Quentin Crisp on Lesbian Sexuality

Women intertwined, Moghul India, eighteenth century

With lesbians the lure seems to be softness and sensuality. The sexual processes of women are so subtle and so complicated that it usually takes someone of the same sex to know how to please them.

Quentin Crisp

Illustration: Women intertwined, Moghul India, eighteenth century

Related: Jean Genet on Male Homosexuality

Woman Is the Reason

The Tempest

Most men are potential desperadoes; but the concept of the female criminal seems paradoxical. Laws enforce a stability whose ultimate domestic unit is the woman herself; her physiology and psychology turn on the cultivation of inner space, while the man’s role calls for the conquest of outer space, for thrust and adventure, for arrowing forms of outward assertion as various as rape and theology, as admirable as scientific exploration and as deplorable as war. The most common form of female criminality – prostitution – is, however masked by toughness, an act of submission, and keeps the peace. True, the insect world (not to mention the world of literary criticism) offers striking instances of female enlargement and predation, but the unhappy history of the male praying mantis confirms that the seminal contribution to the generative process, though not negligible, is momentary and helps account for the primordial willingness of men to undergo risk.

John Updike
From Albertine Disparue, a review of two novels by Albertine Sarrazin (1967)
Picked-Up Pieces (1975)

Painting by Giorgione: The Tempest (c. 1508)

More Women, Only Women

If women were president, there wouldn't be any war.

When every unkind word about women has been said, we have still to admit, with Byron, that they are nicer than men. They are more devoted, more unselfish, and more emotionally sincere. When the long fuse of cruelty, deceit and revenge is set alight, it is male thoughtlessness which has fired it.

Cyril Connolly

Photo: Samira Makhmalbaf interviewed in Joy of Madness (2003)

Women, Only Women

The artist's mother (or wife - no one knows for sure)

It is easy to see that your father was a good man. But even with the best of men, the bread of human kindness will never be what it can be with a woman; there is always an outer shell of roughness. A man can never be the soul of kindness, as your mother seems to have been.

Marcel Proust
Quoted by Céleste Albaret in Monsieur Proust (1973)

Photo by Nadar: The artist’s mother (or wife – no one knows for certain) (1890)

Body of a Woman

Venus Rising from the Sea

Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs,
you look like a world, lying in surrender.
My rough peasant’s body digs in you
and makes the son leap from the depth of the earth.

I was alone like a tunnel. The birds fled from me,
and night swamped me with its crushing invasion.
To survive myself I forged you like a weapon,
like an arrow in my bow, a stone in my sling.

But the hour of vengeance falls, and I love you.
Body of skin, of moss, of eager and firm milk.
Oh the goblets of the breast! Oh the eyes of absence!
Oh the roses of the pubis! Oh your voice, slow and sad!

Body of my woman, I will persist in your grace.
My thirst, my boundless desire, my shifting road!
Dark river-beds where the eternal thirst flows
and weariness follows, and the infinite ache.

Pablo Neruda
Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1924)

Painting by Titian: Venus Anadyomene (c. 1525)

Easy Call

Egyptian Woman with Wig

I regard women as not necessarily frailer than myself, but more precious and valuable. So if I were to hold my umbrella over a woman to keep her dry rather than myself it would be because she was more worth keeping dry than I am. In my romantic view, she may be a princess or the richest woman in the world but she can never be more than a lady.

Quentin Crisp
Manners from Heaven (1984)

Photo: Lady with a Wig, Egyptian, twelfth dynasty (1991-1786 BC)