Boys' Band

Pansy Division's all-gay punk was a shocking first. Will fans let the group escape its pioneering role and just make music?

For Freeman, who recently turned 40, keeping up with the half of the band still in its 20s is no problem. But he is glad to be past that age. "I feel more settled and happier in myself now. More comfortable in my skin," he says. "I'm not as angry as much anymore. There are less things to rail about. The larger issues are what make me angry now; like President Bush and the environment."

Freeman holds a full-time job as a financial aid director at a film school in Los Angeles, where he moved earlier this year for a change of pace (and in the hope that he could afford a house there). He flies back to the Bay Area on alternating weekends to rehearse with Pansy Division. On the surface, Freeman appears to be the most mature member, with the most stable day job (Goodwin is unemployed -- the victim of a dot-com layoff -- and Illades supports himself with nightclub DJ gigs). But the other members consider Freeman the least serious of the bunch. He is the only one not in a committed relationship, the only one who still arranges two dates on the same day, gleefully boasting of his conquest to everyone in the band.

"So are these ice-cream-parlor, let's-hold-hands dates; let's-talk-politics dates; or let's-get-down-to-business dates?" Illades asks.

"No, no, and yes," Freeman responds unabashedly.

Illades, the young heartthrob of the group, is the least likely to partake in the promiscuity that often defines the gay scene. He currently holds the band record for longest period of monogamy -- three years with his boyfriend -- and says he wouldn't want to go back to a life of one-night stands. Goodwin and Ginoli, both in relationships, follow Illades' example. They agree on Ginoli's assessment of typical gay dating: "I have certainly enjoyed meaningless sex in my time, so I don't want to be too judgmental, but I think it's a lousy trend."

There is little generational clash among Pansy Division's members, beyond the occasional obscure 1970s pop culture reference used by Ginoli or Freeman that Illades and Goodwin just don't get. They find themselves at the same emotional place in life, as the older founders have remained young at heart, while the newer, younger members grew up quickly.

"Me and Patrick are a lot older souls," Illades says. "So we all meet in the middle."

While Ginoli and Freeman describe their teenage angst as centered mostly around finding good music during the height of 1970s disco -- and hiding British punk rocker Tom Robinson's album (with the song "Glad to Be Gay") from their parents -- Illades and Goodwin had harder paths to adulthood.

At 16, Goodwin became the primary caregiver to his single dad, who fought a losing battle with liver cancer for two years. "I had a lot to deal with that most kids don't," he says. "I came out a year after my dad died. It was something I always knew, but didn't want to handle at the time."

Illades wasn't a typically sheltered teenager, either. When he was 16, he left his home in Tijuana, Mexico, to seek a better life in the United States, where he could be openly gay. "In Mexico, you live with your parents until the day you get married to a wife," he says. "It was scandalous for me to leave, but I was miserable."

After a stop in San Diego, he eventually made it to San Francisco. He kept in touch with his family, telling them he was pursuing a music career. Still, his mother inadvertently outed him after he joined Pansy Division. When she asked to hear his music, Illades refused to send the band's album home. So his mom bought a copy herself. "She was really upset, telling me, "I can't believe the things you sing about,'" Illades recalls. "But now I'm out, and my family is cool with it. They still have problems with my music and won't listen to it, but they accept me and what I do."

Freeman's vision of Pansy Division's next album cover involves a burning rainbow flag defaced by a spray-painted dollar sign. Gone are the images of seminaked, nubile boys that graced most of the band's previous six CDs. The record's working title is Total Entertainment Value.

"Being gay doesn't feel useful anymore," Freeman says. "I admit I wished for the day when K-Tel would put out a Pansy Division compilation and say, "Remember when gay mattered?' I thought it would be great if we became irrelevant. But I didn't expect gay to end up being more about credit cards and things than people. Sure, gays are accepted now, but instead of contributing anything of use to society, we are just marginalized and marketed. I mean, how are any of those muscle queens dancing to "YMCA' one more time on a gay pride float helping anyone?"

Ginoli pulls out a copy of Frontiers magazine and opens it to an interview with songwriter Rufus Wainwright -- a rising young star who also happens to be gay. In many ways, Pansy Division helped pave the way for people like Wainwright, noted for his talent rather than for his sexuality. Ginoli begins reading Wainwright's quotes from the article: ""I find myself outside the gay milieu. ... I do find a soullessness that's happened.'"

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