The evolution of GLBTI rights in New Zealand is marching along at an inspirational clip towards a bright future of equality, so someone needs to be documenting our perspectives along this historic journey. This is where Wellington artist Mark Beehre comes in with his new, visionary project involving young gay men called A Queer Existence.
According to Beehre on his website, “A Queer Existence is about writing history as it is lived… perhaps it’s been easy. Perhaps you’ve had struggles. Perhaps being gay is now so mainstream you’re wondering why anyone would bother to talk about it. That’s all part of the picture.”
Beehre’s original study on gay men and our relationships was beautifully portrayed in his book Men Alone – Men Together, released in 2010. The inspired compilation of photos and stories started growing back in 2003, with the majority of the participants being New Zealand men in their middle years or older. It was an immensely important project for those who took part, and for many it was the first time they had been invited to tell their stories.
“People valued the opportunity to be heard. Collectively, so many aspects of our lives as gay men had been invisible for so long. Lots of us grew up with a culture of keeping ourselves secret and this project was part of a major shift in society towards freedom and openness,” says Beehre about the positive impact the book had on the lives of those he was honoured to share with the world. “It was often a very significant and meaningful experience for them.”
A lot has changed in New Zealand since that original group of men grew up; from civil rights to human rights to civil unions, this country simply isn’t the same place it was. It’s more accepting, ready to embrace progress and for those born since Homosexual Law Reform, they’ve had a very different experience.
Over the last four years the concept of A Queer Existence has been gelling for Beehre. “As I’ve done more reading and thinking on how quite significant the social changes have been, I realised that New Zealand has a unique situation at the moment as to how liberal our society is towards queer people.”
Beehre’s not alone in wanting to record what it’s like growing up in the generally evolved social climate of Aotearoa. One example is the work being done by PrideNZ.com to document the stories of our community through their podcasts. Although their work is similar and holds huge value as a record of these changing times, Beehre’s new project has a two-pronged outcome that is both personal and unique to his art.
Phase one of his project, directly connected to the Master’s Degree in Fine Arts and Photography that he’s currently working towards at Elam in Auckland, runs until the end of 2013 and will include a dozen or so interviews and related photo shoots. Phase two will extend to include all the men to be portrayed in the pages of his new book and will likely run through to the end of 2015.
What are the parameters for his new study? It’s pretty simple, really. To be included you must be a gay male born after 1986 (since Homosexual Law Reform took place), be happy to talk about your experiences and be willing to be photographed.
“This is as much an oral history as it is a graphic recording of a generation of gay males in New Zealand,” says Beehre, who is prepared to travel the length of the country to meet up with the selected men.
When writing Men Alone – Men Together there were long gaps between the initial interviews and the publishing of the book, so Beehre sees immense potential in a longer-term project looking at how our community has evolved over time. Not as much a comparative statement against his original group but as a stand-alone product of a strictly younger generation that was born legally free to be who they want to be.
He’s looking to include as wide a range as possible, too. About 30 men will make the pages of the book and he hopes to have city boys and rural blokes in the mix. So far Beehre’s found it fairly easy connecting with urban fellas through the Universities and the Rainbow Youth network. “Many of the people who have participated so far have been through word of mouth as personal connections are the most important way of meeting people,” but he sees the greatest challenge as connecting with those who live in our rural nooks, as many of them don’t interact through the standard social circles.
Where the original study was focused on relationships, with half of those included committed to other men, A Queer Existence will be generally pointed towards gay individuals at this point in our history. An additional driver for Beehre is to reflect the diversity of our community through his photography.
From the work done for his original book, his greatest surprise was “how willing and enthusiastic people were to take part and to be open about quite revealing portions of their lives. After the interviews, many of them said that he hadn’t had a chance before to have someone listen to them to that extent. And in another project I’m working on, one or two have even said they found the interview process surprisingly cathartic and healing. Talking about our lives can be a very significant experience.” Beehre is counting on the younger voices in his new endeavour to open up with similar excitement and to allow their visions of our evolving New Zealand to be shared.
The message about this project is already snowballing, recruits for A Queer Existence are joining in and stories are being told. To be included in Mark Beehre’s exciting new project, or to learn more about his work, visit www.markbeehre.co.nz.
Top Photo | ‘Geraint Scott, Wellington, 2012′
Left Photo | From Men Alone – Men Together: ‘Neil Simon’
Bottom Photo | Mark Beehre
Photos by Mark Beehre