Tonight’s enjoyable activity was to the Launch of the book of the above title.  Chris Brickell (Associate Professor Brickell in Gender Studies to his friends) produced Mates and Lovers: A History of Gay New Zealand.  So the release of this book added to my bookshelf, alongside my copy of his earlier book and the programme from its adaption as a stage play which was part of the Fringe Festival in 2011.  I’m developing a collection. 

Robert Gant appears in the earlier book.  An English immigrant to New Zealand in the Nineteenth Century he worked as a chemist in Masterton and created around himself a masculine society that transgressed boundaries with images of homoeroticism, fantasy and theatrical drama in early pioneering New Zealand.  The term homosexuality, and presumably heterosexuality with it, only became common in the latter part of his lifetime.  Did the fluidity of sexuality in their social group allow Gant and his chums to be comfortable in the identity they created for themselves.  Most of the men went on to marry and become family men.  It was one of those families that preserved the photographs.  Gant himself remained with his partner, one of these men, until his death.  Another, a rugby-player, remained single all his life, eulogised for his ‘jovial disposition’.  Reading the text will tell me more.  For now I’m enjoying the images displayed in the book with their combination of innocence and innuendo, from an age when innuendo was yet to become explicit.

The occasion allowed for a bit of cosplay, which was fun.  Photos, or tableaux vivants, where taken in period costume.  I went prepared.  Things lurk at the back of my wardrobe: a wing-collar shirt, Smith tartin tie (yes, it exists!), my favourite waistcoat, fob watch and arm-bands.  I made sure to get in early for my photo, which I expect I can download from facebook next week.  I’m looking forward to finding a new identity photo among them. 

Actually, when I think about it, the cosplay we were doing could have been more restrained that what Gant and co had done.  We affected to dress like him.  Even with the delightful cross-dressing that was happening there were no pirates or beheadings or the drama and sensuality that he included.  Now there’s a challenge. 

Interestingly enough Leif Jerram in Streetlife observed that male homosexual identity is easier to document in modern history than heterosexuality or female homosexuality; and that’s in the context of modern European urban history.  Is this a universal trend?

For now I shall enjoy the book, and treasure the company of friends.

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