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.
Back to top
I was born in Harlingen, Texas, but I only lived there for about six months because my dad was seen as a ‘school-fixer’. After he’d fix a school, he’d get another offer to go somewhere else and my mother was in education too, so we’d all move every two years. We moved all around Texas when I was younger and from fourth grade onwards it was mostly just around Houston.
I had to learn a skill set around making new friends and I had to put the effort into maintaining relationships with people who were no longer in the same city as me.
It was hard for me to open up because I had the mindset of, ‘what’s the point? I’m just going to move again and lose these friendships.’
Houston was good because I was able to make some roots and I went to high school with the same kids I went to middle school with.
I have one older sister who is five years older than me and she was the main reason we moved to Houston. She was really good at sports so we moved closer to where the competitive sports was. My father was a coach before becoming a teacher and so was able to foster that in her. I always viewed my father as an authoritarian. He was a sports fanatic and sports coach. It was a long time before he left that mindset of coach behind with regards to his relations with his children. Of course it didn’t help that my sister was so into sports so he was her coach for many years and he was just more comfortable with that role.
I am definitely not a sports-inclined individual but he definitely tried to push me into it. I had to play a sport growing up but at least I got to chose which one so I chose soccer because that was the one sport my father didn’t know. He was not the most supportive and aware parent for me. Things are better now, he’s definitely more fatherly than he was and we have moved out of the dynamic where he was the disciplinarian and I am the child needing direction.
My sister and I have a delicate relationship because we didn’t get on when we were growing up at all. While she was still developing at five years old, I came along and she didn’t want to leave the mentality of free-reign when a new baby came into the situation. She definitely pulled focus in the family and we had to walk on eggshells around her to not upset her because she’d create a dramatic episode if we did. I always found it best to not engage and minimise my interactions with her.
I’m closest with my mother because she was a much more supportive, caring and emotionally aware parent. She was definitely my protector and very loving, especially when my father would get onto me too much about sports or whatnot. I learned a lot from her and we both have very similar natures. We are the type to check in with people and see how they’re doing. I felt more comfortable going to her if I had issues of questions about anything. However, my relationship with my parents is still quite superficial and the conversations we have are very surface-level.
I would describe my best friends more as my family. They’re the ones I lean on, they’re the ones that I check in with and they’re my support, for sure. They are the most important people in my life at the moment.
Back to top
I remember when I was around seven, I was in school and I looked around, realising I was surrounded by girls. There were a bunch of boys playing in the yard kicking a ball around and I had no interest in that. I thought, ‘I’d much rather be here with my friends.’ I think that’s when I first realised I was much more aligned with my female friends. I then started to realise that I also had these different feelings towards boys that was beyond friendship. It was in the same adoring way that my female friends saw them.
The most important lesson I learnt in high school was to value myself and my opinion. I was very much a people-pleaser and caregiver, but I didn’t know the parameters around healthy caregiving for others. Often there were people I was helping out and caring for but there was no reciprocal care or concern with regards to taking care of me or supporting me. I was lucky in high school for the fact that I wasn’t bullied very much. There was a little bit, but not much at all by any stretch of the imagination. I think a large part of that stems from my mother being a teacher at the school. I think with her just being around, people wouldn’t mess with me too much. I was also friends with all the girls and of course, because of that their boyfriends wouldn’t give me shit. Whilst I wasn’t publically out, it was very obvious and so just a thing everyone understood without it being specified.
I identify as a gay male who visually walks the line of androgyny as far as blending masculine and feminine features.
Because of that, I have some friends who lovingly call me “tranny”, or I have other friends who refer to me as “she” or “he”. All of that is perfectly fine with me because I don’t hate the male part of me - I don’t have any negative or positive values around it. I would say the majority of people refer to me as “she´, but I don’t actually put any efforts into making them choose that option. It makes more sense for some friends to call me “she”, because they feel I don’t have an overpowering masculine energy.
I do have a lot of friends who are transgendered as well as drag queens. They’ve talked to me about it but I’ve felt like those weren’t options that really spoke to me and explained who I was or what I was interested in. I just draw on what I think is good in each of them and try to live my life positively, moving forward with that combination. I think it’s about building the life that you want that makes the most sense for you and gets you moving in a positive direction, makes you happy. Some days I would be visually more masculine because I’ve been too lazy to shave or I’m wearing clothes that aren’t feminine.
Death Valley, California
Back to top
In 2004, I was going to college and living in Austin. I met this guy, who was actually seeing a friend of mine at the time and we got on really well. After they broke up, we got pretty close, started hanging out a lot more and I realised I had romantic interest in him. I told him, “this has been really great hanging out and I’ve had fun, but I’m feeling that I like you more than just a friend.” He said at the time he wasn’t ready for a relationship and he didn’t want to go there with me. I understood that for him, but unfortunately for me, I felt that way towards him and I told him I couldn’t progress forward as just friends.
