Can you be addicted to pop culture? Jill Gutowitz was — and probably still is — but she has no shame in confessing so. Girls Can Kiss Now is full of shocking confessions that Gutowitz is only just coming to terms with as lesbian culture becomes mainstream.
Gutowitz’s debut collection of essays is witty and wonderfully woven together. Gutowitz embeds the rise of mainstream lesbian culture and how this has helped Gutowitz grapple with her identity, relationships, and her fascination with pop culture in each essay. The title says it all — Girls Can Kiss Now. Of course, they can! But just ten years ago Gutowitz thought this was impossible! Teenage Gutowitz was traumatised but also intrigued by her friend kissing another girl. Only now can she unpack these emotions and allow her sexuality to flow freely.
The individual essay titles are genius. “Memeing with the FBI” is one of my favourites. How many times have you said ‘I hope the FBI isn’t watching me’ as you search for something that feels slightly illegal? Well, that is exactly what happened to Gutowitz. She composes a hit list of American Senators on Twitter, just as Arya Stark did, as a harmless meme. The next thing she knows, the FBI is at her door worried she is a threat to these senators. A bunch of Taylor Swift magazines lay on the floor behind her.
Beneath these personal experiences underlies the darker history of Gutowitz’s childhood and teenage years. She uses recent revelations as a portal into a more conflicted past, predominantly through dissecting the homophobia present in early 2000s pop culture. We all think Regina is cruel in Mean Girls, but do we know how twisted Perez Hilton’s “sinister pursuit of outing Lindsay Lohan” was? Gutowitz also gives a concise history of who Hilton actually is. She provides a space for each individual’s feelings to be unpacked while also puzzling at Hilton’s own ingrained homophobia.
Likewise, Gutowitz is not ashamed to admit her own ingrained homophobia that she is always working her way through. This brutal honesty only makes her more likeable. Reading the essays is like Gutowitz is bombarding you with one big dramatic monologue. There is so much she needs to get off her chest — and I was more than happy to listen and learn.
There are more highs than lows in the essays, however. Gutowitz keeps a consistent witty tone, especially as she trails through these darker moments. But she is also sceptical of mainstreaming of lesbian culture, as it still develops and evolves. She devotes an entire essay, “The Current Lesbian Canon, as It Stands”, listing things that she claims as lesbian. One of these lists is subtitled “Lesbian Liquids”. And yes, oat milk is on there.
Gutowitz has established a successful writing career, not only with this debut essay collection but also writing for the New Yorker and Vulture. She has also found love with her girlfriend Emma, writing in adoration of her. Overall, Gutowitz was able to figure out that pop culture could not make her whole, but a connection could — a revelation that came from Taylor Swift’s Folklore.
Girls Can Kiss Now concludes with Gutowitz finding some peace in her life. She has skilfully used the trauma, her pop culture obsession, and her writing talents to combine a collection of essays that will leave you questioning the ingrained homophobia next time you sit down to watch a 2000’s Rom-Com.
Words by Georgia McInnes
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