Jill Gutowitz proudly sees the world through a gay lens. The out writer and humorist has made a name for herself as the self-proclaimed “overlord of lesbian Twitter,” weighing in on everything from Coachella to Taylor Swift’s folklore with wit, earnest curiosity, and expertly timed pop culture references. She’s even branching out into filmmaking as the writer-director behind The Ladies, a forthcoming short film from It Doesn’t Suck Productions, Fair Oaks Entertainment, and Fit Via Vi.
Her debut book, Girls Can Kiss Now: Essays, out today (March 8), stays on brand, fusing memoir with incisive analysis of defining moments in lesbian pop culture. Gutowitz describes it as “a love letter to other queer women and queer people,” especially millennials and later Gen Z-ers, who share her unique experience of growing up in the early days of the internet and social media.
“We were born into a time where it was still not okay to exist as a queer person in the world,” she tells Logo. “We consumed so much harmful stuff when we were kids, even teens and even in my early 20s. And now, things are so gay.”
Read on for Logo’s full chat with Gutowitz, who shares her takes on the gayest songs from Swift’s discography, the “Phemommynon” of thirsting over hot older women, and that infuriatingly sapphic pool scene from Euphoria Season 2.
You do such a great job throughout the book of blending memoir with pop culture analysis. Was there anything from your personal life that you were afraid or nervous to delve into?
Oh, totally. I feel like even though I have written about a lot of personal stuff, I definitely haven’t gotten as in depth or as emotional. I mean, my current relationship I wrote about a lot, and I was like, “Is that okay with Emma, my partner?” And diving into some of my past relationships, that felt really scary. Even really small mentions of people from my childhood or whatever. I’m, “What if they read this? Oh my god,” that kind of stuff. And I feel it was those kinds of more personal, romantic stuff. Even the chapter that I had written about sexual assault — that’s something I’ve talked about before and felt okay opening up about, but the other stuff felt like private information that I was hesitant about.
I really felt like you wrote the book for and to other queer women. Was that intentional?
Totally. There were no conversations at all with my publisher about needing to broaden the scope about this or anything. I think they bought it knowing this doesn’t have to be for everyone, and it’s not. It’s really a love letter to other queer women and queer people because I think it is kind of a more specific experience, too. Especially millennial queer people and the later parts of Gen Z. I think we exist in this weird, interesting time where we were born into a time where it was still not okay to exist as a queer person in the world. We consumed so much harmful stuff when we were kids, even teens and even in my early 20s. And now, things are so gay — I mean, not everywhere, but things are so gay, and we’re allowed to scream on Twitter about wanting our favorite actress to mow us like a lawn.
Right. “Step on my neck, Cate Blanchett.”
I love that you brought up the queer millennial and Gen-Z experience. I’m curious, do you think the proliferation of the internet and social media had anything to do with the simultaneous rise in LGBTQ acceptance and representation in the late aughts and early 2010s?
Yes. I feel like Tumblr and Twitter, these niche spaces where queer girls were chatting in a way that felt safe and also allowed us to have little Lana Del Rey avatars and anonymity. The internet gave a lot of queer people a platform to start talking about these things with each other and finding community that they simply didn’t have in their non-online lives. And I think that still happens a lot on social media, especially among teens who aren’t super comfortable being out yet. Nobody knows, yet they can still have some anonymous stan profile asking Cate Blanchett to step on their neck.
Speaking of which, you included an awesome essay about the “thirsting dramatically over older women” phenomenon — the “Phemommynon,” as you dubbed it. It’s funny. I’ve tried to explain this to cis-het women, even gay men. I’ve been told, “Oh, that’s really jarring, I don’t get it,” and part of me is like, isn’t that the whole point? It’s queer women describing our sexuality in our own terms. It’s okay if it’s not for you. It was never supposed to be for you.
Totally. I also think there’s this thing of in the past few decades, when queer women express sexual desire, it gets oftentimes written off as being gross or predatory, or coming from this place of just sexualizing women. When it comes from other women, it’s like breaking a sacred trust or something like that in heterosexual folklore. I feel like the Phemommynon is a way of being able to say something as loud as we want. We’re allowed to say the word pussy, and that’s okay — wanting that is okay. Saying it in any form, as long as it certainly is not predatory, is good and should be encouraged.
I also feel like it’s the antidote to the desexualization of queerness. Especially pre-marriage equality, depictions of any gay person, male or female, were very tame and neutered. Like, “Look, gay people aren’t scary, they’re just like you!” And that has lingered.
Right. And now, it’s like, “No, we’re trying to fuck, and everyone should know.” We’re all really horny, and we’re going to talk about it.
In another essay, you wrote about internalizing the message that as a woman, your worth is based on being “one of the boys.” And even after you came out, it took on a new shape, which was just approval from gay men. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Well, it’s almost like there’s the “cool corner” of the LGBTQ community. And a lot of the time, it’s gay men because they’ve been accepted more widely and for longer than any other letter in the acronym. I think that getting approval from people who you know have other people’s approval is a very human thing that we cycle through all the time, but I think that I had a lot, a lot, a lot of internalized homophobia when I came out and felt very, I’m gay, but I’m not like that, whatever that means. For me, I didn’t feel like I fit in with other queer women and then kind of pigeonholed myself into feeling like gay men resonated more with me because of their interests. I think it took me some time to realize that I’m doing repeat behavior here and feeling like I really need to let go of seeking approval from other people at all.
