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[65] The Naked Civil Servant – Quentin Crisp

crisp.jpgThe story of someone whose “existence is illegal.”

If Maurice in Maurice had come a long way being in element with his sexuality, wrestling through the pang of fear and dismay of being deprived of dignity in refusing to assimilate to the social norms of heterosexuality, Quentin Crisp has wasted no time to turn the tables on everyone. Hailed (unfortunately not at his time of youth) one of the greatest, but tears-jerking, coming-out stories, Crisp’s autobiography is indisputably a forerunner of the drag culture. From a very early age, knowing he was not to fit snuggly in the society, he was so disfigured by characteristics and miem of a certain kind of homosexual person that, when he grew up, he realized he could not ignore his predicament. Instead of struggling and bargaining to find acceptance of his lifestyle in an unsympathetic world, he flamboyantly, by using his body, to announce noisily to the world that he would not change himself to suit others.

For 35 years he eked out a thin living working as an art-school model–a “naked civil servant”–but his poverty was more than mercenary: It was an exiguity of the soul that is being denied of will power and human rights. A lifetime of never making positive decisions, accepting instead the least of the evils presented to him had atrophied, if not annihilated, his will. Society ostracized him for his effeminacy, his bizarre appearance, and his refusing to blur his sexuality. He became prime target of assaults in which attackers apparently did not require his death or disfigurement. They wanted no more than to release their sexual curiosity in a manner consistent with the heavily guarded idea of manliness. In other words, they sought to defend the manly icon of being a man.

So long as he did away living constantly at the mercy of others, which left him crushed and seething with a lust for control, gay life was completely dispensable to him. Not only that the gays didn’t come to his support and disliked him, he had also long conceived that gays were mere outlaws of the society themselves. They resented not being in the mainstream of life because the heterosexual values ceaseessly mock their “abnormality–leaving assimilation the only ultimatum. He didn’t care, maybe didn’t hold out much hope for love either, for love and adoration usually had to be won against very heavy odds in the (homosexual) world of spinsters.

The heavy odds were due to the fact that gay men contrived to make possible contacts of astonishing physical intimacy without the intervention of personality. They play actively on a physical level (only) with the same or a different partner, uninhibitedly and non-committedly (no-strings attached?) but emotionally they search or long for perpetually a real man who desires passionately another man. So to make a long harangue short, he had long given up finding that true love nor did he care for some real sex life in a dream world.

The Naked Civil Servant can be one excruciating experience in the sense that one is divested basic human rights on account of his sexuality and appearance. In living in such a manner that the whole world could see that he was a homosexual, it set him apart from the rest of humanity rather than making it easy for him to form contacts with it, let alone to educate it. The autobiography affords the glimpse in the life of someone for whom it was not so much that he longed for death as he didn’t long for life. It would have been impossible to get through the kind of life Quentin Crisp had known without accumulating a great deal of rage and bitterness. It’s a life that entailed daily coping with crisis, proclaiming innocence, and making the best out of every moment of an existence that was illegal.

6 Responses

  1. I LOVE that book!!!!

    There was a great film of it made starring John Hurt in the late 70’s for the BBC. I used to have it on DVD. I should check and loan it to you if I still have it.

    …I lost so much when I moved from Boston!

  2. I read it years ago and saw the movie which matty mentioned. I am looking for the sequel to this book, which I believe is out of print? It’s called How to Live with Style?

  3. Fantastic. Can’t wait to read it.

  4. I have to say that I didn’t like the book very much, not for the writing style which was good, but for the content. Mr. Crips came across to me as a slacker. He seemed to not even try at anything wholeheartedly, instead expecting the world to take care of him.

  5. This book changed my life when I first read it. I got to shake his frail hand once and tell him how much he meant to me…

  6. […] Aerodynamics of Pork, should be included in the list. My other gripe, and disappointment, is that The Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp is left out. It’s the landmark American GLBT classics. Possibly related […]

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