Quentin Crisp (1908-1999)
Christmas Day tomorrow. Finding a gay man born on Christmas Day was no problem.
Quentin Crisp was born on 25th December 1908 in Sutton,
Surrey. His original name was Dennis Charles Pratt, and his parents were typical middle-class Edwardians with servants. Even from an early age Quentin wanted to be the centre of attention – being born on Christmas Day provided a ready-made holiday for him to hijack and take attention way from Christmas and on to his birthday.
At school he was always “performing”. For one school production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Quentin’s mother made him a costume for his role as a fairy. It was role he continued to play for the rest of his life – and he loved it because it attracted attention.
As he grew older he became more of an exhibitionist, deliberately flaunting his sexuality at a time when it was illegal. To emphasise his campness he adopted the name Quentin Crisp in 1931. He received verbal and physical abuse many times, but he rose above it all in the end with a kind of dignity that could never occur today.
Even though he achieved something of a heroic status in some gay circles, Quentin Crisp wasn’t a role model for other gay men of the time. He believed that homosexuality was disease that should be eradicated. “The world will be better without homosexuals”, he once wrote. He opposed gay rights and refused to support them even to the end of his life.
For me, Quentin Crisp was not a good role model. Growing up in a working-class community the only gay men I knew about were those like Crisp who were camp and effeminate. Coming to terms with my sexuality in a macho community was hard enough. With Crisp and others like him in the media as my only gay role models I was doubly hindered by the feeling that I had to be like them but didn’t want to. I wonder how many more thousands of gay men didn’t come out until late in life because they too thought that they had to be like Quentin Crisp?
But I don’t want to end on a bad note at Christmas. So I’ll just say how much I respect Quentin Crisp for his honesty and resilience. He didn’t care what people thought about him. He was true to himself. Perhaps that’s the best legacy he has left – an inspiration to gay men and women who are struggling to find their sexual identity.
I’m taking a short break for the holidays and will be back on 2nd January 2012 with my next Gay of Christmas. In the mean time I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and the most wonderful New Year.