At that point, we stopped communicating for about three months and just moved on with our lives. After three months he got in touch again and wanted to start dating. We moved in together almost immediately as I was just moving into a new place and it worked out that way. It was good because at that point I needed a lot of attention and he was my first boyfriend. I was 22 at the time and had so many years of not expressing emotional or romantic feelings towards others, so I had a strong desire to gear that toward somebody.
It started off good but we did have our struggles due to different personality types as we would want to do different things with our time.
He also had a past with drug use and sex, so during that whole first year we were together, we did not have sex.
He was very big into the chem.-sex scene and so when he wasn’t using those drugs, he could not perform.He had a lot of anxiety around sexual interactions when he wasn’t on drugs and in addition to that he was also HIV positive which added to his concern, not wanting to transmit HIV to me. He was grappling with all of this at the time and didn’t express to me in a sexual manner. Even though, I may have expressed it to him and try to get things started, it eventually had to be shut down because it wasn’t going anywhere. This was so frustrating for me because he was my first boyfriend and I wanted to explore this whole world with somebody and yet I was not able to.
I didn’t (and still don’t) do any drugs or drink and it wasn’t something I was interested in. He still drank and smoked weed from time to time but he was trying to get his life together after using all those drugs and letting things get out of control. It affected his education and his profession so he tried really hard to stay away and I was probably a good option for him as I supported his sobriety. We were very good friends and got on very well, it was just in the realm of sexual interaction that we didn’t develop which was a massive let down.
Back to top
About six months into the relationship, I found an email from a guy and I confronted him about it. He told me that he was having sex, just not with me. Someone had shown interest in him and he didn’t shut it down, so eventually it developed into them sneaking around.
We were not in an open relationship by any stretch of the imagination so he had cheated on me and I found it really difficult.
Not only was I wanting to have a sexual relationship with him, he wasn’t reciprocating those feelings towards me and he had to go somewhere else to express that sexual desire that involved drugs and alcohol.
As he was my first boyfriend and in my mind, I had no options out there, I let him continue staying with me. I hoped things would get better between us but the themes of frustration between us weren’t going away. We would have a lot of conversations around the same issues over and over again.
Even when it came to financial affairs, he kept on talking about how he wanted to get them into order but then would go shopping and spend his money frivolously, in my mind. He didn’t have the skill set to follow through with his intentions. He also worked in retail and valued his appearance to a significant degree. I being a vegan hippie didn’t necessarily place as much value in appearance as he did. He and his friends were a bit superficial to me and I clashed very much with him and his group – another tension between us was that I never wanted to hang out with his friends, partially because of their superficialness and I didn’t get on with them, nor value the same things.
After the year was up, he broke it off with me. We went our separate ways and stopped communicating for a while. It taught me what I wanted and didn’t want in a relationship. I didn’t want someone who was not sexually attracted to me, I wanted someone who had willpower or values and were able to follow through with intentions. I also wanted someone whose values aligned with mine.
Back to top
I ended up seeing my ex about a year later at a club. He wanted to catch up again and I said, “sure, that’s fine.” At this point I already knew I was moving to Australia for placement so there was no fear of reconnecting with him in my mind. There was also no way I was going to not go to Australia because of a possible relationship with him. I was also at the point where I was only remembering the negatives of a relationship and didn’t romanticise what we had. It wasn’t until I had actually left and landed in Australia that he started expressing how much he missed me and realised the positive and the good I did for him. It was nice to hear him appreciating me but I had come to Australia and I wasn’t interested in a long distance relationship.
After my year in Australia, I loved it so much and I knew I wanted to stay on but my visa had run out. My ex wanted to see me as soon as I got back but I told him that I would only see him three months after I landed. The reason I did that was to give myself some time to see if there were any other options to reconnect with my friends and also see what life was like in Austin in 2009.
When we finally met up again, things went right back to where they were as far as the friendliness and all the positives in our relationship. He had grown in different maturity levels and I thought, ‘he is somebody who is interested, he has matured a lot, we have a great friendship and get along really well, so why not? Let’s try again!”
I knew I wanted to go back to Australia but in order to do that I needed a lot more work experience in order to get a permanent resident visa. I had expressed to him my intention of moving back when I decided to date him and he was okay with that. If anything, it could be a good companionship for me and someone to hang out with until I went back. My work experience ended up lasting a lot longer than I expected it to so I was in Austin for a few more years. We were together for another three more years but finally realised that it wasn’t working. We had the same issues and during that stretch of our relationship, as far as I knew, he wasn’t cheating, so neither of us were getting our sexual needs met.
We had made more attempts but as far as penetrative sex it wasn’t working. I personally align more with being a bottom so I couldn’t fuck him and we weren’t really interested in toys.
