In recent years scholars have argued that sexuality has a history. By this they mean that sexual identities do not express static desires unaffected by time and cultural context, but that they change as societies change. In this book I explore how what we now think of as gay male identities developed in New Zealand since the mid-nineteenth century, and examine the processes through which sex and intimate relationships between men came to reflect prevailing social circumstances. How did the gay sexual identity with which we are now familiar evolve over time?
Social institutions such as the state, religion, the media, medicine, literature, and social movements influence, but do not wholly determine, the ways in which individuals and groups have negotiated sexual identities for themselves. Society provides scripts, opportunities and constraints, and people work within these as they order and re-order their lives. In order to explore these processes in a historical context, I examine a range of sources: letters, auto/biographies, oral histories, personal papers, photographs, government reports and correspondence, medical and sex education writings, media reports, community organisation records and publications, and popular literature.
While individuals' lives and circumstances structure the narrative of the book, I do not reduce identity creation to individual idiosyncrasies nor indulge in endless 'was he or wasn't he?' speculation. Instead, I ask how what we do know about men's lives reveals the wider construction of sexual identity in a given time and place by asking questions such as these:
- How did men fashion a life for themselves in which their desires for other men were either central or peripheral?
- How did they create opportunities to enjoy same-sex sexuality in a society that was generally unsympathetic?
- How did same-sex desire and intimacy reflect the prevailing norms and practices of masculinity, mateship and family?
- How was sex between men interpreted differently in particular situations, and how were its meanings complicated by the intricacies of New Zealand male culture?
- What were the meanings and importance of cross gendering and 'drag'?
- What sorts of cultural resources did men work with as they made sense of their own feelings and experiences?
- How were constructions of sexuality in New Zealand influenced by patterns of international contact?
- What was the importance of informal networks between men and, later on, organised social movements?
In short, the book critically explores the nexus of sexuality, social meanings and individual identities in a changing society. While it is a scholarly treatment, it is written in a style accessible to the general reader. In addition to its 86,000 words of text, Mates & Lovers includes 290 illustrations in black and white and full colour.
Awards for Mates & Lovers: A History of Gay New Zealand
Winner, NZ Society of Authors EH McCormick Best First Book Award for Non-fiction 2009
Finalist, History category, Montana NZ Book Awards 2009
Highly Commended, Illustrated book category, PANZ Book Design Awards 2009