Naked Civil Servant, the autobiography of the ultimate gay icon Quentin Crisp, is a compelling read about bravery and individuality. In a time where the concept of being gay was totally unaccepted and in fact illegal, Crisp was open about his sexuality, and even braved angry mobs on the streets as he waltzed about in full make-up and extravagant (and clearly not “straight”) fashions.
Sadly, some of his wit is lost on me simply due to the fact that some of the references are a bit dated. The book begins before the first World War and explores Crisp's role as a complete outsider, not only to his peers, but to world events. He drifts through life very much like a gay Scarlett O'Hara, relying on the kindness of others. He openly admits his faults (his inability to hold down a job, his extreme vanity, etc) and his refreshingly honest and very funny voice is so charming and irresistible, it's easy to understand how he became an such a legendary icon just by being himself.
“As soon as I stepped out of my mother's womb onto dry land, I realized that I had made a mistake–that I shouldn't have come, but the trouble with children is that they are not returnable. I felt that the invitation had really been intended for someone else. In this I was wrong. There had been no invitation at all, either for me or for the brother born thirteen months earlier.”
“There are three reasons for becoming a writer. The first is that you need the money; the second, that you have something to say that you think the world should know; and the third is that you can't think what to do with the long winter evenings. I expect the liveliest books are written for a combination of all three reasons.”
Published in 1968, during the sexual revolution, it probably was less controversial then than it would be now a days in these sadly homophobic times. But controversy aside, it's a great story of staying true to one's self. Crisp, who became a cultural phenomenon when the BBC adaptation of Naked Civil Servant (starring John Hurt) was produced in 1981, might be recognizable to younger people from his role in the trippy Orlando adaptation from 1992. He passed away at age 90 in 1999.