The First Kiss Project #8

Hello All, as we continue on with our First Kiss Project series, today's instalment might just be my absolute favourite. Artist, Sabba shares with us a story of sexual awakening, sambuca, a beautiful Italian boy, and the subtle interplay between this burgeoning womanhood and her identity as a Muslim woman wearing the hijab.

London, UK

Ok. Set the scene: What year was it? How old were you? Where were you? What era are we talking, were you in acid wash jeans, My So Called Life flannel? Kurt Cobain flannel? Clarissa Explains It All flannel? Can you tell we have a penchant for flannel?
I was 23, I'd never been kissed or even looked at by a guy (in a sexual kinda way at least). My teenage years had been torturous because of it, and it's all because I wore a hijab and lived a very conservative religious lifestyle. So anyway, I'm 23, still wearing the hijab and by this age I'm fed up and tired of my conservative strict family background. I go to Italy on an EU exchange programme. I'm working in an architectural practice and, within the first few days, my fellow work colleagues are asking me if I believe in suicide bombings and Islamic states. What a way to make the new girl feel welcome! They were fascinated by the fact that I spoke immaculate English and held a degree in architecture and was working in a professional skilled context. To our surprise, within the first week we were all getting on like a house on fire! For them, I was the first Muslim they'd ever spoken to, and for me, well, it was the first time I was around people who were open, honest, and transparent. It was then that I realised that English culture is incredibly reserved and, actually, it was a breath of fresh air to talk about stuff you hear in the media this way. I loved being there and we all started to develop a really lovely relationship with each other.

Who was the kiss with? How did you know your kissing partner?
It was with one of my Italian colleagues during this summer aboard. He was a hot, leather wearing, biker boy with jet black hair and soft olive Italian skin. I fell in love pretty much immediately. We would have great conversations about art and emotional turmoil. Our conversations would end up quite dark and melancholic and I loved it!
The thing I didn't want him to know, though, was that, in my 23 years of life, he was the first male to pay me attention in that way. Even still, it wasn't quite the unabashed, out there kind of attention, he was careful and cautious; unsure of how to deal with a Muslim Asian girl in a sexual kind of way. It was frustrating for me because even Asian guys don't know... but at least it was some kind of attention!

How did it come to pass? (or something less Gandalf-y)
So, it was the last day of my time in Italy. The next day, I was going to go back to the frosty, restrictive UK. I was still wearing hijab and nothing has yet happened between me and Hot Italian guy. On the last day, he asked me to spend the evening with him and his friends....
He also asked if I would like to take my headscarf off too. He wanted to see my hair.
And yes.... by this time I'm in *love* with this boy and all I wanted was some attention and, yes, I did want to take it off.
We spent the evening in a local tavern with some of his other biker boy type friends. He drank black sambuca and asked me if I wanted some -up until this point I hadn't had a drop of alcohol (another contentious topic amongst my new Italian friends)- He told me it tastes like liquorice and that I'll like it. With my headscarf off already I can feel the flames of guilt and internal disgust; and, although I love liquorice, I decline. I can only do one Hell-inducing activity at a time.
We spent the entire night with his friends, never really alone. I've realised this is the first time I'd shown my hair in a public setting since I was a small girl and had no idea how to wear it. I probably looked like I'd just come out of a cave!
Anyway, in the wee hours of the morning, I needed to go and sleep for a bit before I took my flight back home. So he drove me home in his little green Fiat (not on his bike, I would have loved that). We're in his car, and he says goodnight and he kisses me and, before you know it, I'm on his lap, and he's touching my boob, and he wants to go between my legs but I panic because, shit I didn't expect this and I didn't shave between my legs, and, fuck, if he even starts to go down there and visits the jungle that sits between my thighs my world will collapse around me!
Don't get me wrong, I was totally ready for that stuff but I totally pushed him away for fear of him meeting the jungle so, he caressed me gently, and kissed me beautifully, and let me go on my way. He was the first boy to kiss me and to introduce me to my own sexual energy.

What was it like? Were you nervous? Was it a positive or negative experience?
It was very positive for me. It heightened my sense of awareness and awakened a lot of things that had lay dormant for quite a long time. I wouldn't have it any other way.

What happened next? Are you still in contact?
The next day I left for the UK, still in love but deeply knowing it wasn't going to go anywhere. So, I mourned him, I think for about 6 months. I did the usual stalking on Facebook, some messages here and there, feeling really frustrated. I then decided to block him and try to forget and, once I'd moved on, I unblocked him. Now, when I see photos of him, he is still as beautiful as ever and I'm so glad that what happened did happen. I hope he realises how important that was for me. It helped me unlock something inside me that was yearning to get out, that needed just a gentle soft soul to tease it out and to tell me that it was ok.

How do you look back on it all these years later?
I feel shy and awkward about it. I don't like admitting that it was repressed sexual energy that ultimately made me take my headscarf off for the first time but I also think it's because society doesn't give due credence to the powerful, primordial forces of sexual energy. It's been nice writing this. I've never really gone back to that time but it was pretty much the catalyst to where I am at now, both personally and in my art practice.

If you could travel back in  time, what advice would you give your younger self about your first kiss?
Maybe I should've drunk that sambuca. It would've helped with the nerves!


Sabba is a second generation Pakistani Azad Kashmiri Muslim artist based in London exploring belonging, memory, and identity. Her debut graphic novel, Pluralism will be published by Myriad Editions in 2021. In the meantime, you can follow her work on Twitter @sabbakhan_ and Instagram @sabbakhanart.

If you 'd like to share your first kiss story, or view any of our previous participants, head to the First Kiss Project page.

Do it.
Do it now.

My Life As An Imposter

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