Jon Ginoli was born in Peoria, Illinois In December 1959. Twenty months later, Chris Freeman was born in Seattle, Washington. Some 30 years later, Jon and Chris would meet up in San Francisco, and alter the entire profile of so-called gay culture forever.
Chris Freeman’s childhood was rocky. His dad was a World War II veteran, probably suffering from PTSD; his mom was an alcoholic and drug addict. The marriage broke up, the family skidded around; Chris got called ‘fag’ a lot as he bounced from school to school. At 14, he saw the band KISS on TV and decided to become a musician. At 16, Chris’s dad found a joint in his bedroom and kicked him out of the house. Chris was on his way.
Jon Ginoli’s childhood was the polar opposite of Chris’s. His parents were college-educated; his dad was an accountant; the family was stable. One morning when Jon was five, he turned on the radio and spun the dial. Discovering a Chicago Top 40 radio station called WLS-AM, he was immediately hooked. He started making his own Top 40 lists. It took him until age 20 to get his first guitar—but then, his course was set.
By 1991, both Chris and Jon had made their way to San Francisco. For a while now, Jon had been waiting for an out rock and roll musician to appear. Finally, he decided it might as well be himself. He formed a one-man band called Pansy Division, and put an ad in a local newspaper looking for “gay musicians into the Ramones, Buzzcocks, and early Beatles”. Chris saw the ad and decided to check Jon out. At their first meeting, Jon gave Chris a tape with some of his raucous songs (case in point: “Cocksucker Club”). It scared Chris, but also excited him. He was in.
Pansy Division became known as one of the founders of the queercore genre of punk rock. In 1994, they received a jolt of mainstream recognition by being Green Day’s opening act for their first arena tour. (At a show in Allenstown, Pennsylvania, upon learning that the opening act was a gay band, the house engineer walked off the job.)
Chris Freeman moved to Los Angeles in 2001, and got involved in some side projects including a Go-Go’s tribute band called the Gay-Gays, and an AC/DC tribute band called (what else?) GayC/DC. Chris and Jon were featured in the 2008 documentary “Pansy Division: Life in a Gay Rock Band”. Even though they still live in different cities, Chris and Jon remain close friends and bandmates; and they’re perpetually grateful that their “crazy, weird idea” was something that ended up saving lives, and inspiring a whole lot of queer teens (and others) to be exactly who they want to be.
When Jon and Chris met online to be interviewed by the OUTWORDS team during the 2020 Covid lockdown, everyone seemed grateful for the social encounter. The wonderful rapport between Jon and Chris made it easy to forget we weren’t all in the same room. OUTWORDS recorded Chris in Los Angeles and Jon in San Francisco simultaneously during a phase where we experimented with installing software on our interviewees’ personal computers, which we operated remotely. This created sync issues, so we next adopted a model that involved shipping camera kits to create high quality recordings for remote interviews. We continue the remote model to this day, along with our in-person interviews.