My podcast Never Before sprung from a bacon-filled breakfast with Lena Dunham in 2014.
It was the first time we had met IRL. We had spent months exchanging DMs and emails after reading one another's memoirs. I sat nervously across Lena, who was at ease, completely herself. I admit that I was trying my best not to side-eye her as I wondered why the hell this white girl from HBO wanted to break bread with me.
I had admired Lena from afar, deeply envious of her consistent productivity, from Tiny Furniture and Girls to her best-selling book and her New Yorker essays. Still, the headlines documenting her public fuck-ups often times overshadowed her work. But Lena eventually disarmed me largely by being herself — open, eager to do well, and more willing than most to own her shit, shut up and listen, learn, and aim to do and be better.
In the end, though, she's just a good friend. Lena's the first to send a congratulatory text, the first to like your glowing Instagram selfie, the first to lend you her exclusive VIP shopping-discount codes. Over the past three years, we've grown into the kind of friends who swap gossip and Rihanna updates and the kind who check and challenge one another.
Lena and I have never spoken publicly about our relationship — partly because most of my followers cannot stand her — but largely because it's ours. It's something we hold close as women who do much of our work under the public's gaze. And yet, Lena is the executive producer of Never Before. She's the woman who pushed me to create the space that I wasn't being given on television for intriguing, full-fledged, unapologetically political pop-cultural conversations.
So it was only fitting that I have a talk with the woman who was integral to the show's creation. Below is an edited excerpt from Lena's episode on Never Before, where we embark on every controversy, every learning moment, and every apology. I've always been curious about what accountability looks like when you mess up so publicly and so often — so I go there with Lena as we discuss Odell Beckham, her sibling, Grace, and that time she said she wished she had had an abortion (this is only a taste of the episode. To get all the juicy bacon grease, you have to listen to the podcast).
We begin our conversation by talking about the effects of Lena's early success.
Janet Mock: Girls launched you into this hyper-visible space where you were seen as an emblem of an entire generation of young women. I wonder, does fame stunt you in a way that you're stuck at 24 forever in a sense?
Lena Dunham: In ways, I feel 100 years old. When you take a lot of public heat ... I've had public scandals around my family, around my sexual assault. Both public scandals around things that were and weren't a result of my own ignorance. I will take full responsibility for all the times that I popped off on Twitter and didn't think about what I was saying, but there was also a lot of times where my very identity and the core of who I was were questioned, and it really felt like being steel stuck in a fire and you're made stronger.
Over the last six years, I have had really serious health problems because I have endometriosis. When you undergo five or six surgeries in your twenties and have the experience of your body basically revolting against you — I was on enforced menopause for two years. I'd looked around at other twentysomethings and I felt 100. I remember once going to a book fair with my dad and looking at a couple who were eating tacos and buying comics and just crying because I was like, I never was that, and I'll never be that. My boyfriend and I will never have that experience. We'll never sit anonymously on a corner eating tacos.