Today’s post is about Diana Son’s Stop Kiss! This play can be uncomfortable to read, let alone watch, if homophobia triggers you. If you like tragedies with a happy ending, love conquering society, or lesbian history, you’ll probably like Stop Kiss.
Plot: Two stories about one relationship: what happens before and after two women kiss.
Initial thoughts: I loved this play and, yes, it’s beautiful. Stop Kiss has interesting structure: one act with 23 scenes linearly alternating between what happens before and after the kiss. It’s endearing, tragic, and the very last scene made me tear up. While so much of the play is about the kiss, it’s not until this final scene that we see it. Though we’ve seen the horrible events following the kiss, we are left with a sense of resolution and happiness: Callie has embraced her relationship with Sara and will be there for her, culminating in the kiss that will lead to many others.
Personally, it stroke a chord with me because I could identify with many of the anxieties and joys in the play. There were certain parts that I literally had to put the book down and process before I could continue. I’m not sure if somebody who isn’t gay would necessarily have the same reaction, and there’s nothing particularly poetic about the structure besides the ending. There’s good exploration of issues surrounding women-who-love-women, including moving to a big city to explore sexuality, the possibility of casting POC (Sandra Oh originated the role of Sara), exploring bisexual issues, and sexism that lesbians face that other queer people may not. For example, it’s fairly bemoaned intersection between queer sexuality and feminine gender to have men want to watch two women kiss without regard for their personal comfort, as if these women are kissing for his pleasure rather than their own. Overall, very well detailed and I’m still shaking from it all.
Itty Bitty Research: Since I’ve never been to New York, I decided to look up the locale the play mentions. There are many New Yorkisms that will simply fly over your head unless you’re familiar with New York life. While the excessive price for a small apartment is fairly well known, the reference to how Rudolph Giuliani “ruin[s] things for everyone else” might not make sense if you don’t know him as the New York mayor who tried to run in the 2008 Presidential election (19). I want to focus on the bars in the West Village, since today I tend to think of anything in the Village as a gay bar, but this play makes obvious that there are clear boundaries between gay bars and straight bars.
Sara and Callie were attacked on “Bleeker and West 11th,” situated well within the West Village (27). Mention of the park they stopped by is clearly identifiable as Bleeker Playground. Although Callie firsts insists that she and Sara were at “The White Horse. On Hudson Street” (28), Callie later reveals they were at Henrietta’s (133). Henrietta’s and Bleeker/West 11th is a handful of blocks away, which Google Maps estimates as a seven minute walk. The White Horse is a good cover at first because it is only a minute away for Bleeker/West 11th. Although the West Village was still recognized as a gay neighborhood, the boundaries of homo- and heterosexuality are made clear by Callie’s description. This is also supported by Mrs Winsley’s inclusion, who gives a history of the changing dynamic of the neighborhood, having moved into the neighborhood before the gays – proverbially – took over. She loves living in Greenwich Village and has no problems with the gay life, which to me was surprising since I’ve always thought of the Village as gay, gay, with an extra smattering of gay. (Now wouldn’t it be novel if her husband was prowling around the Village for a younger male partner instead of a younger female partner?)
Looking into the establishments themselves, this is made clear. Henrietta’s describes the bar as “Manhattan’s number-one lesbian bar for more than two decades.” We’re only in 2015, so this is well within the range of original publication in 1998. In juxtaposition to this well known lesbian bar is the White Horse Tavern, which does not have a page of its own but is famous enough to have a Wikipedia page. Heck, it’s even recommended by Time Out. Dylan Thomas is also mentioned in the play, so it’s safe to say that this is the particular bar. These two bars represent different kinds of life besides sexuality. Henrietta’s website has a sleek, dark layout with neon pink to promote the ambiance of a fun, youthful bar. In opposition, the White Horse is just as famous but its reputation is more literary. While the idea is to suggest that they appeal to two different markets, this is, in fact, a fallacy.
Mrs Winsley said one thing that caught my eye: “Well it wasn’t the cops, took thirty minutes for someone to show up. You’d think it was Harlem, not the West Village” (45). In recent USA memory, we’ve noticed how there’s been systematic violence by police forces against people of color, but these injustices happen to many other marginalized communities, including sexual and gender minorities. In fact, this quote points to the similar treatment of sexual and racial minorities. Since Harlem is known as a racial neighborhood, the underlying meaning here is that the police was as quick to react to a crime against lesbians as they would be to a crime in the economically poor and racialized neighborhood of Harlem. A similar hate crime against lesbians happened nearly two years ago, and Greenwich is still prone to hate crimes against gender and sexual variant people. Although we hear less about it and are more shocked about violence against transgender people (which is woefully underrepresented in the media), hate crime against sexually variant people remains a hideous and important crime to remember. Stop Kiss is just as relevant today as it was in 1999.
Works cited: Son, Diana. Stop Kiss. Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press, 1999. Print.