Queer Objects: a pop-up museum of queer history

Queer Objects

Queer Objects landed on my desk this week — a captivating pop-up museum of queer history. “Queer lives give rise to a vast array of objects,” writes Otago University Press of this remarkable book of objects edited by Chris Brickell and Judith Collard.

Dino Hodge

I flick through the book and immediately come across a fascinating chapter by Dino Hodge that references the Frontier Wars.  Just the day before, I witnessed yet another social media skirmish on those very wars.


Why are the people dismissive of history so angrily dismissive?

Despite legal and social proscriptions against queer people making historical artifacts, many did.

And some of those diaries, photographs, paintings, books, and ephemera survived the often systematic erasure of queer existence from history.

Queer Objects is an absolute treasure trove of artifacts across millennia of queer history.

Queer Objects

Chris Brickell

“The famous Greek poet Sappho lives on in fragments: hints and rumours,” writes Chris Brickell in Chapter 9. “…and the shreds of papyrus on which her poems are recorded.”

How extraordinary that more than two and a half millennia after she wrote her poems, remnants remain of Sappho’s paeans to the love that bears either her name or that of her island home.

Yorick Smaal   Shirlene Robinson Tim Roberts

I flick through looking for the names of authors I’ve read before. Yorick Smaal is in there writing on The Australian Speedo and there’s his sometimes collaborator Shirlene Robinson. Shirlene tells the story of a Military Discharge Certificate issued to a lesbian who broke no law — did nothing wrong. She simply got outed. Tim Roberts contributes two chapters, one about the letters of Donald Friend and another on the Rangers Motor Club Flag.

Kate Davison

I flick back from Shirlene’s article and discover a belief in destiny. For the past week, I’ve researched and written on a certain Dr. Neil McConaghy. So what do I see but a splendidly illustrated chapter from Kate Davison titled Neil McConaghy’s Penile Plethysmograph.

An aversion therapist in Sydney in the 60s and 70s, McConaghy inflicted painful tortures on gay men to ‘cure’ them. However, his true purpose was not to change people’s sexual orientation but to research the human brain. To that end, he attached his human guinea pigs to a ‘penile plethysmograph’.

That contraption measured changes in penile volume — in other words — hard-ons. Dr. McQuack judged the success, or in truth, failure of his ‘treatments’ by the rate of sexual arousal indicated by hard dicks.

Queer Objects

I eventually went back and read Queer Objects from front to back — all 63 fascinating chapters. The book collects objects from collections in New Zealand, Australia, North America, Europe, and Asia.


This full-colour publication is a wonderful resource and it’s also a fun read. Otago Univesity Press writes “well-known and newer writers traverse world history to write about fabulous, captivating and transgressive items ranging from ancient Egyptian tomb paintings and Roman artifacts to political placards, snapshots, sex toys, and the smartphone.”

Transgressive? That perhaps refers to Margo Hobbs’ chapter on The Cunt Coloring Book or any of a few others.

Queer Objects is available from discerning booksellers everywhere and there’s more info available at Otago University Press.

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