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Lena Waithe Talks LGBT Self-Love & How She Got Into A Relationship With A Straight Woman

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Photo: Amanda Edwards/ WireImage/ Getty Images
When Lena Waithe appeared on Netflix's Master of None as Aziz Ansari's truth-talking friend, Denise, an adoring internet following ensued. Many people watched the show "just for Denise" and Vogue declared her the "wisest and funniest BFF." But her appearance on the show also offered viewers a representation of a demographic that goes largely ignored in pop culture: Black gay women.

Waithe, who was previously best known as a producer of the 2014 film Dear White People, told Refinery29 that she felt responsible to get it right as she was helping to write lines for Denise — especially since the character was based on Waithe IRL.

"I'd think, I don’t want to get this wrong," Waithe said. "I happen to be a gay Black woman, but I don’t represent every single gay Black woman. But I do know that there are a lot of women like me, so I wanted to make sure I was representing them accurately."

Waithe recently participated in Refinery29's LoveMe series (see video below), in which she joins 13 LGBT influencers in reading a love letter she wrote to her younger self. In the video, she assures young Lena that all of that fantasizing about a "picture-perfect life" with a "picture-perfect wife" pays off: "Eventually, you will find a woman who will fulfill all of your fantasies," Waithe says. "She is your happy ending."

Of course, Waithe is talking about her girlfriend, Alana Mayo, a production executive who didn't date women before meeting the star. We sat down with Waithe last week to talk about self-love in the LGBT community, sex, and how she and Mayo found their "happy ending."

Why is it important to talk about self-love in the LGBT community?
"A big issue within the LGBT community is embracing oneself and not being ashamed. Especially among people of color, you still get those people who aren’t very open and who don’t want everybody to know. Within the Hollywood industry, you still have a lot of [Black] people who aren’t openly gay. If you think of it, in terms of how many people there are in Black Hollywood, the numbers just don’t add up. There are way too few people who are out. It’s like that hashtag that’s going around, #oscarssowhite; I’d say #blackhollywoodsostraight."

Growing up, did you struggle with coming out and accepting yourself?
"You know, I’ve always loved the skin I was in, even before I knew what lesbian or gay was. It was always about loving myself first: my own personality and my own little quirks. Once I realized that I was a gay person and that’s part of my identity, I started to embrace that, as well. I’ve always found that being unique and being different was cool. My gayness, my Blackness, my gender, even the way I wear my hair, I think all of those things make me special. Being gay is just one of them."

There's a great episode of Master of None where your character, Denise, is trying to hook up with a coworker who's straight. You've talked about the fact that your girlfriend was 100% straight when you met her. How did you two connect?
"I first met her at a general meeting, but it wasn’t like, ‘Oh my god, I want to be with this person,’ because she was full-on in her heterosexual space. After that, we’d bump into each other here and there. Fast-forward a year and some change. She and I bump into each other at a mutual friend’s 30th birthday party. We danced a little bit, but again, I didn’t think anything of it — I dance with straight girls all the time.

"At the end of the night, she said to me casually, ‘We should hang out.’ I said, ‘Okay, cool.’ I had no intention of reaching out to her at all. I thought, Whatever, this is just Hollywood speak. But then, the following week, she emailed me and was like, ‘Hey, I know life is busy, but let me know when you’re avail.’ Again, because she’s a straight person, I’m thinking this is a [professional] catch-up. So we meet for a drink at a bar and I’m doing my whole spiel, talking shop with all of the projects I have going on. And she quickly changes the subject and goes, ‘So, what do you like to do for fun?’

"So then, we stopped talking about work and we started talking about life, her family, religion, all of these kinds of things you probably wouldn’t talk about until the third date. I remember thinking to myself, If this girl were a lesbian, this would be the best date I’ve ever been on. While we were there, the server kept pouring her this red wine that she’d never had before and she was just loving it so much. At the end of the night, we gave each other a hug and our hands grazed a little bit. I was like, What is going on? Am I getting vibes from this girl? Is that what’s happening?

