I, like most of the internet, wanted to hate Girls and the ostentatious writer behind it. After first attempting to watch Season 1 in 2012, I had to shut it down as I am rarely impressed with shows about painfully privileged 2-dimensional characters. But by some miracle, my being couch-ridden for a weekend coincided with my roommate getting a deal on premium OnDemand, and my NyQuil-induced haze told me it was time to give Girls another shot. Three episodes in and I found myself familiar not with their lifestyles, but with their anxieties and struggles. Identifying was the last reaction that I expected to have, even now as a super fan nearly three years later when I saw Lena Dunham on the cover of New York Times Magazine’s annual Culture Issue.
Everyone seems to have an opinion on Lena Dunham, especially her peers, and seeing that she’s about to release a book of even more personal essays,
Everyone seems to have an opinion on Lena Dunham, especially her peers, and seeing that she’s about to release a book of even more personal essays, Not That Kind of Girl on September 30, it’s safe to assume her critics are about to get louder, and detractors more disparaging. In an interview in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, the 28-year-old Girls attempted to assuage some of that, talking to Meghan Daum about dealing with criticism and gratefulness but mostly, as the title suggests, continuing her brand of oversharing, starting with her sister, Grace Dunham’s coming out story.
“On a recent afternoon in Brooklyn, Lena Dunham and her sister, Grace, met up at a local hangout,” Daum writes in the profile. “Grace was nursing a sprained ankle she sustained a few nights earlier, after, by her account, ‘tripping into a pothole while running out of a queer-poetry reading.’ Dunham was concerned about the injury but also enchanted by the phrase, and had been repeating it to people everywhere she went over the last several days.” In her book, Dunham acknowledges her family saying, “I’m sorry I keep doing this to you.” The “this” being something Grace is all too familiar with, noting that she isn’t surprised at Lena’s infatuation with her queer-poetry mishap: “Appropriating events from her family’s life is standard practice for Dunham.” In Not That Kind of Girl, Lena’s essays delve further into stories of body image, dating, psychotherapy and familial relationships, one story involving Grace coming out as a lesbian to Lena during Grace’s senior year of high school. According to the article, “Though Grace wasn’t quite ready to tell their parents, Dunham was unable to contain herself and came out to them for her.”
“What I didn’t say in the book is how it messed up our relationship for like two years,” Lena explained. The sisters then go on to disagree on just how long Lena was able to keep the secret. As Grace remembered it, Lena couldn’t last two days keeping the news to herself. “It was not two days,” Lena said. “It was a month.” “It was about a week,” Grace said. “It was about two weeks to one week.” “You came out to me, like, a week into shooting Tiny Furniture — Lena’s 2010 feature film — “and I didn’t tell Mom and Dad for like a week after we wrapped.”
Daum notes that Grace then rolled her eyes saying, “Without getting into specifics, most of our fights have revolved around my feeling like Lena took her approach to her own personal life and made my personal life her property.” “Basically, it’s like I can’t keep any of my own secrets,” Lena said. “And I consider Grace to be an extension of me, and therefore I couldn’t handle the fact that she’s a very private person with her own value system and her own aesthetic and that we do different things.”
The Dunhams are so notoriously close. Along with her boyfriend Jack Antonoff, an outspoken ally who recently called himself “a straight man with, like, lesbian chemicals,” Lena has been a longtime supporter of LGBT rights. While receiving the Point Foundation’s Horizon Award for her LGBT advocacy work, Lena spoke about her sister saying, “I have always felt a strong and emotional connection to members of the LGBTQ community. It was actually a huge disappointment for me, when I came of age and realized that I was sexually attracted to men. So when my sister came out, I thought, Thank God, someone in this family can truly represent my passions and beliefs.” She continued, “My sister Grace coming out as a gay woman at age 17 was a huge turning point for me in my understanding of the issues facing LGBTQ people. We were raised in an environment—the art world of downtown Manhattan—where no one hid their sexual orientation, and a common question from four-year-old me was ‘Mom, are those ladies gay together?’ I was always very jealous of any child who had two dads. And because of our parents’ deeply held commitment to acceptance and equality, my sister’s process of coming to terms with her sexuality was as angst-free as anything involving sex can really be. She was assured by the adults in her life that she was not only accepted, but adored for who she is. I am so happy that this is the way she was able to enter the world as a woman and an LGBTQ person.”
In her upcoming book, Dunham continues to talk about their close relationship, something they will further exhibit when Grace accompanies Lena on her upcoming book tour. The tour will include representatives from Planned Parenthood, an effort by Grace to bring awareness to women’s health issues. All of the events will include different special guests including Amy Schumer, Jemima Kirke and Carrie Brownstein. Daum also explained that Grace helped “organize writing workshops that Dunham will conduct with young women from the communities she visits, driving home the message that any woman writing about her personal experiences is engaged in an inherently political act.”
According to Lena, “I find the idea of doing anything but this version of the tour embarrassing. And probably if I examined the reason for that, I would see that I want to make clear that the utterly self-involved, politically disengaged character I play on Girls is not who I am.”
In a rare glimpse into Grace’s activism, Daum describes her saying, “Grace is hyperattuned to the notion of privilege, particularly white middle- and upper-middle-class privilege. She has taken a significant advisory role when Dunham has been called out on the Internet and elsewhere for showcasing a bubble of white, college-educated flâneurs and even romanticizing (or at least finding humor in) their idleness, to an extent that alienates if not baffles audiences whose experiences lie elsewhere.” Drawing comparisons to
Drawing comparisons to Dorothy Parker, Miranda July and Nora Ephron, I agree most with Daum saying her point of view and approach to storytelling most resemble Woody Allen. Consequently, her critics are the same in that they either love or hate her. With Allen, they at least acknowledge is contribution the craft as a whole while Lena isn’t quite there yet. But she will be. Seems the more herself she is able to be, the more success she’ll continue to find. If nothing else, I can guarantee she’ll find further success with the lez community if she writes a queer poetry reading into the next season of Girls.