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Thursday 09 October 2008

Proclamations of the Red Queen

3rd July 2008

Further Thoughts on Mates and Lovers

Posted by: Craig Young

David Herkt and I have had one of our periodic spats between creative genius and technocrat about Chris Brickell’s landmark Mates and Lovers.

Due to the significance of Chris’ book, I thought I’d take a more scholarly perspective in this second review of his work, given space and time availability in this format. How does Chris’ work compare to other national LGBT histories?

As Chris himself has noted, once he started digging, he was deluged with intimate remembrances, ambiguous photographs and the minutae of court cases and medical journal reports and records. He was treading a well-worn path in terms of internation LGBT historical work, and reading Mates and Lovers, I was strongly reminded of Clive Moore’s pioneering work about Queensland LGBT history, Sunshine and Rainbows, which used similar historical traces and personal documents to reconstruct the lives of LGBT Queenslanders in that traditionally conservative to right-wing Australian state.

British and Canadian LGBT histories have the advantage of historical vintage and longer continuous (European) settlement and written history, and it is no wonder that the work of Rictor Norton (Mother Clap’s Molly House, 1994), Emma Donoghue (Passions Between Women: British Lesbian Culture: 1988-1810), and Jeff Weeks (Sex, Politics and Society, 1981) has the advantage of rich seams of evidence as a result. For that matter, Gary Kinsman’s Regulation of Desire (1987) is similarly rich and evocative, although as with Moore’s history of LGBT Queensland, national differences are instructive to locate and scrutinise. 

New Zealand tended to be a later arrival, and perhaps due to the blase attitude toward male sex with men, and late advent of administrative centralisation in Wellington, Chris appears to have had a paucity of official records to consult in this context.

In my earlier review, I noted that there were one or two minor criticisms that I have of this excellent, groundworking piece of work. One is the absence of organised homophobia. As my own specialty is dealing with this, I realise that there are problems with the profound absence of archival materials from nineteenth century conservative Christian pressure groups in our national archives. It would’ve been interesting if the protagonists in Chris’ book had had any run-ins with these people, but such was not the case. Of course it is important to celebrate the tenacity, courage, heroism and resistance of our foreparents, but we’d gain an even more precise measure of that through delineating the scope and scale of organised homophobia and its apologists during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. While Laurie Guy’s Worlds In Collision (2002) tells us about conservative Christian perspectives in the sixties, it doesn’t go back any further. Added to which, that author’s evangelical Christian bias is obvious when it comes to the seriously flawed section on homosexual law reform.

On looking over it, I realise that the book needed to be as circumspect as possible when it came to another key formative influence in gay men’s lives- homoerotica. I’m not being prurient about this, but as someone grounded in media studies, I find it interesting that Canadian LGBT historical studies focus so heavily on the censorship and importance of homoerotica, primarily due to the extraordinary backwardness of Canada’s Customs and censorship tribunals compared to its otherwise exemplary inclusive social policies. Homoerotica does play an important role in our everyday lives, and is often the first source of affirmative depiction of sex and intimacy between men that many older gay men were exposed to, during the sixties and seventies onward.  It would have been instructive to have had a longer section on the censorship battles of the seventies, eighties and nineties, and whether or not gay pulps played the same role as their lesbian counterparts did in valorising our sexual identities from the sixties onward.

None of the above is intended to lessen the considerable awe and admiration that I feel toward Chris for the importance and magnitude of Mates and Lovers as the richly detailed, pioneering contribution to LGBT New Zealand history that it indeed is. However, as I’m sure he’d agree, it is a pioneering effort, and the histories of homophobia and homoerotica in this country remain to be written. That does not diminish the magnificence of Mates and Lovers as the benchmark against which all future NZ LGBT histories will be compared.

Tags: Politics

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 OnlineLevitra // Jul 11, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    Hello! Personally I fully agree with recent comments.

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