It wasn’t the ventriloquist’s fault, exactly.
He didn’t mean to inspire the homophobic heckler, and besides, in the right crowd his joke about picking the supposedly gay men out of the audience could have been funny.
This just wasn’t the right crowd.
It certainly wasn’t my crowd.
This was a crowd of sheltered suburban jocks. A harmless and friendly enough crowd on the whole, gathered to honour and thank the volunteers amongst them. But a crowd that harboured at least one homophobe and not a single person courageous enough to openly challenge him — as I suddenly discovered moments after the ventriloquist’s gay joke fell flat.
You could say the ventriloquist’s joke invited the homophobic heckle, or at least opened the door and emboldened him. But that wasn’t Don Bryan’s intention. I have no doubt that Bryan, whose act is well worth catching if you’ve never had the pleasure of watching a good ventriloquist live, had no malicious intent. He used to play The Castle in its drag queen heyday, he told me after the show.
Besides, Bryan can’t really be held responsible for his audience’s responses, though he may choose to give a second thought to crowd demographics next time he wants to try that joke.
Regardless, he’s not the one who encouraged his audience volunteer to gratuitously strike a limp-wristed pose when all he needed to do was be a little teapot.
And he’s not the one who suddenly, gratuitously yelled, “Like a fairy!” to egg the idiotic teapot on.
I still don’t know who dug that archaic insult out of his limited lexicon or, to be fair, how uncomfortable his neighbours might have felt. I only know the male voice came from somewhere behind my right shoulder, either at my table or the one adjacent.
And I know how I felt when I heard it. Like a deer in the headlights. An exposed deer that suddenly felt unwelcome.
A crowd that moments earlier had been sharing a friendly moment with me, a crowd that had done nothing explicitly to exclude me, suddenly reminded me that I was, in some ways, a long way from home.
It’s not like I was ever in any danger. They didn’t even particularly hurt my feelings; I have thicker skin than that. But they rescinded their welcome. They reminded me that I don’t necessarily belong in their world.
They reminded me that, while branching out and broadening my horizons is worthwhile, maintaining a home base is essential.
Life inside the gay village can be complicated, of course, and not without occasional conflict. But home is where we don’t have to explain ourselves to outsiders. Home is where we are known.
Home is where we are already out and proud and don’t have to constantly be on duty as gay ambassadors. Home is where we can just be ourselves.
Which is why it’s so critical that we participate in the City of Vancouver’s new West End plan. Our home’s future is at stake and we better help shape it, lest we lose it.
The city planners assigned to the project want us to help shape our home. They recognize the historical significance of the Davie Village to the gay community and are going out of their way to engage us in the process of determining its future.
“This is really an opportunity for people to get involved and help shape the future of their community,” says lead planner Holly Sovdi.
Sovdi recognizes that the Davie Village has been the gay community’s hub for years and sincerely wants to know what role it plays now, and what role we want it to play.
He’s hoping the gay community participates in the city’s planning process and is even willing to seek us out in our gay spaces to solicit our feedback. The least we can do is tell him what we think and what we’d like to see.
Because even as we venture into new crowds and different parts of town, there’s no substitute for having a solid home at our backs, a home to which we can always return when we just want to be ourselves and know that we’re welcome.
To participate in the new West End plan, go to vancouver.ca/westendplan.
Robin Perelle is managing editor of the Vancouver edition of Xtra.