first date and all that stuff – I broke that rule straight away, anyway.
I’m actually enjoyed meeting guys, just having fun, and that sort of thing. I was happily single, and loving it. Then I went to a Bent TV meeting and met someone who I ended up going out with for a couple of years.
Initially it started out that I was just monogamous with him. Then he went away on a holiday, and I knew he was going to do stuff overseas. We talked about that. Actually we screamed about that! Initially I found it particularly hard to deal with because I had these ideas in my head about how relationships should be. He just said, ‘Look, saunas are something you haven’t done. I tell you what, while I’m away, I’ll do what I do and you do what you do’. I thought, ‘You know what? He’s right. Why don’t I just see what else is out there and challenge myself a little bit’.
My motto has always been ‘fuck first, ask questions later’.
Having said that, I’m the sort of person that needs a bit of connection before I can get with someone. It’s not like I can just make eyes at someone and the next thing I’m bending them over. I usually have a bit of a conversation first and see where they’re at because that’s what actually turns me on. I love a guy who actually has something to say, and more to them than just a hot body.
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The situation with that partner ended up being the best thing ever because I discovered sex at saunas and sex clubs, which I thought was wonderfully honest, and I loved that. There’s none of this drink-buying and rubbish. And I love that whole smorgasbord thing too; it’s fun.
Sex venues really changed my whole perception of sex and relationships because I thought, ‘Wow, it’s actually possible to have sex, enjoy it and figure out what I want before I actually settle in with someone’. I’ve also met some amazing guys and had some of the wildest experiences, which I would otherwise never have had.
I was finding out who I was sexually, and exploring those parts of my sexuality and personality, and that was very exciting for me.
Learning to be honest
I remained in a relationship with my partner for a while after that because we had a great connection, though I did cheat on him quite a bit. I wanted more, but I just didn’t have the confidence to talk about it at that point. It’s something that I really wasn’t proud of. We ended up breaking up for personal reasons as much as anything else.
At that point I realised I had a fresh start and I wanted to be honest about the sort of relationships that I wanted and was prepared to have. Now when I meet guys and have sex with them I let them know where I’m at.
It took me a while to be honest about it because most guys can’t deal with that. I’ve always thought that there was an amount of sexual freedom that people need to have, as long as they can be honest about it. I realised what hurts a person most isn’t really knowing that their partner has slept with someone else, but not knowing where their partner is. That’s what it comes down to and it took me a while to be honest about that.
That’s only a quarter of it!
If I feel the need to go out and play I just do. But you reach a point where you want something more than that. Now I’m getting to the point where I think I’m ready for a substantial relationship and so I’m much more upfront about the kind of person I am. I let the people I care about know the whole plot. My thinking is that if they don’t like it they’d better start running now because that’s only a quarter of it!
Oh this is too hard
I’ve got a better idea these days of how to make relationships fair and even, and how to negotiate having someone in your life. I think it’s that’s the big trick. I like people who are different to me. I’m better at dealing with that now whereas, when I was younger, I had a little less time for it. I’d just go, ‘Oh, this is too hard’. Now I go, ‘OK, I know where you’re coming from’…
People I’ve had
I’ve had people who have had limited sexual experience and people who have had so much sexual experience that it’s intimidating. Then, on a personal level, there have been people who have had very different emotional backgrounds than me; people who don’t get along with their parents like me - they haven’t even known their parents in some cases. Sometimes there are cultural differences, sometimes they’re from a completely different ethnic background to me - French or Greek or something. Just little things like that that sometimes take a little understanding…
Crazily sexually active
But the biggest issue probably for me, in terms of the guys that I’ve been dating, has been my sexuality and my lack of fear in expressing it, and participating in it. I am a sexual person, and I’m proud to say I embrace it as part of who I am. I must give the impression that I’m really crazily sexually active, but I’m just honest about the fact that I do sex parties, leather sex, dance parties, chem-sex and things like that occasionally. I tend to make a habit of mentioning those things quite early on when I meet someone.
That’s not to say that I flop it out at any occasion. It’s actually to just let them know that this is the kind of person that I am at the moment - and who I’ve been. It doesn’t mean I’m going to be like that forever, but they have to be able to cope with it. If they aren’t going to like me because of any of those things, then chances are we aren’t going to be friends anyway.
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If you’d asked me a year ago, I probably would have said that I’m not capable of a monogamous relationship. Maybe I could do six months to a year, and then there would have to be some kind of open relationship, even if it meant once a month we got to go to a sauna or whatever. Again, that would have to be in an open way because that is really important to me.
Now I’m looking for someone who could shag you for a year or two and not have the need to go outside that: I want to actually explore what it’s like to not go outside that relationship. Not because I’ve been told I have to, but because I want to – it’s a new space I want to go into.
Wow, I could really keep it in my pants for you!
