Lena Dunham's Younger Sibling Talks Being Non-Binary In A Privileged World

Operating in this world as a non-binary person can be difficult, as we see from the devastating number of suicides linked to transgender individuals. Many outspoken cultural leaders are guiding the conversation surrounding gender identity and gender fluidity in the hopes of furthering equality for everyone, no matter which toilet you use.

As part of Konbini partner StyleLikeU's What's Underneath Projectwriter and activist Grace Dunham (yep, Lena's younger sibling) removes their clothes while discussing their life and body image struggles as a non-binary person.

(Photo: The What's Underneath Project)

(Photo: The What's Underneath Project)

“At this phase in my life, it feels like there’s a particular weight on gender, and trying to adequately communicate [that]. I’m not a woman, but I’m not a man," Grace says in the raw video. They add:

“As I started to age and become a so-called teenage girl, I was dealing with the expectations of that. Whether that means being popular, being pretty, being feminine, kissing boys …

"On the inside I was like, ‘I’m a fucking monster,’ because even though I’m wearing UGG boots and fishnets, I’m obsessively thinking about pinning that 12-year-old girl against the wall and fucking her – 'what the hell is wrong with me?'"

Navigating the status-driven celebrity world they were born into, Grace first realized they didn't fit into typical gender boxes when they first tried a chest binder. Now interchanging "she" and "they" as personal pronouns, Grace has come a long way on their personal gender journey to self-acceptance.

(Photo: What's Underneath Project)

(Photo: The What's Underneath Project)

"I felt overwhelmed, and slightly embarrassed, by the feeling of recognizing a version of myself I'd always imagined and fantasized about," Grace told Konbini about wearing the binder for the first time.

As they discovered the joy in being called "handsome" as well as "pretty" and "sexy," Grace has carved out their own reality in between the binaries.

In a powerful interview for The What's Underneath Project, available now on streaming site Fullscreen, Grace speaks honestly about growing up in a fame-fueled world (their parents are famous artists and their sister is a famous writer-actress-filmmaker), not conforming to its expectations – and how that's affected their current identity.

While being privileged may have advantages for some in terms of self-expression, Grace says it hindered their self-expression. "It's a myth that people with privilege are more open-minded or accepting," the writer told Konbini.

Read our interview with Grace below about gendered adjectives, gender equality and whether privilege has been a help or a hindrance – and check out the sneak peek of The What's Underneath Project clip.

Konbini: Could you describe what emotions you felt when you when you first wore a chest binder?

Grace Dunham: I felt overwhelmed, and slightly embarrassed, by the feeling of recognizing a version of myself I'd always imagined and fantasized about.

How important is it for us to ditch gendered adjectives, like “handsome” and “pretty”?

These words are certainly loaded and have the potential to force people into categories they haven't chosen for themselves; that being said, many people also take these words back and have profound experiences being referred to or recognized as who they really are. 

"Gender-based oppression is always inflected by other forms of prejudice, like race and class."

How has your treatment by other people changed since you realized you were non-binary?

There's a lot of other factors that affect my experience of not conforming to binary genders – for example, my whiteness, my class, my relative access.

I have a lot of internal struggles about my gender – shame, confusion – and worry about how my gender presentation will affect people's love or desire for me, but I don't think my gender has created a lot of structural barriers. And that's because gender-based oppression is always inflected by other forms of prejudice, like race and class. 

(Photo: What's Underneath Project)

(Photo: The What's Underneath Project)

You say your uncertainty is more freeing than being either male or female at the moment – what does that feel like?

I'm trying to work around the idea that I'm already myself, not that there's some final truth I need to get to. I probably fail every day, but I'm attempting.

"It's a myth that people with privilege are more open-minded or accepting."

You address how you come from a very privileged and status-obsessed background – has being from a very successful family helped you be able to express your gender? Like, in comparison to very underprivileged people who can never be honest about being non-binary?

I don't think so. Privilege affords safety from state violence, access to resources, but in my experience, people with wealth and access are extremely concerned about norms, respectability, fitting in.

It's a myth that people with privilege are more open-minded or accepting. People navigating all sorts of realities have varying levels of comfort with trans identity. 

What do you think needs to happen in society for non-binary people to be treated equally?

A lot of things need to change – namely, a bunch of violent systems, like white supremacy and the prison system, need to be transformed. Gender justice won't and can't come alone. Luckily, so many people are committing their lives to intersecting movements for justice and leading the way. 


The full episode of Grace Dunham's The What’s Underneath Project is available now on Fullscreen. Fullscreen is a subscription-based streaming service, but all eight episodes this season will be available with a free month-long trial subscription.

Other episodes feature TSS survivor and model Lauren Wasser, Free The Nipple founder Lina Esco and many more inspiring women.

(Photo: What's Underneath Project)

(Photo: The What's Underneath Project)

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Part time puncess. Pitches, tips and nudes to lydia.morrish@konbini.com