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 Rotorua in a very religious family with a younger sister and two older brothers; we were all adopted from different places around New Zealand. My parents were always really upfront about it. I am the only one out of the four children who has never met their real parents but that’s the only difference between all of us.
My birth parents are from Rotorua. All I know about them is on a piece of paper which I got with my birth certificate: my mother’s name, and her height, weight, and the age she was when she gave birth to me. Other than that, it’s pretty vague.
I think meeting them is something I would like to do. I’m 29 years old now, and I was adopted at birth. I always saw my parents as the people who adopted me and that’s all I have ever known. Later on my Mum wanted to help me find my real parents and I just said to her “Well you brought me up and you’re my parents so that’s it”. Now that I haven’t been around my adoptive family for 3 or 4 years, and I am considering it more and more and I have started to look.
My mother is European and my father is a Māori. My father is actually also adopted as well. In Māori culture you have what is called whāngai: you don’t get legally adopted; you just have two cousins or two family friends say: “Can I have your child”? That’s what happened with him. He’s very quiet and doesn’t say what is on his mind. He thinks through everything and he expects things to be done perfectly the first time.
My Nan was the most influential person in my life growing up. She was very quiet, very much like my father. I spent most of my time with her from a child. She passed away when I was 14 or 15, around 1999. She was a big part of my life and when she passed away I started to question a lot of things about myself about what I was doing and where I was going.
I still get a little bit emotional when I think about her; if I see her name or if I see her photo, I still cry. She taught me how to look at a situation and see the positive in everything. She taught me not to judge and not to treat anybody differently because of their circumstances.
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Growing up, I never felt like I could talk to my parents. It was only my Nan that I could talk to. My family were always fostering kids and we took in homeless people that would come to the church and give them a bed or a room. So there was always people going through the house, and there were always kids around so I guess I just ended up keeping things to myself. I was given everything I needed, but I couldn’t just go and share things with my parents and tell them if I was having problems. I didn’t feel like I had someone there to protect me, I suppose.
It’s the same for my older brothers and my sister. My oldest brother left home when he was 16 to find his birth parents and I haven’t seen him since; he’s now 35. I have seen his kids; he has six children. I found it hard when I saw his oldest daughter - she’s the splitting image of him. It kind of hurts that he doesn’t make any effort to get in contact, because in some ways I feel closer to him than I do to my family that I used to see quite often.
I saw my parents two weeks ago on my birthday. That was for about an hour. I do live 3 hours away from them, but I very rarely even get phone calls from my family. I don’t get much contact at all. My sister tends to go through my Facebook page to find out information to go and give to my mother. My dad is actually partially deaf and is in ill health at the moment. It’s why I really wanted to see my parents on my birthday, because I didn’t want to leave on bad terms with him especially if something happened to him. I don’t want leave the situation badly, no matter how they feel about my sexuality.
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We joined up with Lake City Church when my parents came back from being Baptist missionaries in Papua New Guinea and that was for 3 years. Prior to 1989, pretty much all I knew was the Baptist life. After 1989 we changed churches and went to Lake City Church which is kind of Apostolic, but they were very right wing, even then. Baptist and Apostolic are similar; out of all of the Christian fellowships, those two are probably the most similar. It’s not like comparing Catholic and Anglican, which are very different, but it was still a bit of a change in beliefs. Later on Lake City Church moved to Auckland and became Destiny Church.
When I was younger, I was involved in a protest rally organised by the church. A bill was going through parliament for same sex unions, and Destiny Church organised a march on Parliament House to protest called “Enough is Enough”. They didn’t want gays to have a union that was even close to marriage, and they didn’t want children to be taught about non-heterosexual unions. There were 10,000 people in the church across the country, and Brian Tamaki (Bishop of Destiny Church) wanted the entire church to march, in uniform, through Wellington’s main street. So we walked all around Wellington, and it was on every news broadcast, and got a lot of publicity. People made a lot of jokes about the church, and about Brian Tamaki: he’s a gay guy’s worst nightmare.
But there I was, walking down the street wearing a black shirt like everybody else, with my arm in the air doing the Haka with 600 other guys. We were getting eggs thrown at us by gay people and even now, looking back on it years later, I am still ashamed. Now, I am happy and content with myself, and I have accepted within myself that being gay is okay. But I am still ashamed that I was involved in that march.
