On this, World Book Day, I thought I'd revisit one of my favourite books, ever. I first wrote about it eight years ago, after our visit to an event at the Southbank Centre called The Lavender Library, featuring favourite books chosen by a marvellous array of gay talent - Julian Clary, Dave McAlmont, Andy Bell, Maureen Duffy, Stella Duffy, Paul Burston, Karen Mcleod and Rupert Smith.
In that blog in 2008, I told the story of my first encounter with this life-changing book - Queens by Pickles (which was championed on that night by Mr Burston, soon to become the overlord (along with Mr Smith, for a while) of the legendary Polari gay literary salon):
Visiting the hideous 1960s mausoleum that passed for a library in Newport in the mid 80s, I was searching for The Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp - and discovered it had been catalogued by the neo-Fascist authorities that ruled the roost in South Wales at the time in the "Sexual Deviancy" section.And that remains the case today, dear reader.
Outraged (and slightly intrigued) by this awful description, I made a thorough investigation of this particular area of the teak'n'gunmetal shelving and discovered the book (Queens) was part of the collection in that category. To my everlasting shame (not really!) I stole it (well, never returned it anyhow), and its tattered and well read and re-read pages adorn my bookshelf to this day (complete with added graffiti by a sexually frustrated reader, carefully Tipp-Exed out by the librarians - how very Joe Orton!)
Published in the year I came out - 1984 - the enigmatic author of Queens must have spent years observing people as he travelled through the London gay scene. His long list of characters: the Screaming Queen, the Straight-Acting Queen, the Old Queen, the Opera Queen, The YMCA Queen, the Insidious Queen, the Clone - and the scenarios and interplay between them that he portrays - are all instantly recognisable today.
Although Paul read out his particular favourite passage from the book, I have one of my own I need to share:
The girly queens flock to Heaven like toddlers to a sweet shop. They flounce about the place, giggling and shrieking, hands and arms flung about in a wild sign language embellishing phrases like "She Never!" and "Ooh Gloria - don't!". They like to call each other bitch and never ever stand alone.I think we can identify with that - we have all met these caricatures at some stage in our lives, along with all the others in the book. I certainly can spot Pickles' "types" whenever and wherever I enter a gay bar, and have spent many an absorbing evening doing just that!
Once out of the pubs and set free in Heaven's wide-open spaces, they know no restraint. Lacking androgynous beauty, they daub themselves with Boots blusher and eye-liner, and bat their eyelashes like Sixties sluts... Like so many queens they have no shame in public, but can be quite suburban and prudish in private. This is always an annoying reversal and lets them in for a lot of abuse which, because they are so desperately inadequate, they enjoy...
Although impressed by money, they are unlike rent boys, and want sex more than cash, more than stardom even. Heaven is where they hope to find love one day. Love, of course, is the same regular big cock.
Pickles also illustrated his work with some quite grotesque sketches of grotesque people...
Queens by Pickles is a must-read book for every gay person - I cannot recommend it enough!
Queens by Pickles on GoodReads