If I walked into a relationship today I think I’d be more open to monogamy for much longer. I connected at a whole new level with someone I was recently going out with and that made me realise monogamy was possible and that I was capable of it. I feel now that I could meet someone who’d make me think, ‘Wow, I could really keep it in my pants for you!’ I have a much more solid idea of what I’m after and what kind of person it would take.
It really depends on the person. My best friend in Sydney has been in an amazing monogamous relationship for a couple of years. He says monogamy is a completely different experience and if you can find the person you want to spend that time with then it takes you to a completely different place. I’d like to see what that experience is like – including the frustration of wanting to have sex with that hot guy across the room, but making the decision that there’s a lot more going on in my current relationship.
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I saw an advertisement in one of the gay newspapers for a sex party. In my previous experience at saunas it was pretty much a free-for-all in there sometimes. I thought it would be interesting to be in a space that’s open and you do whatever. So that was probably my first contact with sex parties. I just went along and had an amazing time.
OK, I’m horny
Saunas, sex clubs and sex parties really make sense to me, especially when you’re single and quite happy just exploring who you are sexually. When I go out clubbing with mates I like it to be more about being social and having fun. I don’t want to think below my hips too much when I’m going out dancing and stuff. I might flirt, meet someone nice, and or do a whole lot more at the club but I really don’t mind if I don’t. When it reaches that point in the evening when I think, ‘OK, I’m horny; I want to go out and have sex’ a place like a sauna or a sex party’s great, because I can invest all my sexual energy there.
All the sex I want
Mardi Gras is my favourite event on the queer calendar. Every time I’ve been to Mardi Gras, I’ve had the best time and met some great people. Usually when I’m up in Sydney I’d go to a M.E.N. party, which is a really awesome invite-only sex party up there, and all my sexual energy goes in one place: bang! The M.E.N. party goes for eight hours, so it’s like, ‘I’m done’ - I’ve had all the sex I want to without having that awkward moment with friends where it’s like, ‘Oh don’t mind me, I’m just going to be snogging this guy’ and whatever. So I like the honesty of that experience. You all know what you’re there for.
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At my first sex parties I came across a few situations where I didn’t know what to do. I was at this party and I’d been chatting with this guy on the couch and then he went off to have sex and I noticed that he was fucking a guy unsafely. And he had told me during the couch conversation that he was positive – we were talking about that sort of stuff – and so when he got back – and I was quite young at this stage – I said, ‘I noticed you guys were having unsafe sex; so did you discuss it? I mean, did you tell him; did he know?’
And he said, ‘Well, he didn’t ask’. And I said, ‘Didn’t you feel like he needed to know?’. He said that he had actually offered to wear a condom, but the guy being fucked said no to that. He goes, ‘Look, I know what you’re saying, but we’re all responsible for ourselves’. I found that a little hard to deal with, but at the same time I totally got where he was coming from.
OK, I’m in charge of myself
You face some real complicated situations when you’re positive, constantly having to explain yourself and justify and deal with all these sorts of things. The couch guy was like, ‘I’m over that and if this guy has made this decision to have it this way, then that is his choice.’
That moment really crystallised in my mind and really brought home the realisation that, I’m in charge of myself and I have to protect myself because it’s my responsibility. It’s not anyone else’s… well, it is, in terms of human respect, but not everyone’s going to do that.
A couple of scares
I’ve had a couple of HIV scares. After about the first year of a relationship I was in we started having unprotected sex with each other and when we broke up – I was young and impressionable – someone told me that this guy I’d just broken up with was positive and I thought ‘Omigod!’. So that was my first scare. But you know what? I just thought, ‘OK, go and get tested and then deal with it if you have it’. That’s something I’ve never been afraid of, I just want to know.
For me, HIV and any STI has always been a health issue, to be managed like any other. Luckily I don’t have any of that ‘Christian punishment for being gay’ guilt thing, that so many men still carry around with them. I’m pleased to say I’ve talked a few positive guys out of that horrible way of looking at HIV. So I got tested and I was fine; I got tested again six months later and I was fine.
He thought he got it from me
The other scare was a relationship in which, for the last 18 months, we opened up the relationship and were doing other stuff. As far as I know he was negative when we met, but he actually became positive while we were together and we’d had unprotected sex at that time. He actually thought that he might have got it from me - and given what I was doing at the time that wasn’t completely unrealistic. Again I got tested, and got tested again six months later, and I was fine. But they were two moments when I thought I might have something.
Our rules were that if you were having sex outside the relationship then it had to be safe sex, for example anal sex with condoms, and we pretty much followed those rules. He said there was one occasion he can remember where a guy just slipped it in, you know. He’s such a stickler for safe sex that’s it’s ironic that he should get it in that way, that one time. That’s what brought home the realities of HIV infection for me.
