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Jill Gutowitz on Excavating Sapphic Pop Culture, Self-Love in Girls Can Kiss Now

Jill Gutowitz on Excavating Sapphic Pop Culture, Self-Love in Girls Can Kiss Now

Jill Gutowitz

The social commentator and Taylor Swift aficionado chats with The Advocate about diving into lesbian pop culture in her funny and affecting memoir. 

LGBTQ+ historians may never record the following events alongside the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation, but for women-loving women, the paparazzi shots of Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson posing together at Fashion Week in 2008 and Cara Delevingne and Ashley Benson carrying a sex bench into their home in 2019 are unforgettable moments of visibility and validation. Now social commentator and media personality Jill Gutowitz has enumerated them under the chapter "The Nine Most Important Sapphic Paparazzi Photos in Modern History" in her funny and affecting memoir of essays, Girls Can Kiss Now (available now).

"I think pop culture is politics. It's the things that we are talking about, consuming, and elevating that are a reflection of what the current groupthink is," Gutowitz says, adding that she's grappled with how much value to put into events in the zeitgeist. "I've always been super invested in pop culture and have seen the value in it, how political it can be, and how much it can change minds."

During the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings in 2018, pop culture and politics collided for Gutowitz with frightening effect. Disgusted with the Republican senators who voted to make Kavanaugh a SCOTUS justice despite multiple accusations that he'd committed sexual assault, Gutowitz tweeted a list of their names with the caption "Arya Stark voice" (the character from HBO's Game of Thrones who seeks revenge and justice for her family). Shortly after, the FBI showed up at her apartment door. Virulent conservatives had reported her for the viral tweet, claiming she'd threatened harm to the likes of Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham. It was a wake-up moment for her relationship with social media, which ultimately informed part of the book.

"After the FBI shows up at your house for something that you tweeted, a lot of stuff doesn't feel worth it," Gutowitz says. "At first, I felt angry and muzzled. After the FBI, I was like, I think it's time to take a step back. I realized the things you say online are existing in the real world and can have real-life consequences."

A New Jersey native who now lives in Los Angeles, Gutowitz rose to social media fame mining Taylor Swift lyrics for queer Easter eggs, commenting on queer culture, especially as it pertains to women, and creating faux Coachella lineup posters with a lesbian bent. If you've ever desired to attend a concert in the desert that includes Blake Lively's suits from A Simple Favor and Rachel Weisz's saliva (see Disobedience), then Gutowitz has her finger on the right button for you.

Girls Can Kiss Now was conceived as a series of essays with each chapter touching on a different aspect of pop culture that Gutowitz devoured as a kid and later as she was coming out, she says. For fans of her piquant and mostly sapphic Twitter feed, there are chapters titled "Supercut of Lesbian Yearning" and "Step on Me, Julianne Moore" (in which she expounds on the late 2010s phenomena of queer women longing to be dominated by famous older women). But as she began to write in early 2020, the events of the worldwide pandemic caused her to reconceive Girls Can Kiss Now to a degree. The result is a melange of hilarious listicles like "The Current Lesbian Canon, as It Stands" and insight into how pop culture led her to gay shame and, later, to a path to acceptance.

"When the pandemic happened, it kind of changed the context of everything and what I was feeling at the time and what I wanted to write about at the time," she says. "My editor encouraged me to write more personal, memoir-type stuff. I kind of just went for it, where I was feeling like I wanted to open up more."

Indeed, Gutowitz goes deep. One heartrending chapter delves into how a relationship with a boyfriend who repeatedly sexually abused her coincided with her coming out in 2016.

"I was getting into talking about my coming-out process, and I just realized [the abuse] was kind of inextricable from it, which is sad and hard," she says. "I don't talk much about my own coming-out process because it was so enmeshed in this other horrible thing, where I was dating this guy who was sexually assaulting me. I was also at the same time realizing that I was queer. And so it was making a horrible conflation in my head."

Girls Can Kiss Now chronicles Gutowitz's childhood growing up in a suburban home in New Jersey while leaning into her feelings of otherness and shame about not fitting in with the most popular girls. The memoir, centered primarily in the aughts and 2010s, elides the space between school hierarchies, consumerism centered on how to look and be cool, and how popular movies, TV, and blogs shape how teens think about themselves.

A chapter about Perez Hilton's hideous reign on social media is especially searing. For those who lived through that time, it's easy enough to forget the phalluses he churlishly drew on the faces of celebrities, his internalized homophobia around bullying Lance Bass into coming out, and his hateful posts about Lindsay Lohan. For Gutowitz, who was a teen obsessed with celebrity culture, blogs like Hilton's informed her worldview and taught her that being gay was shameful. She learned to tamp down her same-sex yearning out of fear of derision.

"I consumed gossip blogs and almost-predatory media, like heavily. There was an underlying fascination with specifically the queer stuff. There was a part of me that didn't realize at the time how it was wrong," Gutowitz says. "A lot of it pushed me deeper into the closet. I was subconsciously internalizing [gossip blogs] and being like, OK, well, if I was gay, then I could be outed and people would talk about me like this."

Ultimately, Girls Can Kiss Now is about several love stories, including the one in which she meets her girlfriend and learns what real love with another person can be. Then there is Gutowitz's ongoing affair with consumable media (be on the lookout the next time Taylor Swift drops an album). Finally, it's about self-love and overcoming gay shame to become a premier social commentator for young queer women.

"I want the book to feel celebratory. This is my story. But it's also representative of a generation of people," Gutowitz says. "One thing I hope people see at the end is that it's a love story."

This story is part of The Advocate's 2022 Champions of Pride issue, which is out on newsstands May 17, 2022. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe -- or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.

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