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Obituary: Daniel Fielding (1956 - 2005)

Thu 20 Oct 2005 In: Community

Daniel Fielding (1956 - 2005) Around two hundred people gathered at Old St Paul's church in central Wellington yesterday to celebrate a victory. Daniel Fielding's victory. At first glance it was Daniel's funeral, but on closer inspection of his life it was definitely a victory celebration. Daniel started life as a small country town boy in the central North Island, but in 1972 - at age sixteen - he announced to the consternation of his family that he was gay. It was a courageous move, as those with memories of pre-homosexual law reform New Zealand will testify. And 1972 was very, very pre-law reform. Homophobia, male stereotyping, and misinformation were rife, yet sixteen year old Daniel crashed out of the closet. A shudder rippled through his family, not helped by his subsequent interest in ballroom dancing for which he won ribbons and trophies. But Daniel was never one to do things by half measures as his family and close friends were to discover. "He'll probably grow out of it," thought his parents, sisters and brother. Instead, "he grew into it," heading for that 70's bolt-hole for self-searching kiwi gay boys, Australia. In Sydney he found himself, and his charm and dark good looks meant he was welcomed with open arms. This was the era of the clone... mustache, 501s and white t-shirts by day, cutoffs and poppers on a thong by night. Daniel drank deeply of gay culture, making many friends in the Kings Cross and Oxford Street subcultures. But eventually New Zealand called him back and by the early 1980s Daniel was in Wellington, working as a computer data security manager by day and contributing single-minded energy and organising skills to the capital's burgeoning gay scene and gay rights movements by night. He was active in the Dorian nightclub, a regular at the Bamboo Bar, a partner in the Grain of Salt restaurant (an Oriental parade fixture for several years which included a very gay space upstairs). He discovered Peter and leathersex and the couple settled into Peter's Karori home, Peter bringing quiet stability to the mix and Daniel contributing fizz and sparkle and the ability to mix with drag queens, Cuba Street trannys, leathermen... you name them, Daniel knew them and they appreciated his forthrightness, his wicked (and, it has to be said, sometimes bitchy) sense of humour. But what you saw in Daniel Fielding was what you got. No hidden agendas, no surprises. In the lead-up to 1985's Homosexual Law Reform Bill, while working with the likes of Bill Logan, Des Smith and John Jolliffe and a whole crowd of gay pride activists in Wellington and sometimes Auckland, life dealt Daniel and Peter a bitter blow. Daniel and Peter were amongst the first cohort of of gay men in New Zealand to be diagnosed with HIV. It was a shock, even to the medical profession who had no idea it had reached our country, or how to deal with it, how it spread, how to stop it, couldn't treat it. HIV was a death sentence for pretty much everyone who had unknowingly contracted it. One by one Daniel and Peter's friends around the country started to die, struck down in their prime. It was a cause they couldn't ignore. In those pre-internet days Peter and Daniel contacted gay and health organisations in overseas centres even more blighted by the virus than New Zealand, searching for any information they could find on the cause of AIDS and its treatment. Daniel's obsession with detail and organisation came to the fore and for a time their Karori Road home was information central for HIV data in New Zealand. A place where facts were winnowed from the chaff of fear, ignorance and bigotry. Then, at the height of their herculean efforts Peter, like hundreds of other gay men, succumbed to the virus and died of complications from AIDS. The great, probably the greatest, love of Daniel's life was gone. But Daniel Fielding was not to be stopped in his determination to see New Zealand respond with vigour and compassion to HIV and the social conditions which encouraged its spread. He continued as a tireless fighter of the virus and an indefatigable builder of Wellington's glbt community. Scratch the surface of nearly any fundraising or support or celebratory glbt event in Wellington for the best part of twenty years and Daniel Fielding was in there as part of the organising committee... chivvying people along, criticising and cajoling, rolling up his sleeves and making sure events like the Devotion parties, the Glammies, the Edward Street parties, and many more were popular and successful. He shamelessly drew on the resources of everyone he could get his hands on, and contributed generously of his own skills and energy. And all the time he tackled, and was sometimes knocked back by, his HIV. He walked the fine line that enables those with HIV to both embrace and fight their virus. Who can forget a hospitalised Daniel conning the nurses of the infectious diseases ward at Wellington Hospital into letting him out for a few hours, in a wheelchair with oxygen cylinder attached, to attend a Devotion party. Unable to sustain his energy and perhaps enthusiasm for his computer security job he approached me to help fund the purchase of the downtown Sanctuary cruise club which, under his management, became a model for the rest of the capital's venues as a responsible venue committed to acknowledging and fighting the virus. At home his dinner parties were must-attend events, his work and recreation hours were totally glbt-focussed and Wellington was the richer for it. A string of relationships managed to buoy him up and even his family came to understand and respect the nature of their mouthy, uncompromising, roguish and driven Daniel. It's hard to remember how many times HIV put Daniel in hospital, yet each time he bounced back, sometimes quickly, sometimes achingly slowly. But HIV was not going to kill him. He took control of his treatment, as he took control of nearly everything around him. He embraced some drug regimes, discarded others... and he survived. In fact he won. Because in the end the virus did not kill Daniel Fielding, as it killed so many of his contemporaries, particularly within his beloved leather community. Last Wednesday night, at work at Checkmate sauna, Daniel was found collapsed on the laundry floor. A major stroke had hit like a bolt out of the blue. Though there was some slight recovery in the next day or so, it was fleeting, and he remained mostly unconscious until his death at 8 o'clock last Saturday night, in the arms of family and close friends. Daniel went out with the bang of a stroke, not the whimper of an HIV illness. He won. Defeat was never an option for Daniel Fielding. Not in the goals he set, the projects he tackled, or the course he charted for his life from age sixteen. Last week Daniel Fielding won his battle with HIV and the packed house at Old St Paul's yesterday afternoon, including the only surviving members of his immediate family - his sisters Dianne and Jenny - celebrated his passionate life and his bittersweet victory.     Jay Bennie - 20th October 2005

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Thursday, 20th October 2005 - 12:00pm

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