I can tell you that I’ve been involved in unsafe sex and when I did it, it was a fully conscious decision. I wasn’t saying to myself, ‘Oh, I’m just going to forget about it for now and deal with it in the morning’. It was more like, ‘OK, I’m going to have sex with this guy in an unsafe way. There’s a chance that I could get positive from this experience. I’m aware of this; am I going to do it?’ And I’ve chosen yes.
It’s not the drugs
And it doesn’t have anything to do with whether I’m on drugs or not because I’ve been in situations where I haven’t been on anything and I’ve still made the same decision – to have unsafe sex. There’s no doubt that drugs can make you more likely to take risks and impair your decision making, but I still think the decision and responsibility lies with the individual.
If I ever topped someone unsafely the automatic assumption for me was actually that they must be positive because I’m thinking, well, if I’m topping them unsafely then I’m sure other people have too…
I think the difference between then and now - why I'm prepared to take the risk or not - is because I’ve just thought through a little better now the effect it could have on my life and what I’m prepared to deal with in my life. No one likes to be ill, and I don’t want the complications of managing an illness that I can so easily prevent.
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At the moment I have quite a few significant people in my life who are positive and I see all the shit they have to deal with. My best friend in Sydney is seeing a guy who’s negative and one of the things the neg guy wanted to do was have unprotected sex with him. He felt that as long as he was the active partner, he would be OK. And my friend had a lot of trouble dealing with that.
He said to me, ‘I can’t do that with him. If he becomes positive I’ll feel responsible, and I don’t want that life for him.’ But that’s how his partner wanted it. We spoke a lot about these kinds of things and he said, ‘I’m really torn; I don’t know what to do – I know the risk but he knows it now too – it’s out in the open, it’s not like I lied to him or anything…’
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For a long time I had the idea that if I was the top I was less at risk of getting HIV, but situations have arisen, scares and things like that, that have made me realise that protecting my health is something I want to do. The way the Staying Negative campaign celebrates that I’m healthy, I’m protecting myself and I’m protecting other people is really important to me.
In the past I thought I was prepared to deal with the repercussions of becoming positive if it happened. I still think I could manage it fine. But now I have a stronger sense of the reality of the repercussions. Not even just from the health aspect but more from the way it changes interaction in relationships. The extra pressure it puts on you always having to explain yourself every time and the fact that if you’re with someone who’s negative then you can’t have unprotected sex, especially if you’re going to be together a long time.
It just gets messy and complicated. And really, life is complicated enough as it is. If I don’t have to live my life that way then why start? I really appreciate my own health and respect my body a lot more than I did in the past.
And all it took was someone saying, ‘You know what, you should be happy that you’re healthy, that’s great’. That’s what did it for me – there’s not enough of it.
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Sex is like food. Human existence consists of all these different needs and unfortunately sex gets such a bad rap – there are all these restaurants for food, so saunas for me should be like an extension to that. We say, ‘I feel like a meal today. Where shall I eat?’ We don’t ask ourselves, ‘Why do I want to eat a steak today?’ So why ask yourself why you want to fuck someone today? It’s exactly the same thing.
So I really like that gay men have outlets for sexual expression, be it saunas, beats or whatever. They can go there if they think, ‘I want to have sex with someone who’s in the same headspace as me’. I think being able to do that really makes me a happier person.
Sluts and desperadoes
Before I went to a sauna I thought all guys who went to saunas were desperate and that they were all sluts because otherwise they’d pick up in ordinary places – that was what was on my mind and of course the moment I had my own experience I realised it was completely the opposite.
Go and have a shag
Those guys who would never do a sauna, because to them it doesn’t look good or whatever are often just standing around at clubs looking frustrated. I wish I could say to them, ‘Stop worrying about what everyone else thinks, and just go and have a shag and you’ll be fine. It’s not as bad as you think! In fact it’s not bad at all.’
I think in a way clothes really cover up a lot. They remove that layer of put-on personality; suddenly you’re just a person in a towel. And everyone’s in this even playing field in a way, so you can just physically size someone up. Sure that can have its downfalls too. But it’s just much more real. Often it’s quite a shock when they get dressed afterwards and you’re thinking, ‘Oh, you’re wearing that! We would normally never have met…’
I’m quite into leather and stuff and it’s good to see younger people actually breaking through that barrier a bit. There’s this old regime of leather queens out there that don’t want the younger ones coming through – I think they think they’re going to be bitchy or something - but I really like to see young people engaging more positively with their sexuality. I like to see them getting into it and playing around a bit because there’s this really ‘Abercrombie and Fitch’ sexuality around and I find it so mindless, dull and uninteresting.
I’m not white, I’m short, I’m gay, so I’ve always seen myself from the outside looking in and its always allowed me to try out something new, because I’m not like everyone else.
Travis was born in Dubai and spent his childhood travelling around the Middle East with his parents
Travis moved with his family to Alice Springs, Australia 16 years ago
After 8 months Travis and his family moved to Melbourne