Saturday, March 28, 2009

Definitive Gay Rock and Roll

Merging rock and roll with gay sexuality is still controversial, and there are few openly LGBT rockers on stages in 2009. Gay rocker Jon Ginoli, the author of “Deflowered: My Life in Pansy Division,” sang, read from his book, Q&A’ed, and signed on March 26, 2009, at Books Inc in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood.

Ginoli decided to merge his love of music with his gay identity in 1991, and the iconic band Pansy Division was born. The band was founded on the principle of no hiding of gayness, and the use of highly sexual lyrics.

Besides the lyrics, which can be found on, there are flyers and posters that exude waves of raw male exuberance. Musicians expressing themselves in a most realistic direction is a Pansy Division goal, and easily offended individuals can look and listen elsewhere.

A high point of the reading was Ginoli’s five-minute evaluation of the state of the music business, and the audience laughed knowingly at his barbed comments. It would have been a gift to his fans to sing one song with his own acoustic guitar backup, but Ginoli generously sang a couple songs from his new CD. A tour with Green Day as they were ascending into stardom is a stunning part of Jon Ginoli’s book, because of the sudden shift from small club audiences to stadiums full of screaming and sometimes threatening people.

The book complements the film “Pansy Division: Life in a Gay Rock Band” that was premiered with acclaim at the 2008 Frameline Film Festival. The documentary DVD was for sale at Books Inc, with the music CD’s, and Ginoli was signing stacks of them for fans.

Author and Gay Shame activist Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore enhanced Jon Ginoli’s appearance and suggested that they go on tour together. Pansy Division has spent much of its existence on tour, with the fear of beatings and worse hanging over them. Learning to have their van parked as close as possible to venue doors, bonding with security guards and bouncers, and sensing how far to go in heckling back at shouting homophobes is part of the reality of blatant queers erupting in song in provincial settings. Threats during concerts and on parking lots sometimes reach a frightening crescendo, but luckily band mates have avoided injuries.

Jon Ginoli was active in San Francisco ACT UP (Classic ACT UP, not the AIDS denialists) and realized that he wanted to make music as a political act. He was at the October 4, 1989 Castro Street police riot, and when he gave his account of the riot at a police commission meeting and he was marginalized, Ginoli then decided take the music route.

Band members have come and gone, but flamboyant bass guitarist Chris Freeman has been with the band since the beginning. While Ginoli usually wears a T-shirt and jeans, Freeman prefers short dresses and no underwear, which he revels in divulging. A real San Francisco treat is dancing up close to the band at the Eagle Tavern, and jumping up when the band jumps. Massed fans brought together with the excitement of singing sex songs with the band cannot be underestimated.

Ginoli seems to toy with popular fantasies by talking about young men that he almost made frenzied love to. One was too drunk in Germany, another was too young out on the prairie. Momentous events missing from the book and film, that fans talk about often: Band roadies being yelled at by mothers at concerts for selling Pansy Division penis T-shirts, that an attempted gay bashing in Bakersfield resulted in the bashers being bashed (much like the basher’s fate in Greg Araki’s “The Living End”), and the Pansy Division float’s naked go-go dancers running joyfully by live TV cameras during the San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade while the band sang their anthem “We’re the butt fuckers of rock and roll, we want to sock it to your hole!”

[Photo caption: 3/26/09 — Legendary gay rocker Jon Ginoli singing at Books Inc. where he read from his new book "Deflowered: My Life in Pansy Division."]

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