In the 1990’s, few songs made as bold a statement about the pleasures of the lesbian experience as Jill Sobule’s “I Kissed a Girl.” The song’s popularity, however, may indicate the sad fact that, perhaps, mainstream culture could ignore the song’s clear overtones and pretend it wasn’t about that. Well, Nashville filmmaker Jennifer Sheridan wants to make sure that our contemporaries cannot ignore the momentous, startling, and beautiful moment that is a lesbian woman’s first time kissing a woman.
The project has simple enough beginnings. “A few of us were just sitting around talking and someone was telling us about the first time she kissed a girl,” Jennifer explained. “We were all enraptured and we started talking about it. What occurred to me was that it’s a really affirming moment, and it’s part of our shared experience and it’s been incredible to hear people’s stories.”
Sheridan began to explore the possibility of documenting this moment in women’s lives, and quickly came to the conclusion that, for this project, she would keep her focus specifically on lesbian women’s first kiss with a woman. The rationale for not including queer, trans, straight, or otherwise identifying women isn’t exclusionary. Rather the explanation is almost scientific – control the variables in order to get at the essential experience for the group in focus.
And what has Sheridan’s exploration exposed? “Society tells girls they’re supposed to feel X when they kiss a boy. What about all those girls whose experience is, ‘Eh, that’s okay, but…?’ When a lesbian finally kisses a girl, she begins to feel what everyone’s talking about when they talk about their first kiss. There’s relief because you finally feel, and start to really understand, unshakably who you are. Sometimes there’s guilt, and sometimes there’s a taboo that’s scary or thrilling, but for the vast majority of us it is an incredibly positive experience.”
With the support of O&AN and the Tennessee Equality Project, Jennifer was able to get her film crew passes to Nashville Pride to shoot the bulk of her footage. “Pride was amazing,” Jennifer reported later. “I got great footage and there was a bonus to it I hadn’t thought about … I wanted to meet lesbians outside of my circle and I knew Pride would be a perfect venue but what was really awesome was to see women well into their 70s in rainbow hats and boas. A couple of them were thinking quite a ways back but they remembered their stories.”
While lesbians share very intense, personal feelings about their first kisses, Jennifer finds, there are common themes in many stories. “I’d hear some patterns. Sleepovers featured commonly in stories and were big hits. It seems like, for a lot of us, our parents were so busy keeping us from the boys that, without thinking about it, they put us right where we wanted to be.”
But then there were those surprising moments when “you’d hear something that made you say, ‘Did I hear that right?’” One such moment presented itself at Nashville Pride when an older woman revealed that her first kiss was during her time in a convent. “When I heard about the convent, I blushed so hard that the women around me couldn’t stop laughing at me.”
Stories like these keep Jennifer’s energy and interest in the project at critically high levels. Without oral histories like the one she’s producing, “How else are you going to hear these stories? These are shared experiences a lot of us have, and lesbian presence in the media isn’t as high profile. Recording these so people can hear and understand better our experience is key.”
Beyond strengthening the sense of shared identity and common experience, Jennifer hopes that, by raising the profile of something as intimate in the lesbian experience as a woman’s first time kissing another woman, “straight people, especially our not-yet-allies, will see clearly that we have no more choice at being lesbians than we have shoe size or height and that for so many of us, it really is a joyous thing. That moment is profound and I think they’ll see that on these women’s faces. I’ve not met a lesbian yet who doesn’t smile when you ask her about the first time … it’s pretty awesome!”
If the project exceeds its funding goals, Jennifer hopes shooting will continue into July. “We’re releasing in October, come hell or high water. I’m really aiming for National Coming Out Day.” She hopes that the film will show at festivals in the shorts category. And in case you wondered, Jill Sobule has given her blessing for her version of “I Kissed a Girl” to be featured in the film. So stay tuned for more about this exciting project!
For more information on the project or to contribute, visit https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/i-kissed-a-girl-lesbians-first-kiss-experiences