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Sunday 12 October 2008

More alternative LGBT New Zealand histories…

Posted in: Comment, Community
By Craig Young - 7th February 2007

When I wrote the predecessor to this article, I restricted myself to divergences from 'our' history during the last fifty years and the origins of the second wave of lesbian and homossexual law reform politics in the western world.

So, why not take a look at even further back? One of the most obvious divergence points is European colonisation of Aotearoa itself. Let's say that the Black Death in 1348 was even more virulent than in our world, and Europe had succumbed to Ottoman conquest. Thus, Maori have the chance to establish a centralised monarchy or council of paramount chiefs, and Christianity never becomes a missionary faith, so it doesn't affect the status of takatapui and whakawahine. Thus, the Kingdom of Hawaii might be a useful comparative point of reference, as we know that it had same-sex weddings according to indigenous Polynesian rites before the United States annexed it in 1893.

Let's assume that nothing so drastic happened in the past, though, and investigate what might have happened if the Chinese or French had arrived here ahead of the British, before 1840. As China turned isolationist in the fifteenth century, let's assume that the divergence point occurred there, and when Abel Tasman ventured into the Southwest Pacific, he was met with rows of rice paddies in the Fern Kingdom. In an alternate early twenty first century, Confucian rules predominate. Male homosexuality isn't illegal, although familyvalues predominate, and illicit meetings occur, for most lesbians and gay men are forced into heterosexual marriage. It looks rather like Singapore.

Finally, what about the French? One might think that changing European colonisers would mean little changed. However, let's consider France Australe, with its capital in Port Louis Phillippe (Akaroa), CE 2007. What is different? French metropolitan identity predominates, and alternative social identities are marginalised, and any sense of community adherence is weak. Therefore, HIV/AIDS is likelier to be more widespread in both the Fern Kingdom and France Australe.

There is another radically different possibility that comes to mind, albeit not a very pleasant one. Let's assume that for whatever reason, the Cold War turned hot, as it very well might have in 1962 or 1979. The United States and Soviet Union fight a nuclear war, with massive global devastation.

By some miracle, New Zealand is not directly targeted, but the eastern coastal cities of Australia are. However, radiation spreads from those areas, and the onset of nuclear war causes the breakdown of civil order in New Zealand as a result. What would that be like?

In these arduous conditions, there is no official state regulation of sexuality, meaning that much depends on the sort of post-industrial settlement one finds oneself in. There will probably be some liberal green ones around, as well as rural lesbian seperatist communities, fundamentalist survivalists, Maori renaissance and socialist or anarchist ones. Sex is neccessarily where one can find it, and transient relationships are commonplace, without much commitment for heterosexuals and gay men alike. As this world diverged from our own before the rise of HIV/AIDS as a global epidemic, it doesn't exist there. However, fallout leads to heightened cancer rates, especially if one works out in the open. Crop failures are always a possibility, and without modern pharmaceuticals, epidemic infectious diseases are as well. So, there's relative tolerance in some quarters, but it's a desolate wasteland of a world, perhaps on the way to total extinction, or centuries of barbarism before hesitant recovery from the apocalypse.

And there it ends, unfortunately. We have little information on dinosaur sexuality, so any guess at an alternate history where that large asteroid didn't hit Earth seventy million years ago is sadly out. Any LGBT paleontologists out there?

Louis Crompton: Homosexuality and Civilisation: Princeton: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press: 2003.

Stephen Levine (ed) New Zealand As It Might Have Been: Wellington: Victoria University Press: 2006

Frederic Martel: The Pink and the Black: Homosexuals in France Since 1968: Stanford: Stanford University Press: 1999.

Barrie Pittock: Beyond Darkness: Australia and New Zealand
After Nuclear Winter: South Melbourne: Sun Books: 1988.

Craig Young - 7th February 2007