In 1968, a family friend gave a young man newly arrived from Port Hardy a copy of the Georgia Straight, thereby launching a five-year-long career as Vancouver’s premier gay gossip columnist under the pseudonym of QQ.
Kevin Dale McKeown may have been young, but he was already an experienced hand at journalism.
“In Grade 10, the girl who wrote the teen column for the local newspaper went off to university, and for some reason she fingered me as a likely geek who should write this column, ‘Teen Talk.’ So for the last year that I was in Port Hardy, I wrote the column and helped put the paper out,” McKeown recalls.
He was otherwise quite unprepared for the assignment.
“There I was, a total social maladroit. I was 6’3″ and skinny as a rail and no dress sense. I mean, I knew nothing. I had never seen a drag queen before in my life. But I wanted to be the centre of this scene, so I went down to the Georgia Straight office in Gastown and I said, ‘I want to write a gay column for you.'”
“Oh, are you gay?” they asked.
“And I said, ‘Yes.’ And they said, ‘Oh, you’re in the gay scene!’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ I’d only been to one club but I knew where it was.
“And they said, ‘Okay. We’ll give you $20 a week.’
“Wow! Twenty bucks a week,” McKeown laughs. “Dad had never given me $20 a week for anything. So, shortly thereafter, QQ WRITES PAGE 69 appeared in the Georgia Straight.
“The column was totally camp,” he continues. “The very first line of QQ’s column was: ‘Darlings, we have arrived.’
“No one knew who was writing this column. I just sat at the bar and listened and registered all the gossip and strung together all the names,” he reveals.
The results were initially gratifying. “Everyone was in a real twist: ‘Who is this, who’s writing this, how did my name get in this thing, how do these people know this?’
“I enjoyed this immensely for maybe a month or two, but it wasn’t serving my ultimate purpose, which was to become the centre of attention, because in order for that to happen, they had to know who I was. So at some point I said, ‘Well, as a matter of fact, it’s me.’ They said, ‘Oh yeah. Sure. Ha, ha, ha!’
“And so the next week I wrote something to make it quite clear that it was me, and so I began my trajectory as Vancouver’s gay chronicler.
“My life consisted in large part of hanging out in the clubs, gossiping with the queens and, on Friday and Saturday nights, jetting from one bar to the other to catch all the drag shows because if you trashed the drag shows, then the drag queens would trash you from the stage and that would get everybody talking about you, and if I wanted to get laid, this seemed like a good way.”
But while QQ pursued his campaign, storm clouds were gathering on the horizon.
“While I was writing this really trashy gossip column, I was politically unaware, totally oblivious to the whole concept of oppression. But the tone that I was taking, the way I was writing, totally outraged Gay Liberation people like Stan Persky and Dick Rulens,” McKeown says.
“So the Gay Liberation Front, with Stan Persky as the point man, arrived to meet with the Georgia Straight collective and demanded that this outrageous, misrepresentative, non-political, incorrect —we hadn’t come up with the term politically incorrect but boy, was I —column be dropped from the Georgia Straight.”
Persky’s timing was impeccable, as the collective, fresh from being locked out of their offices by a group of women, was loath to embroil itself in a new political dispute.
“So they took a vote and only one person on the collective spoke in support of me: Korky Day. He was called Vancouver’s Mr Natural and he was a rabid nudist. He had the jam to stand up in front of the whole collective and say, ‘Well, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what he’s doing, and damn it, Georgia Straight sales outside the Castle Hotel are outselling just about any other location in the city, and we don’t get complaints from the readers and I don’t think we should turf him.’
“But turf me they did and I was gone for six months. And then they snuck me back in and I went on for another couple of years. When I look back on it now, it all sort of seems like a movie that I saw somewhere.”