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Being brought up in a church, no one ever really went out with girls or did anything with girls unless you were going to marry them. So I never actually had a girlfriend until I was 18. That was very hard for me because I kept getting called names and was bullied all through primary and high school. I had a lot of cousins who were in the same situation, so I had some support, but it was still hard.
Both my sister and older brother were at the same school as me, my mum used to work there, and we also lived next door. Everybody from our church knew me and lots of the kids went there too, so there was always somebody around. It was easy to get in trouble if you did anything against the rules.
My parents, especially my mother, has a very black and white view of things. There is no in between, there are no grey areas. To give you a better idea; when my older brother had his first child, my mother said to him “If you don’t get married to the girl, I am going to disown you”. That’s my mother in a nutshell. The rule was that you don’t date girls and that’s it, no discussion. If you did, there were consequences. It was always: “You are going to get into trouble”.
So, I never really had any relationships with girls, although I always had female friends. When I was younger, I struck up a friendship with a girl and I wasn’t sure where it was going to go and ran with it. She’s actually the one I had my daughter to later on.
My daughter Lucy is just over 5 years old, and I haven’t seen her in about 3 years since I got kicked out of my parents’ house on New Year’s Eve. Her mother is in Destiny Church as well, and I heard from my sister that my mother said she is going to support my ex to get full custody of Lucy if I come out as openly gay. It’s been very hard for me because I live in the same town as she lives in. When I think about it, I get as upset as when I talk about my Nan.
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Having that religious background, I always knew that you were not supposed to look at guys. You’re not supposed to think of them sexually. But I started to realise that I liked looking at guys, and even though I felt like it was bad to be interested, I just couldn’t help it. It kind of went from there. Eventually when I was about 19, and I moved to Auckland, I had my first sexual experience with a guy .
I had moved to Auckland for university, and was studying architecture. The whole degree was done more for my family, rather than looking at what I wanted to do. My family owned a lot of houses in Rotorua, and that was how I thought I could best help them. It was all from my mother; “This is what I want you to be and this is how you are going to be”.
In Auckland, I had more freedom to experience myself and things just started happening. I met someone through a phone dating website, and after a few texts, he picked me up. I slept with him about five or six times, but then I cut off contact because I was still questioning a lot of things about myself. About a year later, I moved to Wellington to try to change my thoughts about being gay, and about being in that lifestyle. The church that I moved to in Wellington was a lot more ‘hands on’ – that’s the word for it in their church. After a year and a half, my dad’s health started to decline, so I moved back to Auckland, which got me thinking again about all the things I had been questioning and trying to stop whilst in Wellington .
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I attempted suicide three times in that period.
I had grown up with this religious stuff and everything and I was constantly questioning myself thinking things like ‘Why am I thinking this way’ and ‘This is bad’. I tried to get counselling, but I was too scared to go to somebody outside of church. I wanted to see a counsellor who would understand me, but at the time the only people I knew to talk to were in the church.
It was really hard to say what I thought and it was hard for me to hear from somebody who wasn’t going through anything I was going through, who wasn’t adopted, and who hadn’t had their Nan die. I thought ‘You haven’t had somebody you loved die, so why should I listen to you? You haven’t felt the pain that I have so why should I listen to you’?
They said “You need to get away from Auckland. You need to move. You need to change your whole mindset and all your thoughts about being gay. It’s wrong. It’s bad.” So that was part of the reason for moving to Wellington, but even after I moved, it didn’t really help the situation because I was really just running from things. I still thought about it, and I still looked at guys in a sexual way. I went to saunas when I was there, to experience things that I thought were bad but I still wanted to do and I didn’t care what anybody in the church said. I was still experiencing myself I suppose.
Going into the sauna you wouldn’t even know who you were with, but it was just for pleasure. Obviously things were always safe and doing everything right like using condoms and stuff. But at that time I only wanted to go again and again and again and I couldn’t understand the meaning of having a relationship. I didn’t care about having more than sex, more than just the sauna.
I never thought of going to NZ AIDS Foundation at the time. I’ve been to them now, and discussed things and made a lot of connections, but at the time, the only person that I felt really cared about me was the person I was hooking up with.
