Review: John Weaver: Sorrows of A Century: Interpreting Suicide in New Zealand: 1900-2000 (2014)

September 9, 2015 in General

John Weaver: Sorrows of A Century: Interpreting Suicide in New Zealand: 1900-2000: Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press: 2014.

Unfortunately, but logically however, this longitudinal discussion of New Zealand coronial suicide files throughout the twentieth century does not include many references to gay suicides.  One occurred in 1980 as a consequence of the maintenance of criminal sanctions for male homosexuality within the Crimes Act 1961, which was only undone by the subsequent passage of the Homosexual Law Reform Act in 1986. Another, undated reference describes a fifty two year old unmarried music teacher who killed himself after he was arrested under the same charges.  In 1918, a gay headmaster was hounded to death by local men after they violated his privacy and discovered that his sexual preference was for other men. HIV/AIDS only contributed to three suicides, while breast cancer contributed to seven cases, and “other” cancers contributed to over one hundred and forty.

Economic instability, substance abuse, mental illness and heterosexual relationship breakups all seemed to be predominant causes of straight male suicides. Women were possibly protected by the greater density of their social interactions. And while men over forty were disproportionately represented in statistics until the advent of the comprehensive welfare state in the mid-thirties insulated them somewhat, youth unemployment and substance abuse may be a significant contributor to contemporary suicide statistics. One does wonder how LGBT suicidal individuals configured into these statistics, given antigay employment discrimination and unfair dismissal, schoolyard harrassment and bullying, the end of long-term LGBT relationships and our propensities toward substance abuse and depression. Do we need to ‘read between the lines’ if we consult these coronial reports? Nevertheless, Weaver has made an important contribution to the social history of suicide in New Zealand and should be applauded for doing so.

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