For Better or Worse “I Kissed a Girl” Was Part of My Bisexual Journey
Also being attracted to Katy Perry, but that's not the point...
There has been a lot of discussion and criticism over the song “Girls” by Rita Ora, Cardi B. and Charli XCX. Lesbian artist, Hayley Kiyoko and queer artist, Kehlani, called out the song for lyrics that seem to imply that women need to drink wine in order to kiss girls.
Both Rita Ora and Cardi B responded by citing their own bisexuality. Ora came out saying that the song was reflective of her own experience and that she wasn’t trying to play into the “straight gaze” or “male gaze” but to “represent my truth.”
— Rita Ora (@RitaOra) May 14, 2018
What has followed is a back and forth about Is the push-back too over the top? Is this a real expression of bisexuality? Are Rita and Cardi actually gay, etc?
In my mind, I’m not going to dismiss lesbians who think this song is playing into the male gaze, especially when it is written by mostly men. This song has the following writers: Rita Ora, Klenord Raphael, Ali Tamposi, Jonny Coffer, Jordan Thorpe, Belcalis Almanzar (Cardi B), Brian Lee, Andrew Wotman and Benjamin Diehl. Why they needed nine people, I’ll never know.
At the same time, I also understand that for some people this is just a catchy silly pop song about drinking AND kissing girls without one being needed to do the other. That being said, the thing that this whole criticism reminded me of is how the song “I Kissed A Girl” by Katy Perry affected me.
“I Kissed A Girl” is a massively problematic song. It is biphobic and wrapped up in all the things that people stereotype about bisexuality: all about the male gaze, no actual attraction toward women, and most dangerously, the idea that “good girls” don’t do it. Even Katy Perry herself gets that this song has not aged well.
Yet, when I was still working through my own issues, this song was really impactful for me. Because I was not comfortable with my attraction to women as a kid. I denied it hard. When I look back now, it seems comically obvious when I had dozens of folders on my computer of celebrity women I liked and the only men I was really into were Robert Downey Jr. or anime dudes (Lord Sesshoumaru).
Even though I was not homophobic growing up, I was aware of it around me and it was scary. I did not want to see that in myself, but I wanted to express this thing in me that was screaming girls are so damn pretty. That’s where “I Kissed A Girl” came in. What Katy Perry was presenting was this flirty faux-lesbian anthem, but for me, it was this was for me to belt about how I wanted to kiss a girl because I would probably like it, but I also didn’t want my father to know.
I made a Disney Music Video with the song, taking great care of matching up all the ladies I wanted together and looking back it was this way I could express my queerness without feeling the pressure of having to assign pressure onto myself.
I was sixteen and my only experience with bisexuality as a teen outside of CLAMP manga was Maureen from Rent. I didn’t know how to feel and I did even know what the word meant. I just knew I had this feeling in me that I felt excited and ashamed about because I knew that I wasn’t ready to commit to it. Yet, it didn’t stop me from playing the song night after night in my bedroom thinking about girls kissing and how cute they would look together.
Now, there are Janelle Monáe, Hayley Kiyoko, Mary Lambert, and other openly queer female artists who aren’t constantly being gaslit about “are they really gay.” One of the things that made bisexuality further complicated for me was the series of female artists who called themselves bisexual, but later recanted that (Nicki Minaj and Jessie J come to mind). There are better, more complete, more positive bisexual/pansexual anthems.
Yet, I can even deny that as I’m listening to the song again, the part of me that’s a grown-up bisexual who would 100% get the “Dirty Computer” album cover tattooed on my body is like “this fucking song,” yet the part of me that was super terrified and nervous about being deeply in love with Emma Watson is like “I kissed a girl and I liked it the taste of her cherry chapstick…”
“Girls” is a dumb song, but maybe for Rita Ora and the eight other people who wrote it, there a larger meaning behind it. I don’t think she intended to be offensive, but for as much progress that we’ve made, there is still a lot more progress needed in terms of bisexual representation. We still need more representation for male bisexuality, female bisexuality in YA books like The Brightsiders tackle it well and shows like The 100 and Lost Girl and Arrow have shown that they can lead a series. Yet, we still waiting for movies to catch up.
Right now the fact that Hayley Kiyoko and Janelle Monáe can make love songs about women is exciting and still … sadly new. There is a place for “Girls” and I think that we should, and will need, fun songs about sexual fluidity and joy. Is this that song? I can’t say whether it will be that, or not, for someone else.
There are some girls who can only own up to their sexual curiosity by being drunk, because as much as there has been a lot of progress, for some people there is fear in sexual experimentation and opening yourself up to that experience. That needs to be okay. I’m not going to dismiss the lesbian/bi/pan women who feel like this song is dismissive, I would just say that, not all of the things that helped us on our journey to self-love as LGBTQI+ people are “woke.” Which can be fine as long as we are honest about it.
Speaking for me the song feels, in the truest sense of the term “2000 and late.”
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