[PBP2013] Quentin Crisp

(Yes, I know I’m supposed to do it by surname, but you try thinking of more Q words.)

Crisperanto: The Quentin Crisp Archives

Like Derek Jarman, Jayne County, and plenty of others, Quentin Crisp was “out” before it was cool —in 1920s and ’30s Britain— and, also like Jarman, County, and others, was more Queer than the GBLT status-quo of his day. When he published his memoir, The Naked Civil Servant, in 1968, the UK’s gayper The Gay Times, scathingly suggested it would’ve been best “published posthumously” and derisively claimed that his very brazen existence made the GBLT community look bad.

Keep in mind, these were different times, long before RuPaul’s Drag Race, when femmephobia amongst gay and bisexual men was even more rampant than it is today — and it is BAD, today. Effeminate homosexuals were derided by het society for being, well, effeminate homosexuals. They were derided by gay society for being, well, effeminate homosexuals. Note the subtle, but telling difference — while femmephobia, especially when effeminate characteristics are displayed in those who are ostensibly assumed male, has always been rampant in mainstream het society (id est “straight society”), it’s had a special place amongst gay and bisexual men, especially Caucasian, high prole to middle class, upwardly mobile, gay and bisexual men who fancy themselves “straight acting” or, as the kids say these days “just like everyone else” (while “straight acting” has instead been relegated to hook-up ads, lately, to denote homo- and bisexual men who ape “dudebros” cos it’s been sexualised by relatively mainstream “gay porn” companies).

Now, if he were alive and in his twenties in this day and age, it’s easily arguable that Crisp might’ve identified as genderqueer, but at the same time, I think the latest visibility of non-binary gender identities on the Internet has inadvertently aided in further strengthening the strict and downright toxic expectations of what traits define “man” and “woman”. Now, I’m not faulting people who genuinely identify as some non-binary gender, and while I acknowledge that some (often very young) people are only experimenting with non-binary identities, cos that’s what young people do, it’s also not my place to question people on why they describe their identities in the ways that they do. I’m not faulting such people, for the same reason I don’t fault the trees for why I have to rake my lawn in autumn —the tree is just doing what it does, it’s the city that’s telling me I have to rake my lawn if I live in a house.

That said, Quentin Crisp was pretty consistent about his identity: He was an effeminate homosexual male. While I can’t remember off the top of my head if he ever mentioned even having heard of her in his adventures, I don’t think that there’s any reason to believe that Quentin Crisp had been completely ignorant of Lili Elbe, the first recorded transsexual woman to receive gender affirmation procedures. His wardrobe contained a large percentage of women’s clothing. He experimented with cosmetics and during WWII rationing, he invested in five pounds of henna to dye his hair. He was periodically a transvestite prostitute. But he consistently identified as an effeminate male, not any kind of woman.

As I’ve noted before, I see the “classic binary” of gender as more of a spectrum, which, yeah, isn’t a perfect means of viewing gender as a whole, but for the classic binary, it works — there are male genders, androgynous genders (which blend bother male and female traits), and there are female genders. Or perhaps masculine and feminine genders with an ostensibly androgynous range in-between. A stone butch woman may be on the extreme androgynous end of a female spectrum, or a masculine gender that’s explicitly of a female sort, but she still identifies as a kind of woman — likewise, a high effeminate man is another male-type gender that is somewhere on the slider between a binary, but it’s not really the same thing as being non-binary or agender.


10 thoughts on “[PBP2013] Quentin Crisp

  1. I love Quentin Crisp–he is imminently quotable.

    Also, I can comment again (but only on my phone, not desktop, which is weird)



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