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When I moved from Wellington back to Auckland, the guy that I had my first sexual experience was normally at the gay club and I started going out there. He wanted to get back together and start doing stuff again. I told him that I had changed: “I’ve seen you out a few weekends and all you do is get with a different guy every other night or every other weekend and I don’t want to be like that”. He said that I was being too judgmental. Maybe I was, but it’s my choice. It’s my decision to choose to be with someone or not. It meant a lot to me because even though I wasn’t going to church by that stage, I still had a lot of morals that my parents gave me, so I didn’t want to just have sex with lots of people. But even if I did, it was still important to be safe, and look out for myself and be comfortable with what I was doing.
A few years later, a friend of mine came around to the family house because he was having problems and needed some support. He went to leave, and I hugged him.
My nephew saw, but he thought he saw me kiss him. When I walked back inside, there was a massive family meeting that ended in a feud. About two or three hours later, I had been kicked out. It was New Year’s Eve.
After that, I told myself that I was never going to go back and live there. I would look after myself. If my family don’t love me the way I am, if they can’t accept me, then they are not worth going home to. And that’s how I’ve been since then. I am at the point where I would rather spend my time promoting equality, and I want to show my happiness not only to friends, but to my family too.
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In the Māori culture, homosexuality is generally not an issue. There is a well known proverb within Maoridom which says, ‘He aha tem ea nui o tea o? He tangata he tangata he tangata.’ This is translated into, ‘What is the most important treasure in the world? People, people, people.’
This is used to help others understand that they are important from the day they were conceived in their mothers’ womb. Culturally, Māori people are only judged on the deeds or contribution to their whanau (family), hapu (sub-tribe) or Iwi (tribe), not who they choose to take as their partner. My sexuality is more accepted by my dad’s Māori side rather than my European side. I have three drag queens in my family and one other gay guy. So there is a lot of acceptance in my extended family, just not really in my immediate family.
The biggest thing for Māori are your family ties - it’s all about family. My European side of the family is scattered all over, in Wellington, Auckland and overseas, and unless there’s a funeral, we never see each other. Whereas the Māori side of the family, we all get together about once every three months and have a big party. We’ll get a big hangi together, a big feed, and we’ll have guitars and sit around playing and singing songs and getting drinks.
The last time I went back to my family in Rotorua, I took my boyfriend at the time with me and I introduced them to my whole family and they accepted him and they want us to come back. It’s been eye opening in some ways, to see who really loves me.
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I had met my most recent boyfriend after I had been working in Auckland for about eight or nine months. He had moved to Auckland from Tauranga (where we live now) and we started going out. I was always serving drinks and everything and when he used to come in he would only have water. I would give him soft drinks and lemonade and then I eventually bought him a few shots here and there.
He had broken up with his ex at the same time as I did. I found him on Facebook, online through a friend. He gave me his number and we met up at karaoke and we sang a few songs and then he came back to my house. That turned into one night together and then continued for about three more weeks between my house and his. After that I got him a job at the bar where I was working, which was a bit difficult at times, with the drama of the gay scene because everyone knew about us. Eventually we just got to the point where it all got too hard, with uni in the morning, my part-time job in the afternoon and then working on the bar at night. We decided we either had to move out of Auckland or it was going to be a very short relationship, so we moved to Tauranga.
We were very similar to each other. He composes music, has a degree in classical music and we sang a lot. We were monogamous together, it’s only ever been us and that’s it . We weren’t using condoms but we would get tested every three months just to be sure
If anybody looked at him wrong, I would get up in arms, but then again, I was also a lot more trusting of him. We had both worked in bars together, so there were guys that asked him and he would say, “You can ask my boyfriend who is standing right next to me”. I would say, “You’re a dick, what did you say that for?” He said it was because it was fun. I know hand on heart that he would never treat me the way my previous ex would.
He proposed to me last year. After a long day at work, he picked me up, and I was like “Hurry up, let’s go home”. We drove all around town and I was like “Okay, I am getting over this now”. We pulled up to one of the big parks in Tauranga, he got me out of the car and we were walking around and I kept saying “Hurry up. I want to go home, I’m hungry”. It was a moonlit night, stars shining, and we stopped by a big fountain. Then he got down on his knee. The first thing I said was “Are you serious? You better not be lying. I am going to hit you if you are”. He said “No, I’m serious; I would like you to be my partner, my husband for the rest of my life”. So that was it – or so I thought.
