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Peter Taylor – Ticking along nicely

Thu 5 Apr 2007 In: People View at NDHA

Peter Taylor (R) with Karen Ritchie Peter Taylor will need no introduction to many of our Auckland readers… this is the man who ran legendary gay Ponsonby Road watering hole Surrender Dorothy, now sadly closed. Prior to that, he was travelling the world during a 24 year international equestrian career. In the mid-nineties, doctors told him his adventure-filled days would be over within months. A bite from a Spanish sandfly had infected him with leishmaniasis donovani, an evil disease that was rapidly destroying his bone marrow. Peter, who turned 54 a few weeks ago, is now the only person in the world living with both leishmaniasis and HIV, and in a dozen years has clocked up around 650 doses of chemotherapy. The treatment has left him severely deaf and with only 10% of his vision. “I've kind of moved on from the whole ‘I'm supposed to be dead' stuff,” the eternal optimist says. He's keeping busy with his successful massage therapy business, writing his first novel, and a bit of public speaking – but these days he's cutting back on telling his story as much. “I just didn't want to talk about it anymore... it was a hard thing to talk about and have the audience actually get the point, because they were usually stumped by the sadness of the story, and not actually by the achievement of the recovery." “I still speak on my personal perspective of living with HIV for the AIDS Foundation when they ask me. That in itself is enormously satisfying, and it gives the audiences, mostly medical professionals, an understanding of the personal perspective. It also gives me the opportunity to properly present the importance of good management of wellness, as opposed to ‘owning the illness'. I don't have time to ‘own it'. I'm too busy,” he laughs. In the face of some grim complications Peter Taylor seems to be ticking along nicely. What keeps him going? He springs forth with his philosophies on life: ‘Be available for opportunity', ‘use your time well', ‘take responsibility for all things around you', ‘cut out the negatives', and ‘cut out the stress' he advises. But it's all easier said than done. The key idea in Peter's life is ‘management'. “You can't cut out stress completely,” he admits, “but you can manage it. Deal with it very quickly and move on. We don't have to harbour negatives and allow them the fester. People with depression would understand that, because depression feeds itself. I'm fortunate that I don't have depression. I believe it's a choice – I choose not to. That's a fairly strong thing to do, but that's how I stay incredibly well, because my life is full of laughter and full of purpose. Purpose, passion and joy.” RODNEY - A GORGEOUS MAN Much of the laughter and passion in Peter's life comes from his partner, Rodney. “We've been together about a year,” Peter smiles. “He's a gorgeous man, obviously! I met him on the internet. I had a very honest profile. We chatted for about six weeks, and then I met him and it went from there, really. So I'm very fortunate that someone would have me with my tattered body and my disabilities!” Before meeting Rodney, Peter had been celibate for six years. Meeting new people was a huge challenge for him. “It's not easy to go in amongst a group of people and explain that you're vision impaired. People go ‘oh yeah' and then move right past you. And you don't want to introduce yourself ‘Hi I'm Pete, I'm blind and deaf' – that's just not the way to meet people. So I had to engage with people in some kind of way that meant that we were actually communicating by words. The written word meant that I didn't have to communicate visually.” Diagnosed HIV positive 22 years ago, Peter wonders if the gay community has really learned anything since those early days of the illness in the 1980s. “There are still people willing to take a gamble for the sake of a moment's pleasure. When I was still single, I went to a sex-on-site venue a few times, and every single time I was there, I was offered unsafe sex. I thought ‘for goodness' sake', we've just had waves of our friends die in the mid-nineties, and we're going to have another wave come through. “You don't see sick people on the street like you used to, because of the medication. But taking medication, as I have done for a number of years, is not always easy. Diarhoea is one of the symptoms, which is just crippling from time to time. And there's a lot of people that don't react well to the medication – it gives them lethargy, makes it difficult for them to work, and they get depression," says the man who famously named his infection 'Vera Virus.' “How many of us have to die again, for people to get a clue? Wake up. You use condoms! End of story.” TAKING TO THE STAGE Peter as Miss Iceland at 'Queen of the Whole Universe' Peter was invited to be in the cast of Auckland's glittering night of drag, the Queen of the Whole Universe pageant last December. He jumped at the chance and threw himself into the role of ‘Miss Iceland'. On the night Miss Iceland danced so vigorously she suffered a 'wardrobe malfunction.' One of her boob tassels parted company from her nearly nude costume. It seemed a typical Peter Taylor touch that when Miss Iceland returned to the stage shortly afterwards the missing tassel was replaced by a perky red ribbon. “It wasn't until she got to the very end of the catwalk that she realised she was in the wrong show,” Peter smiles mischievously. “She thought she was at the European Pole Dancing Championships. That's why she was semi-naked in a G-string with two tassels. “It was my first time with the show. Buffy and Bimbo are very funny and easy to work with. I'd absolutely do it again, in a second.” His time with the event conjured up memories of the shows at the late Surrender Dorothy's bar in Ponsonby, which Peter still misses very much. “It was one place – especially since it was mine – where I could do and say whatever I wished. It made people feel included. I miss the interaction with people. I don't go out a lot now. With my hearing aids, being in bars is very difficult. Hearing aids pick up all sound, so conversation with an individual is very difficult in a crowded area. 'Queen of the Whole Universe photos by Deane Cohen “I do still go to dance parties sometimes. I've always loved to dance. I love the beat. When I'm in that environment I can hear the music because that's the loudest thing. Conversation just becomes a hum – a collective cacophony of humming around me. The main thing I hear is the music, which is what I'm there for. And my partner enjoys a dance too, so it just means we have a lovely time.” Even though Dorothy's has been closed for two years - it was sold to another gay man a couple of years before closing - people still remember Peter and come up to greet him whenever he goes out. “I still hold a certain amount of community respect because of my position at that time, which I'm immensely flattered by. “When Dorothy's' was open, it really was a time of difference and a time of change. We all miss it. We miss the ambience of it.” Time for something new, a novel. It's taken him well over a year to write, in between his massage therapy business, chemotherapy and various other things, but it's almost finished. Peter's first novel, called ‘Girl, you're the last word' tells the story of the relationship between a pre-operative transsexual, a lesbian stripper, and the child that they conceive. Peter says he's thoroughly enjoyed the learning process of becoming an author – and new technology has helped a lot. His computer understands his voice and speaks the text back to him. Peter's autobiography, Don't Postpone Joy, is still available, and his newly-written novel will join it on bookshelves soon – along with a couple of sequels already in the planning stages. That energy and industry seems to exemplify his attitude to life: Peter Taylor… always moving forward.     Matt Akersten - 5th April 2007

Credit: Matt Akersten

First published: Thursday, 5th April 2007 - 12:00pm

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