David Herkt reviews A Queer Existence


‘The 27 young gay men in Mark Beehre’s square-format photographs look out upon us from a position of almost preternatural stillness. They might be the objects of our gaze as we examine them — the way they compose themselves, their dress, and their surroundings —but they also scrutinise us and our own assumptions. What do we bring to the encounter? Where do we sit?

‘Massey University has produced a landmark book, A Queer Existence: The lives of young gay men in Aotearoa New Zealand. It aims to document, in images and interviews, the experiences of a group of gay men who were born after the passage of the 1986 Homosexual Law Reform Act, which decriminalised sex between men.

‘This was the end of a long process, painfully drawn out. Sexual expression between men had been illegal in New Zealand since 1893. England’s similar Sexual Offences Act, for example, had been repealed in 1967. The process of change in New Zealand was extremely socially divisive. Opposition was vocal and well-organised, and included churches and the Salvation Army. More than 800,000 New Zealanders allegedly signed a petition opposing legal changes but this was rejected by Parliament because of many irregularities including forged signatures. Social progress and the healing of rifts did not follow overnight. A Queer Existence provides ample evidence of breaks and fractures which still resound.’

Read the full review at Kete here.