"My friend who knew her was like, 'You’re crazy. You’re not getting vibes from her; she’s straight. Stop trying to turn all of these straight girls.' Lucky for me, we were both invited to my manager’s housewarming the next night. Since I really liked her and I thought she was giving me vibes, I called the restaurant we were at and asked them which wine she had ordered, so I could buy it for her. I had it in my purse at the party that night. If I was wrong, I’d say, ‘Hey, it’s just a friendly gesture.’ But if I was right, it was my way of saying, ‘Yo, I like you, too.’ Ultimately, I saw her at the housewarming and she looked glorious. We ended up making out on a balcony. Then, when we got into the car, I gave her the wine and we’ve been together ever since."

Do you think we're moving away from a binary conversation about sexuality, where there's only gay and straight, and into a more nuanced understanding of sexuality?
"I hope so. I love the fact that I can say to people that my girlfriend used to be a full-blooded heterosexual woman. She was never closeted; she was never pining. People always go: 'Oh, so she was closeted all of those years?' And I go, 'No! Not at all.' She just took a liking to me and wanted to try dating me. I’m the first serious, adult relationship she’s ever had. I don’t think it’s about the fact that I’m a woman; it’s about the fact that she and I connect on a deep, human level. We just really get each other. I wish the world could embrace that. I think there are a lot of people who have thought about being with the same sex, but they’re like, I’m not gay; I can’t do that.'

"People will ask my girlfriend, ‘Alana, are you gay? Are you straight?’ For a second, she was trying to figure out, ‘Am I a lesbian?’ I was like, ‘No, I don’t think you should call yourself that, because a lesbian means you were born gay. I’m a lesbian.’ Then, she was like, ‘Am I bisexual?’ And I’m like, ‘Maybe?’ She was like, ‘You know what? I’m not going to label it. I’m just going to be myself.’ I think it’s interesting that we can say, ‘Look, sexuality is fluid and love is where you find it.’

"I love that our love story exists, because there are a lot of love stories like ours. Other people can see that it doesn’t matter how you were born or how you perceive yourself. It’s about being open-minded and listening to your heart."

If you could give one piece of sex advice, what would it be?

"I’m not a gold star lesbian; I’m like 98% gold star, but I was reading an article the other day that said that women have more orgasms when they have lesbian sex. I think that the thing with women is that we pay attention and we listen. So, the biggest piece of advice I would give is to really listen to your partner. When you’re making love to them and you do something that they really like, they’ll react or make a sound. It’s important that you’re mindful of what you’re doing and where you are.

"Also, I think foreplay is extremely important. It’s kind of cheesy, but my girlfriend and I live together and my schedule allows me to be at home a lot when she goes to the office. So I always make it my business to make sure the house is clean when she comes home. That’s a big part of our foreplay: making sure when she comes home that she’s in a clean house and feels really good. That's really important. People think sex only happens when people get naked, but it really starts when your partner gets home and when you’re doing things to get them in a really sexy place.

"Also, as uncomfortable as it is, talk about what you like and what you’re not a fan of. I always do this after sex, and my girlfriend’s always like, ‘Why do we have to have SportsCenter right after sex?’ I think it’s really good to talk about it, be comfortable, and makes jokes, so that neither of you is afraid or feels like you aren’t in a place to say what you want or voice an opinion."

Have you heard from any fans from the LGBT community?
"I actually got a DM from someone on Instagram telling me that the show helped her come out. That blew me away. It reminded me how powerful images really are. I think sometimes, we lose sight of the importance of what we’re doing — we’re making TV; we’re not curing cancer. But I do believe we have a major impact on society and how people see themselves. Representation is something that everybody deserves. To me, that’s such a huge gift, to make somebody feel that they’re not invisible."

Check out Lena's LoveMe video:
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This month, we're sharing steamy personal stories, exploring ways to have even better sex, and wading through the complicated dynamics that follow us into the bedroom. Here's to a very happy February. Check out more, right here.
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