Divide and Conquer
By Barry Walters
'I think if you can get somebody to laugh at something, they're on your side already,' says bassist Chris Freeman of Pansy Division, the pioneering San Francisco band that found itself in the media spotlight when it accepted Green Day's invitation to join the 1994 tour that catapulted Billie Joe Armstrong's punk trio into multi-platinum stardom. Pansy Division's presence on this hugely successful arena tour introduced mainstream America to 'queercore' -- the '90s buzzword for gay and lesbian punk rock -- and gave Freeman, singer/guitarist Jon Ginoli, and an ever-changing cast of drummers multiple opportunities to voice their queer viewpoints on MTV. With early songs like 'Fem in a Black Leather Jacket,' 'James Bondage,' and 'The Cocksucker Club,' Pansy Division helped cajole gay culture out of its AIDS-induced mourning and showed Green Day's teenage fans that gays could rock just as hard and as playfully.
'Jon was heavy into ACT UP, and noticed there was a lack of humor about it,' Freeman recalls while supplying details to the history outlined in Pansy Division: Life in a Gay Rock Band, a feature-length documentary he edited and co-produced that's currently making the gay film festival circuit. 'And because everyone was against gay people, he thought, 'Let's show them how happy we are.' As a band, we're a public service announcement for clean, safe sex, and making sure that information gets to youth.'
This is no idle boast. Starting with its 1993 debut disc Undressed, Pansy Division has explicitly celebrated the masculine pleasures of queer sex. Albums like 1994's Deflowered contain safe sex guidelines along with helpful step-by-step diagrams that illustrate how to put on and use condoms. A cover version of Judas Priest's 'Breaking the Law' (included on Pansy Division's 1997 singles compilation More Lovin' From Our Oven) rewrote the lyrics penned by Priest's leather-clad gay frontman Rob Halford to turn the heavy metal anthem into a willful rejection of sodomy laws. (Sample lyric: 'You don't know what it's like, or maybe you do/To wanna stick that nightstick up the ass of some cop who's hassling you!')