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Thursday 09 October 2008


New Zealand's favourite gay boy-next-door

Posted in: True Stories
By Matt Akersten - 29th April 2008

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Josh Chapman
He lost his dad to HIV. He was civil unioned - then divorced. Now he's a Safe Sex Poster Boy-Next-Door, doing his bit for the gay community by spreading the life-saving condom message. All this, and he's still only 22…

I spoke to Josh Chapman as he was preparing his speech for next month's Christchurch Pride Week, which he'll attend both as a Safe Sex Poster Boy handing out condoms at various parties, and also to speak in honour of his father at the annual AIDS Candlelight Memorial.

"I'll be relating my dad's passing of HIV/AIDS in 1994. How that's affected me and my family, how I've grown from that and become driven to promote HIV awareness in our community," he explains, adding that he's excited to be visiting the South Island for the first time. Does he get nervous about speaking in front of a crowd? "I like it - I like challenge, I like being able to meet and exceed expectations… if it helps me get the job done, then I'm proud to say that I like to be the centre of attention."

His confidence, his personal story - and let's face it, his good looks - all helped him beat out several other candidates to become one of six NZ AIDS Foundation Poster Boys last year - and since then he's appeared on condom packets, on magazine covers, on websites, on stage at various events, and even in Sydney's Mardi Gras Parade. "Being a Poster Boy has really been quite different - it started off fast, and I almost feel like it a more 'amplified' version of my life already - if you can understand that," he ventures. "I try to be as sociable as I can, and now it's like I'm in my element."

One of the funniest experiences he's had in his time as a Poster Boy is becoming the star of a piece of racy fiction which appeared on GayNZ.com's Forum one day, written by a keen fan of his, with the title: Hot Sex With Josh. "How could I forget that?" he smiles when I mention the story. "I saw the title, and didn't actually read 'With Josh' - I have a habit of partially reading things. It wasn't until I was half-way through it that I realised, 'umm... what?' And then I re-read it and was shocked. I was around at [fellow Poster Boy] Liam's place at the time, and he just laughed. It was kinda weird, but oddly cool at the same time... but then I realised my head was swelling. To be honest I have been awaiting a sequel though… but I have a boyfriend! So, it'd feel wrong," he giggles.

COMING OUT - AND COUPLING UP

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Sydney Mardi Gras Parade: The boys won their trip across the ditch
Coming out was a difficult experience for Josh - growing up, he didn't feel that the environment he lived in was supportive. "I came out to a few close friends and built up that support network for me to fall back on. I was really scared of coming out to my mum - after what she'd been through with my dad, who was gay too. But eventually went I did finally come out, mum was the most amazing support person ever, she said she'd known - or at least had a hint - since I was about four years old. That kinda ticked me off at first, but I calmed down - she said she'd realised she needed to let me figure it out for myself."

Josh was completely 'out' at age 16 - and while still in his teens, he civil unioned with his partner in a secret ceremony. "We officially started dating in February 2005, I was 19, and we were both living in Miramar, but in separate addresses - though I was staying a lot at his place," he says of the relationship. At the end of March I moved in with him.

"One night while we were out at Pound (Wellington's now-closed gay nightclub) we were in a really deep discussion outside on our 'smoko' and then he asked me "will you marry me?". I told him I didn't want to give him an answer then. The next morning I asked him if he was serious, and he rolled over to the bedside cabinet, pulled out a box, opened it and proposed again... I was floored so I said "yes!!"

The smitten couple were married that May. "It was very small, just us, two of our friends, and the registrar. Neither of us had told our families - even then we thought we'd be ridiculed by them for jumping so soon. It was nice intimate and small.

"We stayed together just over two years, but then separated because he was cheating on me. I caught him out in January. We tried to make it work but the love had gone from the relationship… we realised it wasn't going to work much more."

Exactly like a heterosexual marriage, the two men have to be officially separated and living apart for two years before their union can be legally dissolved. So now, a year on, they're only half-way through their separation. Divorce proceedings can begin this time next year. I asked the obvious question - does Josh now think he was too young to get civil unioned? He mulls it over. "Well, I don't really know how to answer that. Sometimes maybe yes, that would be something I would agree with, but I definitely don't regret it. But I've seen and experienced so much because of it - I could not ever wish it never happened."

AND NOW?

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The Poster Boys & their fan Helen Clark at the Big Gay Out
Josh has moved on and found new love this year - and is happy to share his romantic tale with us. "His name is Paul, and we've been seeing each other since Valentine's Day, officially. But I saw him the first weekend of February out at SubNine (a Wellington gay event venue) with his best friend, and we just kinda caught each other's eye, if you know what I mean. But we didn't end up talking to each other that night.

"I realised when I next got online I'd been chatting to him for a while on NZDating, and he gave me his number and we started texting each other heaps. Anyway, long story short... we decided to meet up for coffee - and I mean the beverage, not 'gay sex coffee', he grins. "This was on Waitangi Day, and then we were like 'OMG YOU'RE SO HOTT' via txt when we parted ways after coffee."

Because the guys weren't going to see each other for another week, they decided to play a game where they asked each other a minimum of one question each day to find out more about each other, Josh's story continues. "Wednesday the 13th of February rolled around; he came to stay the night. We'd planned to go to dinner and a movie... but after a short two-minute awkward moment, well the rest is history. Let's just say the night didn't go entirely to plan… and the next morning I asked him out officially."

Josh says his journey as a Poster Boy has been an exciting ride so far, and although feedback he's heard about the campaign has been mixed - and he'd even describe some reactions as 'hostile' - he's quick to defend himself and the AIDS Foundation against any doubters. "I have met some amazing people along the way, and also with feedback from the community I can see areas that are in need of attention and I feel that I will do my role some justice.

"I won't be - as one person has described me - 'another well-intentioned head on the chopping block,'" he promises. "I have never regretted becoming a Safe Sex Poster Boy - not one bit."

A short NZAF clip showing Josh is shown below.


Matt Akersten - 29th April 2008