Why The ‘Girls’ Creator Should Not Be Honored For LGBTQ Allyship
By Shannon Keating
“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.”
I am a queer woman, and Lena Dunham does not speak for me.
Someone in your family can now represent your passions and your beliefs, Lena Dunham? Queerness does not, in any way, shape or form, belong to you. No matter how much you may want to elbow your way into what’s extraordinary and beautiful about queer culture, without having to actually experience marginalization yourself, you will never be queer and you will never, ever speak for us. Or at least, you will never speak for me.
But, you could at least try; I would actually really appreciate it if you did. Since you write a show called “Girls,” which takes place in a super gay and super diverse city, it would be nice if you could actually give subjectivity and autonomy to a queer girl character. Instead, the most we have is Jessa, who makes out with Marnie as a stunt to titillate a guy in Season 1, while in Season 3 she ups the ante by performing oral sex on a closeted lesbian in rehab—but the show’s actors and its writers, including Lena Dunham, continually deny that Jessa is queer. She is “just sexually damaged.”
If we are going to continue to give straight allies awards and accolades for their allyship, could we at least try and pick straight people who are actively and adamantly trying to make the world a better place for queer people? Lena Dunham treats female queerness as a sexual train wreck in her show, and yet she’s being given an LGBTQ allyship award because she loves her gay sister, she always wanted gay dads growing up, and she wishes she was close to cool enough to be queer. (Hint: she’s not.)
These three central points of Dunham’s speech have nothing to do with the lived experiences of queer people and everything to do with Dunham herself: I love gay people, I wish I were gay, me me me, look at me. In a couple minutes flat she beautifully illustrates that when you give allies the mic, you learn more about the ally than you do about whichever marginalized group they are currently speaking over.
Straight people loving and supporting queer people in their personal lives is a great thing. But support is not award-worthy—it is the bare minimum. Treating queer people with respect is exercising basic human decency. While better than the alternative, it’s not a reason in 2014 to jump up and down and throw parades.
Yes, Dunham donated funds to a good cause. But true allyship, for it to have any worth at all, must happen outside of the spotlight, in the gritty and unforgiving tedium of the everyday. It’s messy and it’s hard. And it comes with no assurances of congratulations, big or small. The personal (“I love my gay sister!”) must translate into the public and the political.
I demand we up our standards for active allyship. When we reward people like Lena Dunham, a powerful cultural figure who as of yet has not used her power to further a positive LGBTQ agenda, we are sending the message that she is doing A Great Job. In reality, we should be sending the message that she has a long, long way to go if she ever wants to come close to being a cultural force for good in terms of queer representation and liberation.
Shannon is a writer, activist and aspiring filmmaker currently working and over-eating in Paris. She loves strong cheeses, young adult fiction, rugby, red lipstick, and bossy women. Tweet her @__keating, like her insta selfies @skeatings.