7: Au Chat Noir


72 Old Compton Street

Between the World Wars an incredibly brave man called Quentin Crisp wore his sexuality on the outside.

Hair dyed, fingernails painted, and a respectable amount of make-up, Quentin walked the streets of London as a man with nothing to hide. He was often spat at, slapped without warning, or beaten to the ground in front of jeering crowds. But each time he would get up, brush himself off, and find somewhere to fix his make-up before carrying on with his day.

The Au Chat Noir café opened in the middle of the First World War and by the late 1920s it included Quentin and friends among its clientele. They would spend

Day after uneventful day, night after loveless night buying each other cups of tea, combing each other’s hair and trying on each other’s lipsticks.

But it wasn’t all uneventful. Quentin’s feminine ways attracted unlikely admirers. Thuggish types would often come in:

They chatted you up exactly as they chatted to girls. They came in and told the boys how beautiful they were and asked for cups of tea. They were eaten up with curiosity. No girl was as exotic as we were.

Homosexual men like Quentin lived their lives in the open but always faced the risk of being stopped and arrested by the police. Despite this they continued to assert their presence and in 1939 police officers observed 22 men “painted and powdered and… wearing high-healed shoes: as they patrolled Piccadilly.”

After the Second World War London’s scene became less blatant and Queer men began to disappear from view.

This video is a bit of an additional extra: Sting knew Quentin Crisp and wrote this song after Crisp moved to New York. A great and well known song, it immortalises Crisp's courage to be himself against almost impossible odds.

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