That really resonated with me. I feel like especially in pop culture and media, gay men are often propped up as the arbiters of what is cool, what is trending.
Right. Like, even on E! or whatever, gay men are the voice on fashion and acting and music. But I think a lot of times, [white] gay men are cherry-picking those interests from the Black community and the trans community and queer women. Gay men are still men and have male privilege, so I think they get credited with being trendsetters more than is probably truthful.
You’re a noted Swiftie, so I have to ask: What did you think of the Red re-record?
I loved it. It’s such a long album, too, so I feel like I’m still digging into it. Only two weeks ago, I feel like “Message in a Bottle” fucking hit me. And I can’t stop. If I don’t hear that song four times a day, I can’t maintain a serotonin level.
She really kept that banger from the world for a decade.
In your expert opinion, what is Taylor Swift’s gayest song to date? I feel like there are a few acceptable answers to this question.
Gayest song, “Dress,” because I just — who could possibly think things like that about a man? And “False God,” too. It’s like worshiping at the hips of a man, but that can’t be true. And then music video, I recently forced my girlfriend to watch the “Bad Blood” music video because I was like, “This is a cultural artifact, and it actually hurts my feelings that you haven’t seen it.” And holy shit. I forgot how gay this video is. It’s literally just about being horny for hot girls.
Can you briefly summarize some of the most compelling Gaylor evidence out there?
I mean, The 1975 concert feels like the smoking gun. And the Big Sur photo shoot — I mean just very, very intimate. At a certain point, it’s like, I don’t even know if it is intimate or if it’s because I am so gay. I just can’t look at photos of women behaving that way together and not be like, “They’re dating.”
That reminds me, I saw you tweet about something a few days ago, and my immediate reaction was, “Thank god, it’s not just me.” In the most recent season of Euphoria, Maddy (Alex Demie) and Minka Kelly’s character had so much sexual tension. But nothing happened!
I actually feel genuinely confused, bordering on gaslit, about it because I’m like, to me, the point of the storytelling and every filmmaking choice they made was that the two of them were getting intimate. And if it’s not that, then literally, why were we watching it? What’s the story then?! I don’t understand. When they’re in the pool, my girlfriend and I were literally gripping each other. And then the scene just ended, and we were like, “Wait, what? I don’t…”
I, too, was gripping my girlfriend as we watched. It made me wonder, do I just read queerness into everything?
I don’t even know if I can trust my own instincts about things because I am gay, so I interpret everything I see through the lens of gay. And what’s really crazy is when you talk to a completely straight person about something like this. They’re like, “Oh, they’re best friends.” And you’re like, “Wait, am I living on a completely different plane of reality?” Like Berenstain Bears, but with lesbianism.
Was that something you thought about while writing the book?
Totally. I think with the chapter I wrote about grappling with my own Taylor Swift stuff was, how much of this [Gaylor theorizing] is, as we say, concrete evidence? And how much of this is me being so gay that I quite literally can’t help myself? And how much of this is this really nosy queer thing of wanting to find other queer people — not to out them, but because queer people literally, as a form of survival, have always wanted to and needed to find other queer people?
We need possibility models — queer artists, queer pop stars…
Yes. Unfortunately, it still would be a really big deal if somebody as big as Taylor Swift came out. Even though queerness is so much more present in pop culture, it’s not like Beyoncé is gay. … I can’t speak for all Gaylors, but it’s not coming from a mean-spirited place. It’s also not coming from a place of knowing that person being out would ruin their public life and career, because things are so different now. It’s more like, I want Taylor Swift to be gay because I am gay and I love Taylor Swift, and I want us to be as similar as I feel that we are.
You set up Girls Can Kiss Now by laying out the timeline of lesbian media representation. You describe the current phase as “The Mainstreaming,” which I tend to agree with. What do you think is the next frontier for lesbian representation in pop culture and media, and when do you think we’ll get there?
I think in The Mainstreaming, a lot of this stuff has gotten lost in translation, or the kinds of projects that get green-lit in film and TV get jumbled. In the next era, if you will, I would like to just watch more really good, really funny, really emotional gay movies and TV that aren’t just one gay person in a show of all straight people. That doesn’t make sense. That’s not how it works. I don’t know many gay people who are the only gay person, out gay person, they know. I would like to move into a space that’s not just this big presence of half-baked queer stories, but more genuine and very gay stories where it doesn’t have to be watered down for a larger audience. It’s just authentic. This is what bothered me the most about Che Diaz [from And Just Like That…], which is another conversation. Their entire personality was being queer. And it’s like, queer people aren’t just sitting around talking about the intersections of their identity. Yeah, we do talk about those things, but we also have lives.
Girls Can Kiss Now is out now.