Peter Tatchell: Quentin Crisp was no gay hero

Jealousy made him bitter. He resented no longer being the only queer in town

Share
Related Topics

I only ever met Quentin Crisp once. It was a brief encounter in Charing Cross road in 1974. I was 22 and wearing a gay liberation badge, which prompted Quentin to retort: "What do you want liberation from?" He continued in a similar vein, dismissing the idea of gay pride: "What is there to be proud of? I don't believe in rights for homosexuals."

This sad conversation sums up what Quentin Crisp had become by the 1970s: an often self-hating, arrogant, homophobic gadfly. He denounced the gay rights movement and slammed homosexuality as "a terrible disease." "The world would be better without homosexuals," he declared.

In 1997, he told The Times that he would advise parents to abort a foetus if it could be shown to be genetically predetermined to be gay: "If it (homosexuality) can be avoided, I think it should be."

Other notorious Crispisms include his suggestion that gay men are so self-centred that they are incapable of love and lack the capacity to care about the welfare of other people. This supposed lack of altruism is, according to Quentin, because most gay men have "feminine minds."

He was a misogynist as well as a homophobe. Quentin was a somewhat different person in the 1930s and 1940s, when he made his mark as one of the few out and visible gay men in London. Despite abuse and bashings, he stood his ground, which was incredibly brave and inspiring, as we saw in the 1975 film of his early life, The Naked Civil Servant.

Sunday night's follow-up television film, An Englishman in New York, about Crisp's life after he moved to the United States, was much less satisfying. Although it is a fine film, with another bravo performance by John Hurt, it sanitises Crisp's ignorant, pompous homophobia. We were invited by the film to admire Quentin as a hero and pioneer. Yet by the time he moved to the US he had ceased to be either heroic or pioneering. He turned into an ever-more self-obsessed, reactionary character.

Echoing tin-pot homophobes, Quentin disparaged homosexuality as an illness, affliction, burden, curse and abnormality. He said he felt "disfigured" by his gayness. After The Naked Civil Servant, he had celebrity and a public platform, which was based entirely on his flamboyant homosexuality. Alas, he never spoke out for gay rights or supported any gay equality cause. He declined to endorse campaigns against homophobic discrimination and violence. Anti-gay politicians and preachers were never on the receiving end of his famously barbed wit.

An Englishman in New York acknowledges that Crisp disgracefully dismissed Aids as a "fad" at a time when thousands of gay men were dying and the US government was ignoring the epidemic. However, it ignores his ridiculing of the gay liberation movement and his dismissal of the struggle for lesbian and gay equal rights.

Why did Quentin turn so bitter? Jealousy. He resented the fact that he was no longer unique – no longer the only visible queer in town. Hence his loathing of the gay liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s. It had encouraged and empowered the mass coming out of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. They stole his limelight. Put bluntly: Crisp disliked being overtaken and over-shadowed by other gays. We queered his pitch.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Critics of Fiona Woolf say she should step down amid accusations of an establishment cover-up  

Fiona Woolf resignation: As soon as she became the story, she had to leave

James Ashton
 

Letters: Electorate should be given choice on drugs policy

Independent Voices
Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities