These Lesbian Moments Will Have You Reaching for Lena Dunham’s Memoir

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Lena Dunham may have a penchant for platonic bed-sharing, and “bi-curious” breast-ogling, but she’s “not that kind of girl.”

She’s not a lesbian kind of girl, or, really, a bi-curious girl either, as a camp counselor might accuse her of being. And, yet, as her new memoir shows, Lena Dunham actually really loves women, and there are plenty of sapphically-inclined moments in her memoir. She doesn’t consider herself a role model or the voice of a generation, but she does see herself as a comrade-in-arms, offering “dispatches” of female experiences “from the frontlines” of the elusive, albeit questionable, quest to “have it all.”

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“Having it all,” at least for this pensive 27 year-old, entails working through issues of interpersonal relations, personal relations to her own body and ethics, as well as the big, “having it all” concerns like “Love” and “Career” and “Family.”

While undeniably straight, Dunham’s memoir sheds light on the many sapphic situations straight girls can land themselves in over the course of their youth—especially straight girls like Dunham, who have a healthy sexuality and healthy relation to their bodies as innately sexual. Her frank and unapologetic regard for the body, as well as for sex, is one she satirizes on Girls as well as divulges when the occasion strikes in her memoir. Perhaps Dunham’s enlightened attitude towards the body and sex can be attributed to having eccentric, artsy parents—a dad who paints cartoonish penises and engorged vaginas and a mom whose expertise lies in making miniature automatons.

Otherwise I’m not really sure how to explain the scenario to her opening her sister’s vagina and finding “six or seven pebbles” within:

“One day, as I sat in our driveway in Long Island playing with blocks and buckets, my curiosity got the best of me. Grace was sitting up, babbling and smiling, and I leaned down between her legs and carefully spread open her vagina…. My mother didn’t bother asking me why I had opened Grace’s vagina. This was within the spectrum of things I did. She just got on her knees and looked for herself. It quickly became apparent that Grace had stuffed six or seven pebbles in there.”

Dunham acknowledges she was a bit of an older sibling creep to her younger sibling, Grace, all throughout their childhood. In a chapter dedicated to her sister, the eponymous “Grace,” she documents their close relationship growing up, especially in relation to Grace’s own coming out as a lesbian. “As she grew, I took to bribing her for her time and affection: one dollar in quarters if I could do her makeup like a ‘motorcycle chick.’ Three pieces of candy if I could kiss her on the lips for five seconds. Whatever she wanted to watch on TV if she would just ‘relax on me.’ Basically,” Dunham confesses, “anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl I was trying.” Kids are curious and play with each other like little live dolls. Dunham was no different—she’s just honest about the polymorphously perverse nature of all children.

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Dunham is clear that she loves lesbians, especially because she is “in possession of a gay sister.” Although there is one anonymous lesbian who she seems to have had a bad run-in with. In the chapter, “Emails I Would Send If I Were One Ounce Crazier/Angrier/Braver,” she offers a hypothetical response to “Blanka,” about the latter’s patronizing reaction to one of Dunham’s films:

Dear Blanka,
Remember when you said you “forgave” me for my movie? Well, I don’t forgive you for saying that. I am sorry that I questioned whether you were a real lesbian. That was lame of me and you clearly are a lesbian. I love lesbians. But you know what else is lame? Your neon overalls. D.J. Tanner called and she wants her wardrobe back so it can be included in a museum retrospective about the prime years of Full House.
Ugh, get it together!
LD

Who is the celesbian in DJ Tanner neon overalls? Anybody?

The most explicit discussion of lesbianism occurs in the chapter “Girl Crush: That Time I Was Almost a Lesbian, Then Vomited,” in which, minus a third grade crush on classmate An Chu, she “ha[sn’t] had a crush on a woman since, unless you count my confusing relationship with Shane from The L Word.”

She begins, however, by dispelling the idea of the “girl crush,” because, she explains, it is both wildly infantilizing as well as dismissive of lesbian sexuality: “being in possession of a gay sister, I find the term ‘girl crush’ slightly homophobic, as if I need to make it clear that my crush on another woman is not at all sexual but, rather, mild and adorable, much like…a girl.”

She does observe certain “girl crush” tendencies in her own behavior and engagements with other women. The crush, it seems, derives from the elision between the two axes of BuFu— the Be You/Fuck You paradigm. Quick to note, Dunham maintains, “I’ve never wanted to be with women so much as I wanted to be them: there are women whose career arc excites me, whose ease of expression is impressive, whose mastery of party banter has me simultaneously hostile and rapt…. I do covet other women’s styles of being.”

She also explains how she’s been aroused by messing around with female friends—all in Shakespearean-like preparation for the “real” thing with men. At the age of 15, for example, her friend Sofia, taught her a “favorite trick, one that she said drove the boys crazy.” Sucking on a Dunham’s earlobe in a crawl space adjacent to her bedroom, Dunham, she admits, “could feel the tips of [Sofia’s] teeth and then my pulse on my vagina.”

Later in life, she kisses “three girls in college. All at once,” at a benefit for Palestine. “We went around in a circle, taking turns, kissing for just long enough to get a sense of one another’s mouths….. Afterward we laughed. None of my eighth-grade fears had come true. I was not, suddenly, the militant lesbian leader of a motorcycle gang, nor was I ashamed.”

Even later, upon meeting “a prodigious British playwright” named Nellie, Dunham finds herself rapturously entangled with the “pale waif” of a playwright at a party in London. “She holds my face, panting like we’re out in a snowstorm,” Dunham writes. “She lies down next to me. We’re face-to-face now. Jenna [another friend] is dancing over us, laughing, having stripped down to only a sports bra…. I don’t mind when she blows smoke in my face. I rustle her hair, my own, hers again. I didn’t think she’d kiss me, but I didn’t think she wouldn’t either.”

Nellie doesn’t kiss her, probably because moments before they’re on the floor Dunham had released a “torrent” of “hot, acidic” puke formerly known as her dinner…and a lot of wine.

What Dunham’s chapter proves is that humans are fluid not necessarily when it comes to sexual identity but certainly when it comes to intimacy. One minute she’s puking, the next her face is being cupped, as if preparing for a kiss, by another woman.

Dunham may not be a lesbian, or even bi-curious. But she certainly exposes the lie that same-sex eroticism doesn’t and cannot exist for straight girls. It most certainly can.

You can purchase Not That Kind of Girl, from which all quotes are taken, is in any bookstore that wants to sell books and online.

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