If you know Jill Gutowitz from the internet — specifically, from her hilarious and very gay twitter account — you won’t be surprised to find her debut essay collection, Girls Can Kiss Now, filled to the brim with perfect dyke humor and expert pop culture analysis. But even longtime Gutowitz fans may be surprised to find something else amongst these pages: an earnest, reflective, vulnerable, honest coming of age story. There’s truly something for everyone here.
Jill and I met over Zoom a few weeks ago to talk about her book, finish each other’s sentences about having anxiety, and extol the virtues of simply wearing the same sweatshirt over and over again if it’s working for you as opposed to, you know, ever changing your outfit. In all seriousness, we talked about how it felt to sell a book in February 2020 and then try to start writing the book as the entire world changed because of the pandemic, how it felt to grow up first without the internet at all and then with the internet 24/7, the most challenging subject matter of the book that led to the (in my opinion) strongest chapter in the collection, how to take care of your mental health when it comes to screen time, and what’s up next for Jill in her career and in her life.
Girls Can Kiss Now contains fifteen essays with titles ranging from “Memeing with the FBI” to “Supercut of Lesbian Yearning” to “Step on Me, Julianne Moore.” Which is to say, I think it might appeal to your interests as an Autostraddle reader. The narrative of the book takes us (loosely) from Jill’s childhood in New Jersey in the late 90’s through her teen years in the aughts through to present day, where she is a 30 year old lesbian living with her girlfriend in Los Angeles and working as a writer and culture creator in gay media. It’s a gift to read about the past couple of decades of queer culture, as it moved from the margins into the mainstream, from someone with both a passion and an expertise for the subject matter. It’s not a secret that I’m not the biggest pop culture aficionado at Autostraddle — I’m not on the TV Team, and I famously hate movies! — so I initially worried I would miss many of the cultural references in Jill’s collection. Nothing could be further from the truth though. As a millennial who grew up Very Online, I was delighted and horrified to see how much the internet informed the book. In the beginning, the internet is a character, but by the end, the internet is the setting. This shift in how we all interact with being online will likely resonate with millennials and Gen-Z readers alike; it definitely resonated with me.
The most moving part of the book, in my opinion, is the way Jill interrogates herself every step of the way. This is not simply cultural commentary from someone who believes she is the omniscient voice; Jill explores how the culture she grew up in had a hand in molding her, but also examines how she and her peers played a role in molding the culture, too. It is the moments of self-reflection that I found to be most compelling, and most rewarding.
One essay that stands out particularly in the book, both in tone and in content, is “I Know This Now.” I’ve been surprised not to see more reviews spend time with this essay, a thought I shared with Jill when we spoke (although maybe more will have by the time this review publishes on debut day), because in my opinion it is the strongest and sharpest of the book, both from a craft and content perspective. Written as a letter to her younger self, the essay reckons with a sexually abusive relationship with a man, coming to terms with being gay, and separating the two threads from each other. I asked Jill if she always planned to include this essay, because it seems starkly different from the rest of the writing in this collection, and she confirmed she had not. She told me she mentioned it to her editor three quarters of the way through the writing process. “It was something that I wanted to talk about, specifically that question of, you know, like, am I gay? Or am I being sexually abused? And, you know, just the idea of detangling that and talking about that,” she said. Her editor was supportive; she wrote the chapter quickly. Like, in just about an hour. It turned out to be the essay that needed the least editing. “I had been sitting with [the subject] for so long that I knew what I wanted to talk about… it ended up being the quickest [essay to write], or the one that came out of me the easiest in some ways, which is ironic, because it was the hardest material.”
I think many readers will find that particular chapter to be a lighthouse, as the subject of parsing out how sexual abuse can or needn’t play into the decision to come out or the reality of one’s identity is rarely discussed, and I mentioned this thought to Jill, who seemed both heartened and dismayed that people may be able to relate. “I think the reason I haven’t written about it is because it does feel so isolating, like something that I shouldn’t talk about because it can be taken out of context,” she said. “It’s obviously really heartbreaking to know that a lot of other people do relate to it… I hope that in writing it, that it might make somebody else feel less alone.”
Girls Can Kiss Now as a whole will definitely make many queers feel less alone, especially a specific kind of very online and very pop culture savvy millennial. There’s so much to engage with and so much to learn from, and the writing is fun, conversational, and truthful as all hell. Jill’s voice shines through every page and carries her stories, her ruminations, her analysis, and her heartfelt truths.
As our interview concluded, I asked Jill for one thing she wanted to impress upon Autostraddle readers. She said she hopes her book can be seen as she sees it: half pop culture obsessed, and half a coming of age story. She emphasized that it’s really just as much about love and life as it is about oat milk being gay, and I concur. Go buy this book today — you’re gonna love it.
Girls Can Kiss Now, Jill Gutowitz’s debut collection of essays, is out today! Next up for Jill is another debut: she recently wrote and will be directing a short film, The Ladies, starring Lisa Ann Walter, Jaren Lewison, Alexis G. Zall, and Annie Korzen. The film goes into production later this month and is — surprise! — very, very gay.