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Things were going really well and we were happy but in about February this year, he just said that he fell out of love, which I didn't really understand, even to this day. He was telling others that we were in an open relationship, which I disagree with. I didn't know anything about it and found out after we broken up that he was meeting up with people for ulterior motives.
Looking back, my previous ex and I didn’t really have anything in common, apart from playing a lot of games on PS3; we just didn’t do much of anything It wasn’t until after we broke up that I really realised how little we were alike. He and I had always used condoms the whole time we were together, which was two years. He used to be a working boy, which I didn’t find out about until about three months into the relationship with him. We always had safe sex, but the whole relationship was full of mistrust. Eventually our relationship got to the point where we ended up having an open relationship which was destructive in itself.
I think that if you’re an adopted child, you always have a big problem with rejection and trust. For me, it was even more so because of my family and getting kicked out of home. I didn’t feel like I could trust anybody around me because I feared they would hurt and reject me. In the first month my previous ex and I were together, he cheated on me with someone I knew. I knew when it happened and I knew the person at the same time. That relationship was really unhealthy to begin with, but when we became an open relationship, I said “Well I am fine with you doing stuff with other guys as long as you tell me about it”.
Surprisingly enough, on the night that my most recent ex and I broke up, I received rather large email from the previous ex before him and that was very interesting in the sense that we were in the same situation but the roles were reversed. For the last six months I was with him I couldn’t bring myself to say that I just wasn’t in love and I wanted to break up with him. In his email he said, “I can’t go from loving you to hating you, no matter how much I try.” I understood a lot of the feelings that my previous ex had towards me, he said he still felt for me and ended up coming to stay with me for about a month. He expressed how he felt when we broke up which made me understand the situation and put my heart more at ease about what we went through. I had heard that he had gotten into drugs and asked him about it but I told him that I didn’t like him any less or think of him any less, but that I was just surprised he had done that because he was a very mature and intelligent man. He always had suffered heavily from depression; even to this day he still takes pills and goes to psychiatrists.
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The break up with my most recent ex was a real eye opener. Tauranga is a really small place so it’s never easy making friends as well as being gay. I met a few people that said they knew him and I asked them, “How do you know him?” They would respond saying that they had done this with him and fooled around.
About eight months after we broke up, I went over to a friend’s house and she didn’t tell me that he was going to be there. When I saw him we ended up having a big talk and I took him out to dinner. We even went to karaoke and ended up going home together. He told me that during that eight month period he had got together with someone and caught both syphilis and gonorrhoea (STIs). I said to him, “I’ve been concerned for you. You only decide to go and get yourself checked out when something wrong happens, what’s up with that. You should place more importance on your life and understand there are those friends of yours who also may think of you as a role model in some way.” Although I don’t agree with the religious views my family had, I still hold the morals and understanding that I am important – I have value.
I ended up moving back to Auckland from Tauranga for a few different reasons. My dad had a stroke and he’s totally deaf now with a cochlear implant. I never actually realised how bad it was but I remember one time when I came back to visit him about four years ago and I took him for his first drive since getting the implant and he started crying. I’ve never heard my dad cry before and he said that he could actually hear the sound of the rain. We take so much for granted and when we all have the sense of touch, the ability to see and listen to somebody. My dad and I never really had a strong relationship growing up but it’s gotten a lot stronger as I’ve gotten older. He managed to pull through and is all okay now.
Coming back to Auckland and getting in touch with previous friends from church, they have told me how much I’ve changed. They said that whilst I was in church I was introverted, quiet, kept to myself and always in the background. Now they’re surprised that I’ve lost 60kgs, I sing, I dance, I’ve done kapahaka, done performances and even worked in a gay bar. I’m proud of where I am now and I am humbled by how far I’ve come. Although it hurts to not have somebody that you’ve really loved in your life, it is something that I’ve had to learn and grow in myself.
Becoming 30 this year has made me realise how much change there has been. There are so many different things I am giving thought that I would not have this time last year. Good things come from change and I am now focused on making a change for something new.
I wanted to tell my story because I would like other people like me, and people that may have been in the same situation to understand what I went through. There is always something better. There is always somebody better. There is always somebody there who is willing to care for you and willing to look out for you and life was never that hard. Never think that there isn’t light at the end of the tunnel.