What worked for us is mutual masturbation as a form of sexual expression but again, a lot of things weren’t lining up with what we wanted. I am also a big cuddler but he wasn’t, so we would cuddle for a bit and then he pushed me away because he couldn’t sleep that way. Our sexual needs nor our intimacy needs were being met being together. After three years, we broke up and managed to go back to the mindset of interacting as friends and not partners.
It has all been a journey for me, learning from being a people-pleaser, more concerned about other people’s happiness than my own in my youth and then coming into that relationship, again not valuing my own happiness. That journey set me up to value myself and my happiness more.
Back to top
Austin was the hippie capital of Texas, back in the 70’s and their motto was “Keep Austin weird.” There is a huge feeling in Austin that just accepts as you are so that was my first entry into this world. People who didn’t necessarily want to fit into society’s mainstream boxes. Being in Austin I had exposure to a lot of people who were into crystals, gems, yoga and drum circles. I wouldn’t necessarily classify myself as an extreme expression of a hippie but I would say I’m a casual hippie as I do like my comforts of modern conveniences. I am somebody who values nature, animals and connection to the Earth with respect for resources and things of that nature.
Big Bend National Park
It was in my sophomore year in high school when I first wanted to become vegetarian because of my feelings around animals. Eating meat didn’t match up with my values and desires. My mother wasn’t supportive because she thought it wasn’t healthy for me while I was still growing. After I moved out of home, I started being vegetarian and I told myself that after six months, if I was struggling with it, I would become pescetarian. I actually loved being vegetarian and was so for seven years but I knew that I would eventually end up vegan because of my values.
I have been vegan now for almost three years and it’s been really good. Not only does it really match my morals and values around animals and the food industry, it also means I don’t have to worry about my weight which is nice.
I am much happier now and I feel great whilst it also helps me have the body I want an I’m comfortable with.
Back to top
Now I am living in Australia and I have a permanent resident visa so I can stay here as long as I want or make it permanent. Not partaking in drugs or alcohol has definitely been tougher here in Australia than in America because drinking really is part of the culture here. It’s such a big part of communication, catching up and relating with others. You’re always catching up for a drink or around drugs or something. It was particularly tough in the beginning having to be around people who were using and drinking when I didn’t necessarily want to be around it.What bothers me about drinking and drugs is when it gets to the point of the person no longer being present, when a person is so drunk or off their face that I am no longer relating to that person.
Knowing that I am somebody who doesn’t use, I’m aware that I’m the oddball out in those kinds of social interactions.
I don’t judge others for their drug use or alcohol use. I have many friends and I have been around visually someone doing a line of coke and using other drugs. I’ve been around it and I’ve seen it, so it’s not as if it shocks me to be around it, but I will say that sobriety is something that I would like in a partner moving forward so we can share our values around drugs and alcohol, or at least be somebody who is very aware of their drug use or alcohol use to the point that it’s not detrimental to our relationship. It can be tough at times as I often find myself not necessarily wanting to go to clubs or bars as it’s often not a good environment for social interactions.
I don’t want superficial friends, I want somebody who I can relate with and connect with. So I often find that I use the social dating apps to meet people instead of going to clubs. Of course at the same time I’m not somebody who’s very promiscuous or sexually free as other are on those apps. It can be a challenge to meet people who aren’t only interested in sex so I have to make things explicitly clear on my profile of what I’m looking for and what I’m interested in. I like to have a connection first. Again, I know I end up being the weirdo or the oddball out in that I’m using these hookup apps for the purpose of meeting people.
Back to top
It’s not just a problem in Melbourne, I think it’s across the world too. With technology moving towards these apps, we have definitely lost the social skills that we once had. It’s funny to go to a bar and a club and see somebody on their phone on Grindr or something when you’re actually in a space surrounded by gay men who are looking to meet people and have fun.
Why not just turn to the person next to you and say hello?
I think people get hung up on physical specifics - instead of relating to the human that they’re interacting with. “Oh, you’re not uncut” or “You’re not 6’ tall”, whatever it is. There’s all these different restrictions that people now feel as though they can use that is even further limiting our interactions and our willingness to communicate with others.
I would say what someone might be able to learn from my story is, it comes with time and work and practice, but valuing your voice, valuing your opinion, valuing your happiness. At the end of the day, I think we all want to live a good life, a positive life, and it starts with making our life match with our morals, values and references and happiness. So if somebody in your life isn’t supportive to you and isn’t bringing positivity to your life, I think you need to look at that relationship and see if it’s something that you need to value as much as it currently is. So maybe it means getting rid of people who aren’t bringing positives to your life, maybe it’s seeking people who more match your values and can support you in what you’re feeling and wanting to move towards in life, to build that network that will help get you where you want to be.
I value my personal expression, whether it’s my visual expression not aligning with society, whether it’s my values of not drinking when there’s a larger society that wants me to or says that I should, whether it’s a value of me personally not wanting to be as free with my sexuality, being a little bit more restricted with it in a gay world that says you should be out there having fun.
Zac went to University in Austin and lived there for a few years.