Queer to the Core


By Adam Rathe

Gay punk comes out with a vengeance. An oral history of the movement that changed the world (whether you knew it or not).

STEVE LAFRENIERE: I was standing outside with Vaginal, right after she came offstage. Some guy drove by and yelled, “Faggots!” Having just seen one of the most momentous performances of my life by this incredible creature from another world, I ran up the street, and, when the car got to the light, I got my head in the window and started screaming at the guy. He got out of the car and stabbed me in the back. The next thing I remember is being lifted into the ambulance. He missed any kind of internal organs that would have meant my demise. They never did catch the guy.

Music overtook writing as the preferred medium for Queercore, and bands like Tribe 8, Pansy Division, Cypher in the Snow, and Sta-Prest formed.

LYNN BREEDLOVE: There were rocker queers and disco queers. In high school, I hung with the rockers. We were listening to Journey and Queen. There was no queer music. Freddie Mercury wasn’t even out! But we could tell by looking at him. We would come together at the discos, where we would take our fake IDs and do the hustle. As time progressed, my friends were listening to Black Flag, and I was like, What the fuck is this? It was sarcastic and hilarious, and gay in that it was camp, ironic, and making fun of yourself -- but totally hard-edged and “fuck you.”

DONNA DRESCH: In high school, a bunch of kids listened to Christian rock. They were listening to this music they were really passionate about. Then I discovered punk. I played in Dangermouse and joined Screaming Trees and then went on tour with Dinosaur Jr. That’s about the time that I figured it out: I love playing in bands, but I’d like to do it with people like myself.

JOANNA BROWN: When I was 15, I lived in a small town in Louisiana, and the record store carried New York Rocker. I knew I was queer, but it was horrible because I was the only one. The magazine had a spread on famous couples in punk, and there was Adele Bertei of The Contortions and her girlfriend, Lesley Woods, of the Au Pairs. I was so impressed that there was a lesbian couple; I realized, maybe it was OK to be queer if you were into punk.

JON GINOLI: I got involved because I didn’t see anyone in music who was out, except for people involved in dance music, which I didn’t like. You were supposed to like show tunes and disco. That was one of the hardest parts of coming out for me—finding out what seemed normal to me offended a lot of gay people.

LIZ NAYLOR: Punk was liberation from a life of Jefferson Starship. I didn’t know how I was going to survive in the world as a 14-year-old lesbian. Punk, though it didn’t give me any answers, gave me an escape from what I thought would be a hideous future.

JON GINOLI: I formed Pansy Division, with Chris Freeman, because there were no other gay bands. As it turned out, a few others formed around the same time. At the second Pansy Division show, we were on a bill with Tribe 8 -- we hadn’t heard of them. I thought, Great, we have comrades!

LESLIE MAH: I hitchhiked from Colorado to San Francisco when I was 18 to see punk shows and queers. A friend of mine came back from San Francisco and said, “Men were holding each others’ hands in the street… it’s so disgusting.” And I said, “I wanna go.”

DONNA DRESCH: I was corresponding with G. B. Jones. I had discovered Fifth Column when I was reading through an issue of Flipside. They had written a letter saying, basically, We’re gay and you’re not covering us. We wrote back and forth for years. It kept me alive.

Despite thriving scenes sprouting around the country, San Francisco became the unofficial capital of Queercore. There was an abundance of bands, activists, artists, and zinesters.

TOM JENNINGS: The Shred of Dignity Skaters’ Union was formed by me, Duke Crestfield, and Shawn Ford. Some idiotic city supervisors had decided to ban skateboarding in the streets of San Francisco. The ban was overturned by having 100 skateboard kids show up at City Hall and cause a ruckus. The three of us started organizing punk and skate stuff that was slightly queer. By 1988, Shred of Dignity had a warehouse and there were a bunch of us living in it, doing marketable political organizing and Homocore, the gay punk zine that first came out in ’88.

DONNA DRESCH: Around 1989, I moved from Olympia to San Francisco. We lived in a U-Haul. Eventually I moved into the Homocore warehouse.

TOM JENNINGS: Bruce or G. B. said the word “homocore,” and I swiped it. I made up the kind of punk world I wanted to live in. It was a juxtaposition that mattered to me, and it attracted a lot of people. I took it to bookstores. We started to put on Homocore shows. Our favorite spot was at the base of the Bay Bridge. We’d show up with a band, and start playing until the police told us to leave.

SILAS HOWARD: One of the big moments was a gay pride parade in 1989. We saw a float obviously crashing the parade -- a tow truck pulling a cop car -- and on the front was a big banner that read, “No Apologies, No Regrets.” It was surrounded by punks and queens. There was this big high-heeled show on the cop car, and a bunch of punks pulled out baseball bats and started beating the shit out of the car.

LARRY-BOB ROBERTS: Now there were bands; they needed places to play. Homocore Chicago started putting on shows in places like bowling alleys. In San Francisco, there was this collective-run record store called Epicenter Zone. A number of people who volunteered there, who were queer, started putting together once-a-month shows under the name QTIP, Queers Together in Punkness. There was an underground club scene associated with this night called KLUBSTiTUTE, run by people who had an art band called The Popstitutes. The person who had the biggest success from that scene was Justin Bond.

JUSTIN VIVIAN BOND: Shortly after I moved to San Francisco, I saw a flyer for a Homocore show at the York Theater, on Mission Street. The Popstitutes were playing, along with the poet Richard Loranger and a bunch of queer anarchists. The afternoon was mind-blowing. Without doubt, that day changed my life and set me on a course toward a creative and political aesthetic that, until then, I had never been exposed to or thought possible.

MATT WOBENSMITH: There had been a network of queer punks created via J.D.s and Homocore, but there was always this idea that they were creating a scene that existed in glimpses. In order to be realized, it needed bands. The seeds of Queercore music started happening, largely in San Francisco, with Pansy Division and Tribe 8. It was the perfect storm to set sail in.

Tags: Music