I don’t remember the first time I kissed a girl. I would have been seven or eight years old, exploring the nature of intimacy rather than my own sexuality. Those encounters were never any reason for concern, so maybe that’s why I don’t remember them. What I do remember though, is the first time I was made to feel uncomfortable for kissing a girl.
This wasn’t because of a sexuality crisis, or a homophobic attack—by this point I had long accepted my own queerness. What made me uncomfortable about this specific incident was that while I was kissing this amazing girl, we became the foreground of a photo shoot with men posing behind us. Come Monday morning at school, my main concern was just seeing the girl again. What I didn’t expect was a friend showing me a stranger’s Facebook profile picture, featuring me on this girl’s lap.
The photo was met with an alarming number of likes. It seemed that no one else thought this was weird or inappropriate. I was upset, confused and embarrassed, which quickly turned into rage. How dare this random boy display that picture like it was an achievement! How dare he make me feel like my relationship and intimacy wasn’t normal. Through this act, he turned it into something that everyone else was welcomed into, something that everyone could have a part in, something that everyone was allowed to enjoy at my own expense.
Sadly, this was not the last time my queerness would be fetishised by straight men. Throughout high school I would hear boys jeering at women to kiss each other. If they were ‘lucky’ enough to see two (or more) women kiss, it would be met with a chorus of cheers and high fives. I quickly became reluctant to tell male friends or potential partners about my sexuality, after it was greeted with “that’s hot” far too many times.
Television and movies had prepared me for homophobic attacks and had given me an arsenal of quick-witted responses. But there was nothing to yell at the leering men who apparently weren’t homophobic, because they simply revelled in the sight of two women kissing. The problem only worsened after I turned 18 and began frequenting pubs and clubs. It was at this point that the fetishation became violent and aggressive.
On one Friday night at the beginning of the year I was at my local having a girls’ night, and dancing with a female friend. A man I have never met grabbed the back of my head and pushed it into my friend’s face, in an attempt to make us kiss. I remember feeling so angry, but I couldn’t do anything about it. This stranger made me feel so vulnerable. I began to think that maybe I shouldn’t dance so close to girls, even if they were just friends, and that maybe if I got a girlfriend I wouldn’t be able to bring her here.
It was my personal growth and newly discovered badass attitude that resulted in me eventually fighting back. I recently gave a group of men the finger and told them to fuck off as they chanted in drunken voices for me and a friend to kiss in Kings Cross. Deep down though, they got to me; they reminded me that every time I go out as a women and as a queer person, I am there for some man’s enjoyment. I realised that many men still expect me and other women to act in a way that will please them. They seemed shocked that I was so angry with them for suggesting that I make a show out of kissing my friend.
This was probably the first time that these men been told no; I sure hope it won’t be the last.