‘In her kiss, I taste the revolution!’ So yells Kathleen Hanna in ‘Rebel Girl’ by Bikini Kill, the song for which the band is best known. It’s a loud and brash appraisal of how strong and powerful relationships between women can be and an ode to the strength of feminist solidarity. This particular line has always struck me as especially vivid, because it so succinctly describes the political and social implications that two women kissing can convey. I love it for its boldness, as well as for the sense of empowerment and fierceness that it provokes.
As a queer person, you’re never entirely careless about how you express affection in public; you can never afford to be. There’s always the glance over your shoulder, or the look in both directions, before you take your partner’s hand or kiss them goodbye. This is an uncomfortable pragmatism, absolutely, and one which we wish we could render unnecessary, but constantly thinking about safety doesn’t just reflect a social problem with queer intimacy because of a history of ingrained heteronormativity and homophobia. It also invests gestures of affection between two people with an element of transgression and subversion that is never read into the same gestures performed between two people who appear to be straight.
Sometimes, it’s incredibly useful to be able to manipulate the element of transgression with which kissing someone of the same gender is invested in wider society. The kiss-in to protest Jacob Rees-Mogg’s appearance at the Cambridge Union is an example of how, collectively, queer people can mobilise and use such an incredibly simple gesture to make a strong statement of presence, unity, and power. On a smaller scale, it can also feel personally empowering, like the smallest, simplest middle finger up to the people who don’t mind gay people existing, but would prefer them not to be public about it. It’s an assertion of normality and love, even if the majority of people view it as so much more subversive an act that it actually is.
It’s also frustrating that there is such a disparity between perceptions of queer affection between two people assumed to be male, compared to two people read as female. The fetishisation of lesbians juxtaposed alongside a vehement disgust at intimacy between gay men is a cliché at this stage. As a brief aside, this has been something I’ve found particularly frustrating while voraciously rewatching ‘Friends’; alongside many other examples of sexism and homophobia, when you get to the sixth series, the guys’ slobberingly enthusiastic interest in seeing two girls kissing is no longer even worth the energy of an eye-roll. From the perspective of someone whose relationships are fetishised by the Chandlers and Joeys of the world, it’s particularly frustrating when you have to consider voyeurism, and not just personal safety, as part of the harassment you might be subject to.
Ultimately, we cannot divest expressions of queer intimacy of all their imbued meaning and implications. As long as there are bigots, particularly of the don’t-ask-don’t-tell variety, there will be ogling, fetishisation, and uncertain levels of safety. We’re relatively fortunate to be living in a country where perceptions are far more progressive than in other parts of the world, but this doesn’t mean we can’t feel and express frustration with our own situation. And if nothing else, I’m always happy to accept revolutionary status for even the smallest acts of resistance.