‘Deflowered: My Life in Pansy Division’ by Jon Ginoli

My Life in Pansy Division
By Jon Ginoli
Cleis Press
ISBN: 9781573443432
Paperback, $16.95, 288p
Lambda Award Finalist

Pansy Division, one of the first out gay punk bands, is known for its in-your-face lyrics and explicit queer content. This first-person account of the band’s rise to fame by singer-songwriter Jon Ginoli reads like listening to a classic Pansy Division song: straightforward, earnest, but ultimately a little stiff and self-conscious.

Deflowered is a testament to being different in a particular cultural context. Ginoli, a Midwestern queer with punk roots, struggles against the disco-loving, homogenous gay male culture of late 80s/early 90s San Francisco. “I felt gay culture clashing with punk culture,” he writes, “unquestioned materialism versus a questioning of capitalism… Disco celebrated pleasure and materialism; punk was suspicious of it” (68-9). He meets with disapproval from the gay mainstream for his punk leanings and homophobia from the punks. His sense of alienation leads him to pen the kind of songs he wishes existed—music with a punk tone and openly queer lyrics—and eventually brings him to form Pansy Division, the queer pop-punk band that toured the globe promoting sex, tolerance, and boy love. “[O]ur songs are about sharing and enjoying sexuality equally, not imposing it on the other partner in a sexist ‘I’m gonna do it to you’ kind of way. Our songs are more like, ‘We’re going to do it together!’ It’s about mutual desire, not sexist conquest” (61). After a tour opening for pop-punk pioneers Green Day, Pansy Division made a name for itself that has stood the test of time. Unfortunately, so has the alienation Ginoli felt and the gulf between the gay mainstream and the rest of us. Though Ginoli is writing about decades ago, his critiques and rebellion still feel current and draw attention to the prejudices and assumptions that are rampant in our communities.

The sections where Ginoli recounts Pansy Division’s American and European tours in diary form are by far the most immediate and interesting. We get the sense of a band on the road, facing the uncertain reaction of a different audience every night. From lines of women who protect the band from angry crowds, to cute boys sneaking into the tour van for some fun, to homophobes belting the group with bottles, coins, and slurs, we travel with Ginoli and Pansy Division through our changing cultural climate. These sections ring with humor, optimism, and a sense of camaraderie with the struggles and triumphs of queer kids everywhere.

Ultimately, however, the prose feels flat and self-aware. The text is rife with lines that reek of the conventions of memoirs, and they cause the narrative to seem stylized at times. Like certain Pansy Division songs, the frankness of Ginoli’s storytelling can sometimes work against itself, coming across as overly simple and not as much fun as it should be. Ginoli writes with clarity and intention, but his skill in penning lyrics doesn’t always translate into prose.

Quick and easy, Deflowered is a must if you’re a fan of Pansy Division. Otherwise, it’s an entertaining summer read for any music fan, queer or otherwise.