Lena Dunham on Her New Movie, and the Power of the Kardashians

Lena Dunham
Lena Dunham Photo: D Dipasupil/Getty Images

HBO’s upcoming documentary Suited, directed by Jason Benjamin and produced by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner, follows the work of Bindle & Keep, a Brooklyn-based tailor that makes suits for trans and gender-non-conforming clients. Premiering on June 20, the film is an intimate look at the tailoring process, and just how important the right clothing can be. “This story is more than just a New York–Brooklyn kind of story,” explained Benjamin, when we spoke with him and Dunham on the phone a few weeks ago. “It involves people from all different walks of life and people with all different types of experience. There’s a real spectrum of gender, and of ways that people can interpret gender and express gender, and all of it is okay.”

The film’s subjects include Derek, a trans male nurse looking for a suit for his wedding while simultaneously preparing for surgery to remove his female reproductive organs; Everett, a trans male law student from Atlanta facing discrimination from potential employers; Aidan, a trans boy looking for a suit for his Bar Mitzvah; and Dunham’s sister, Grace, who identifies as non-binary. “It’s more than fashion,” says Benjamin, an expression that is echoed many times throughout the film. “When someone has struggled with their outward presentation of their gender for a long time, it’s finally finding clothes that align with who they feel they are on the inside.”

“For people who have been marginalized, to then put on clothes that fit them that weren’t available in a commercial space is sort of a radical act,” adds Dunham. “It helps them go and represent themselves in the world in a really beautiful way.”

Here are some other points that Dunham raised during our conversation, including the importance of Caitlyn Jenner and the Kardashians, and her evolving stance on trans issues:

What she’s learned from Grace:
“Grace has really shown me the thinking along “gender is not a binary; it’s a spectrum.” Even though I felt I understood what being trans meant, I thought it was very much like, I used to be a girl and now I want to be a boy. Or vice versa. And Grace showed me what it actually means is sort of rejecting the very concept of gender as it’s been taught to them. And I love that, now that so many young people in prominent positions — if it’s Miley Cyrus or Amandla Stenberg or Hari Nef — all these people who are coming out and saying, ‘For me, gender is not black or white. Gender is complicated.” I don’t think I realized, as a straight woman, how much I related to that sentiment, how much, for me, my work and my life, have been about burning expectations of my gender. I didn’t even really know until we undertook this project.”

The significance of Caitlyn Jenner:
“What Caitlyn has done for the trans community is super important, even if I don’t agree with all of her politics. Like, obviously, Caitlyn and I have very different perspectives on a lot of important civil-rights issues, to be frank, but I also have deep respect for her bravery of her identity and it’s a real testament to how complicated identity is.”

Her respect for the Kardashians:
“Whenever we get blowback for the Kardashians, I’m like, how many important issues have been covered on that show? And how many people didn’t understand until they watched it? All these different aspects of American culture. I love that about what the Kardashians do.”

Where she would like to see people’s thinking on trans issues evolve:
“When we’re getting interviewed, people will be like, ‘What’s it like for your family to have your sister have a complicated relationship to gender?’ I’m like, it’s fine – it’s great! It’s who she is, and the issues that we have as a family or issues that my sister and I have with each other don’t have anything to do with that. They have everything to do with our human-on-human contact.”

Lena Dunham Salutes the Power of the Kardashians