The persistence of Pansy Division: Jon Ginoli on the queer band's longevity

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday June 28, 2022
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Pansy Division: Joel Reader, Luis Illades, Chris Freeman and Jon Ginoli
Pansy Division: Joel Reader, Luis Illades, Chris Freeman and Jon Ginoli

Long before there was ever a Lil Nas X (seriously, before Lil Nas X was even born), the queer music act Pansy Division had the right combination of in-your-face lyrics and unexpected public exposure.

With the good fortune of having shared a record label (Lookout Records) with Green Day, as well as a similar punk aesthetic, Jon Ginoli and his fellow Pansy Division bandmates embarked on a massive cross-country concert tour with Billie Joe Armstrong and his Green Day bandmates in the mid-1990s. In other words, a queer rock band from San Francisco was being exposed to a very different audience than the ones to which they were accustomed.

Pansy Division in 2002  

Fast-forward almost 30 years, and Pansy Division is still at it. With seven studio albums under its belt — the most recent being 2016's "Quite Contrary" — as well as a handful of singles and compilations, Pansy Division springs eternal.

Following a pandemic pause, the band is playing some upcoming live shows, including the Mosswood Meltdown ( on July 2 in Oakland's Mosswood Park. Ginoli was gracious enough to answer a few questions before the festival.

Gregg Shapiro: Jon, I've had the pleasure of interviewing you a few times over the years, beginning in 1994, after Pansy Division played an all-ages show at a south suburban Chicago record store while the band was on tour with Green Day. How does it feel when you look back on those early days?
Jon Ginoli: Playing arenas with Green Day was a life-changing experience for a band who had not expected to make it that far. We thought we'd be playing small clubs in obscurity. We have incredible gratitude that it happened and that it went so well.

Pansy Division is performing on the second day of the Mosswood Meltdown in Oakland's Mosswood Park on July 3. Were you a regular attendee of the festival in the past?
Yes, it's been going on for about 10 years and I've gone almost every year. The Mosswood festival, with its focus on garage rock, '60s rock, new wave, indie, and punk rock, is right in my sweet spot.

What does it mean to you and Pansy Division to be performing at the Mosswood Meltdown?
It means a lot, since I love the festival, which is hosted by John Waters, who introduces each band in hyperbolic terms. I can't wait to see what he comes up with for us [laughs].

The line-up on the day that Pansy Division is performing also includes queer musical acts such as Hunx and His Punx, Brontez Purnell, and Fatty Cakes and the Puff Pastries, as well as riot grrrl progenitors Bikini Kill. What is the significance to you of performing as part of such a queer-affirming roster?
I'm thrilled to be on the bill with Bikini Kill, who we opened for exactly 30 years ago and are such an inspiration. I knew there would be other queer bands who came after us, and it's exciting to see them and play with them. We can take the idea of being able to see a queer band for granted now, but it wasn't so 30 years ago.

Very true. Will Pansy Division be playing any new songs?
No, it will be kind of a greatest hits set.

Is Pansy Division at work on the follow-up to "Quite Contrary"?
Probably not. We are geographically challenged; all of us live in different places. For me, part of the fun of being (in) a band is getting together in one place to work on songs and develop them. Even though there are ways to do that digitally now, from a distance, and we've done that, I really dislike that process, it takes so much of the fun out of it.

In addition to the Mosswood Meltdown show, Pansy Division will be back on tour following the pandemic delay. What are you most looking forward to about getting back out on the road?
We still love to play live, but all have jobs that preclude long tours. We hope to play long weekends now and then, where we fly somewhere, play three or four shows, and then go home. Our next show after Oakland is in New Orleans on September 2 for Southern Decadence. We also play Palm Springs on June 30.

With a 2008 Pansy Division documentary ("Pansy Division: Life In A Gay Rock Band") and your 2009 memoir ("Deflowered: My Life In Pansy Division") under your studded belt, could a Pansy Division Broadway musical be far behind? After all, Green Day did one.
Great idea! Get the agent on the phone [laughs]!

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