David Watmough turns 81 this August. Called “the senior gay male fiction writer in Canada” by BC Bookworld, he appears in this column because, in his own words, “my subject matter includes the demographic evolution of my city perceived through a gay sensibility…”
A prolific author and broadcaster, he is best known for his Davey Bryant cycle, the fictional autobiography of “a 20th-century man who happens to be an author, an immigrant and a homosexual.”
Davey Bryant–the author’s alter ego–is a British immigrant, arriving in Vancouver via San Francisco in the 1960s. A gay everyman of sorts, Davey guides the reader through four decades of change, as Vancouver slowly matures as a city and a gay and lesbian Mecca.
Here are some favourite views of Vancouver, drawn from Watmough’s novels and short stories:
The tell-tale bangle
Fellow vacationers eye Davey coldly. It occurs to him that this may be due to his “slightly effeminate appearance in that I was wearing a multi-colored shirt with short sleeves which revealed a bangle on my wrist which friends had given me on my fortieth birthday. A gang of drunken youths had shouted derisively at me back home in Vancouver when walking the dogs along the beach, the previous week. I had been similarly clad and had sported identical jewellery. The memory of the incident was unpleasantly vivid and was frequently recurrent.”
Davey is taken by a young female friend to the Gandydancer, a bar popular with the twinks of the period: “It was… a light flashing, go-go prancing warehouse space… with a small, jammed, dance floor. I couldn’t distinguish between the head-achy thunder under my skull and the external taped bedlam to which the packed and squirming young were shaking their bodies.”
Davey attends a performance of Lucrezia Borgia with Joan Sutherland at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre: “The audience was mixed… with the socialite groups of tuxedos and sequined gowns… and a substantial contingent of slim young men, penguined or otherwise, who laughed and nudged among themselves and perhaps held their plastic glasses more daintily than did the older and plumper establishment…”
Davey is to interview the famous photographer Kingston Mann. As he walks towards Mann’s house, he runs across the following graffiti: I HATE QUEERS. The author turns out to be Kingston Mann himself.
“It’s not you as an individual so much,” says Mann. “But what you people stand for sticks in my craw.”
“What I stand for,” Davey replies, “is for me. I’m not a goddamn cause!”
Mann explains his theory of the homosexual mafia: “When I started out I wanted to be a fashion photographer… You guys had everything sewn up. Fairysville wasn’t in it! Later I found out it was the same in all the arts. You give one another jobs whether you’re any good or not. Look at the CBC for Chrissakes!”
Scandal, delightful scandal!
A stranger hates Davey for no apparent reason. Davey’s lover shares some gossip about the man, whose name is Harvey: “Years ago, you see, he lived with another man. They were both youngish…. Anyway, Harvey gets ambitious and sees that his relationship is not proving much of an asset in the Vancouver of the period… Early fifties sounds right. So he takes up with a young socialite who if not pretty is as rich as Croesus…
“The wedding duly went off. A really swell affair at Christ Church Cathedral with the Lieutenant Governor putting in an appearance… Then after the marriage, the scandal really begins to pick up. Harvey and his boyfriend… decided that they couldn’t stand to be alone, even for the length of a honeymoon. So all three departed together. They left first for San Francisco… and finally showed up at The Empress in Victoria. By this time social Vancouver is in an uproar. Snapshots were produced showing à trois picnics on tropical beaches…”
Davey and his lover Ken are entertaining in the backyard of their house in Kitsilano. They have several friends, new and old, straight and gay, including, “Henry Brent, a morose old queen who taught music in high school, had bitchy words with an equally saturnine drama teacher from one of the community colleges which had just come into being. Their area of conflict centered on the talent–or the lack of it–owned by the late Judy Garland.”
Later during the party, Henry insults a guest by asking her if she is hired for the evening. “She told him ‘no’ firmly–but swiftly followed that up by claiming that they had met before at the opera when he’d been wearing a blonde wig, and a white rabbit fur-coat which had excited the delight of his entourage which had addressed him as Delilah.”
Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink.
Davey and Ken are a couple in the eyes if not necessarily the ears of their heterosexual friends: “They rarely addressed the specifics of my living with Ken. The mutual reticence over labeling sexual liaisons was an easeful thing, and came quite naturally to us…”