This book consists of 274 pages of text, some with relatively few words. There are fifteen pages of drawings ironically called ‘Plates’, (in the manner of a text-book) presumably also the work of ‘Pickles’.
I read this book in two sittings (and would probably have read it in one if I hadn’t been interrupted), ‘Pickles’ can certainly carry the reader along. I had assumed that it was going to be something good natured like Kate Charlesworth’s Exotic Species or the locally-produced Superdyke. Good-natured Queens is not.
In a Preface to the 1986 edition (it was first published in 1984) ‘Pickles’ writes “… gladness [is not] compulsory …”. Fair enough; but what is to be made of the following (P. 98): “An incestuous relationship with Uncle Brian probably made them what they are, along with a little love from mummy, and too much time spent playing with their sisters’ toySeand friends”? It could be ironic. But irony is something! to be used sparingly, like vinegar. Like vinegar, it should stimulate the taste and appetite – not kill both stone dead.
gain, on page 110, “It is reasonable enough to expect a masculine figure to behave like a man – but watch it walk”. That “it” is alienating: ‘Pickles’ is saying that he is not one of these people. This quotation and the one above comes from a description of Heaven (the London disco). This is where his gallery of queens ends up, after he has paraded them. They are all true-to-life, but ‘Pickles’, who in his 1984 Preface praises the “great queens” “colourful and sensational” challenge to drabness, clearly loaths his characters.
A reviewer, quoted on the back of the book uses the word “dis- relish”, but there is more to it than that. Genuine [self-]hatred is in there too, and so is sentimentalism. “Ben’s diary”, a thread through the whole book, ends in something like fulfillment for young Ben. Two elderly queens in the last few pages regret the past and criticise the present, in particular “rubbing people’s noses in it”. (Queers not being themselves “people”).
This book reads as if it had been written by Quentin Crisp’s reactionary alter-ego run riot. ‘Pickles’ (the vinegary pseudonym is well-chosen) can write brilliantly, but the repeated one-note jars, and is counter-productive. There’s plenty wrong with the commercial gay scene and Gay life in general, but this scab-tearing is futile. There is no sense of people being trapped on the treadmill of commerce, or even just human solidarity: these people are on the same level as the creatures which scuttle about when a stone is turned over.
The cover has a detail from St Mark on the Throne with Saints, …by Titian, or more likely, one of his apprentices. The detail is a picture of St Sebastian. The arrow is clearly sticking out of a rib, the Ilegs are a job-lot, which do not connect with the trunk. The exquisitely handsome face is the image of a semi-hippy boy I used to drool over in the early seventies … but I digress. This book is vile.