My colleague in the blogosphere Patrick has been writing about Quentin Crisp (not for the first time) in relationship to some of his own experiences of being given the cold shoulder by some of those “among his own kind” as he quoted from the Naked Civil Servant (in eight parts – go to the sidebar on Youtube for parts 2 to 8). The film is touching, though I haven’t yet seen it all. I’ll watch the whole of it this evening.
Quentin Crisp lived to the ripe old age of 90 and made a name for himself as an entertainer but also a person who was himself his entire life. He makes me think of Oscar Wilde. The camp affectation makes me squirm somewhat. But, why not? He and other “old queens” did and do less harm than the bullies and liars of this world who are considered as so “normal” and masculine. There is a sign of contradiction with some of those men mincing around and flapping their wrists. I wondered what there was at the basis of it. My enquiring mind would just not let it go.
I was quite flabbergasted that some psychological studies had revealed a relation between high-functioning autism and Asperger Syndrome with effeminate personalities and physical characteristics. Here is one study. Of course, not all men “on the spectrum” are effeminate or androgynous. The article is interesting even if it might not convince us conclusively. The idea is interesting, and I would like to read further into the subject as I research my own life.
I do believe that whatever may be our quirks and feelings, we do have to make some effort to live in society. Someone who is effeminate might have an easier time of it nowadays than in the 1930’s or until very recently. I have read quite a few criticisms written or said by “conservatives” about effeminate men and their attraction for liturgical forms. I saw the connection with high-functioning autism with regard to set liturgical forms. The usual accusation is that liturgical “tat” can be the object of a perverted sexual fetish. Perhaps that is so in some cases, but I hope not in all. In any case, no one should be excluded from churches, and we all have to work our salvation and our peace with God and ourselves.
I met a number of “queens” when I lived in London as a student between 1978 and 1982. I never found their dress or manner appealing. There were a few men like this at a city church where I was assistant organist there when I was about 20. I kept my distance but sympathised. I remember the Curate of the parish announcing before the sermon “My dears, next Sunday, we will not have one – but two – bishops and an orchestra“. Are we assimilating liturgy and worship to cheap entertainment? I am tempted to be hostile, but are not these men loved by God as anyone else?
In my own life, I have found it very helpful to live in the country and I took up sailing shortly before my fiftieth birthday. It is a sport, but not a competitive one – and I have always loved boats and the sea. I am good with my hands and enjoy practical work around the house, garden – and of course maintaining and improving my boat. My experience at Gricigliano, full of preciousness and lace (no arsenic), was instructive. It was not nearly as blatant as in the London Anglo-Catholic “spikes”. Anyone found involved in homosexuality was very quickly told to leave the seminary, but there was a side to Italianate liturgical flamboyance that would give me cause for reflection. I just don’t have that kind of thing in my way of life, but at the same time I am extremely sensitive to the violence and unpleasantness of the ultra-masculine.
We have to live in society. I tie up my hair when “on duty” as a priest or when in town (apart from practical / safety reasons such as using power tools). I am not effeminate or even “foppish”, but I do like people to be themselves. I have learned many things from reading about the autism spectrum (which may concern me given the many coincidences I have found) and many things fit. A priest has to have some social skills, and the “aspie’s” tactlessness can prove a setback. We have to learn to compensate and think about what we are tempted to say for that bit longer before going and offending someone. The same goes with anyone who wants a friend or two in life and some sympathetic company.
Quentin Crisp had a long life. I find knowing about his having been a “rent boy” quite repugnant. I can only begin to imagine what life would have been like for someone like that in the 1920’s and 30’s, being harassed by the police and bullied by local yobs. The little film brings home the ugliness of bullying for any reason – and the need for prudence when we live in such a hostile world. There is no need to provoke or tempt the Devil! I hope he found peace with God at the time when he died alone of a heart attack. Understanding such people is costly, because we have to get over our own egos and social masks in order not to judge them as degenerate, immoral of whatever. To what degree is affectation part of that personality or a mask to conceal something really rather ugly and deformed. I don’t think we will ever know in this life.
See his obituary in The Telegraph. Evidently, he was a complex personality who refused to give any support for the modern LGBT movement, and was quite a misanthropist in many ways. He did not practice any kind of religion but did not seem to be a complete atheist. I certainly wouldn’t have known what to make of him had I met him. He seemed quite contradictory and bitter on the surface.
People are not always to our “taste” and are often beyond our understanding. Perhaps this can bring those of us who do care about other people and our effect on them us to greater humility.
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What was his attitude about God and religion? He himself gave us a few notions in Do you believe in God? I quote the main consideration which resonate perfectly with many of us.
I am unable to believe in a God susceptible to prayer as petition. It does not seem to me to be sufficiently humble to imagine that whatever force keeps the planets turning in the heavens is going to stop what it’s doing to give me a bicycle with three speeds.
But if God is the universe that encloses the universe, or if God is the cell within the cell, or if God is the cause behind the cause, then this I accept absolutely. And if prayer is a way of aligning your body with the forces that flow through the universe, then prayer I accept. But there is a worrying aspect about the idea of God. Like witchcraft or the science of the zodiac or any of these other things, the burden is placed elsewhere. This is what I don’t like.