Based in Sydney, Australia, Foundry is a blog by Rebecca Thao. Her posts explore modern architecture through photos and quotes by influential architects, engineers, and artists.

Lena Dunham Used The Term Butt Sex, And I'm Upset

My 2016 has been defined by a lot of things.  My career transition.  My burning interest in politics.  My engagement.  My world travel.  But one of the biggest conundrums of my year so far has been my TV relationship with Girls.  I’ve watched for the last four years because the show reminds me of my early 20s in New York City.  Not so much the $20 cocktails or the luxury gyms.  It’s the bad decision making-the vomiting in public places, the unnecessary nudity, and the self-absorbed entitlement.  But what I’ve struggled with as of late is the show’s all-white, mostly straight, and intensely claustrophobic version of New York.  Though I can relate to the lead characters’ regrettable choices and painful personal “growth”, I can’t relate to this homogenous depiction of the melting pot that I love so dearly.

At the center of my unhappiness with the current season of the show is its treatment of the male characters.  I know what you’re thinking.  This is a show written by women to accurately depict the complexity of female characters.  But in order to do that, the men are either reduced to bumbling fools or exaggerated into overblown caricatures.  This is never more apparent than with the show’s lead gay character, Elijah.

Elijah is the sassy gay friend of TV.  And just because this show airs on HBO doesn’t mean he gets any grit or even an ounce of realness.  He parades in and out of scenes in his underwear (perhaps a nod to the stereotype that all gay men are vain).  He’s always equipped with a steak knife-sharp response.  And most of his lines are judgmental and sarcastic.  He doesn’t seem to serve much purpose beyond proving that there is someone on this show who’s even less professionally productive than Hannah. 

"Elijah doesn’t seem to serve much purpose beyond proving that there is someone on this show who’s even less professionally productive than Hannah."  

I will give the show credit for this season’s Elijah love storyline.  And the awkward gay sex scene we were treated to two episodes back.  And for the fact that a real, live gay (actor Andrew Rannells) plays Elijah.  And for the ongoing story arc about Hannah’s father who suddenly came out of the closet last season.  All of this gay shit is great, but the show handles it from the point of view of a gay guy’s best friend.  A best friend that has no idea what it’s like to be gay and makes fun of her gay friends behind their backs.  That’s the best possible explanation I can think of for how Hannah handles finding out that her father had unprotected sex with a hookup buddy in episode 2, 'Good Man'.

After she finds this out, she goes into panic mode and, you guessed it, calls up her gay buddy Elijah to tell him that her dad had “unprotected butt sex”.  She needs his help.  Presumably to take precautions to ensure her dad doesn’t end up with any unwanted friends down below.  While some may have interpreted this scene and Hannah’s concern for her father’s sexual health as touching, I couldn’t get past the use of the term ‘butt sex’.  

I’m sure it was written into the script because it was funny.  Girls has that sort of comedic quality where it trivializes sensitive things to make the audience laugh.  Just when you’re enjoying yourself, in comes a scene about Hannah’s bush or about her fear of STD molecules creeping in through the sides of a condom.  ‘Butt sex’ is how straight teenage boys describe gay sex when they’re poking fun.  At an age where your genitals are outgrowing your personality, I can understand why these young boys might find that term funny.  But for Lena Dunham, who by most accounts is an adult, I’d expect that she could handle the subject with a bit more class.  Or at least a funnier phrase.  By using the term ‘butt sex’, is Dunham poking fun at us? At the gay cast member? At the gay crew members? At the gay portion of her audience and supporters?

" ‘Butt sex’ is how straight teenage boys describe gay sex when they’re poking fun.  At an age where your genitals are outgrowing your personality, I can understand why these young boys might find that term funny."

I’m not on the picket line or anything.  I’m not en route to HBO’s headquarters with a “We’re Here, We’re Queer” protest sign.  But from a person like myself that can appreciate the nastiest of nasty jokes, I know there’s a time and place for them.  Though the subject of her TV dad’s sexual behavior may seem funny to her, it’s actually a great opportunity to shine a huge spotlight on a very real issue.  An issue that doesn’t get a lot of attention on TV.  Perhaps Dunham should venture on down to Fun Home, a play that very delicately handles the sexuality of its family patriarch while still being heartbreakingly funny.

Allowing gay characters to take up such large real estate on a popular show is important.  Especially since that popular show is on HBO, and it doesn’t seem like we’re getting that Looking finale movie any time soon.  But when Dunham and her writers poke fun at our community, are we supposed to laugh along?  I hope that the gay visibility of this current season isn’t a squandered opportunity.  If so, I might actually have to stop watching.

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