Articles, Blog

Natasha Lyonne Receives HRC’s Ally For Equality Award

Thank you!  Thank you. Thanks. Thank you
very much. I’m honored to be with you tonight and, frankly, I’m blown away by this honor.
I also realize that I say “like” a lot, so I should work on that. I guess it’s official
now–and I hope the world knows–that I am an ally of the Human Rights Campaign. This
is my very first time ever to the Twin Cities, and I was very excited when my plane landed
so that I could find my people. Ya’ know, I asked the cab driver to start by dropping
me off at Lush, followed by fun stops at The Saloon and 90s, too. I made him slam on the
brakes at 9th and Nicollet when I saw a great crowd of good looking gay men, and I guess
that must be the hottest gay bar in Minneapolis. But no one told me it was Target’s corporate
offices. Sorry, but now I know. Now I know. There are so many great people that I have
worked with over the years that I love–two I’d like to shine a light on that I am especially
grateful to are Jamie Babbit, the director of But I’m a Cheerleader, who always takes
credit for making me a lesbian icon. I guess, thanks, sure, I’ll take it. And, more recently,
[thanks] to Jenji Kohan for picking up where Cheerleader  left off, and giving me the
great role of Nicky Nichols in Orange is the New Black. Thank you. In But I’m a Cheerleader–you
saw some of it–I played a young all-American girl named Megan who gets shipped off by her
parents to a gay rehab when they suspect she’s a lesbian. Uh, as a result, I sometimes like
to fantasize that Nicky is the adult, thug version of Megan from Cheerleader who could
have stood up for herself and protected her from her insane parents. Ya’ know, even
though the tone of the film was light, I’ll never forget how confusing it was to process
that gay rehab was a real thing that was happening in our world. As a teenager, reading the script
for Cheerleader I was horrified to come to terms with the stark fact that not everyone
intuitively understood the basic facts of life: That none of us chooses our sexual orientation
or our gender identity. Duh. Nonetheless, as I matured, I realized we have a responsibility
to use our voices to help ignorant people understand the vicious impact of their bigotry
and shape their values to embrace acceptance and equality. Man. Man. Would we teach Kim
Davis a lesson if she showed up in prison with us at Orange is the New Black? But anyways,
over the years I’ve been linked to many extraordinary women–namely Rosie O’Donnell
and Clea DuVall pop to mind. But sadly, I’ve never had the opportunity to sleep with either
of them–though I love them both majorly. I did want to take the opportunity tonight
to clarify that I’ve only actually got to sleep with three girls: my friend Lizzie;
my friend Nicole–she’s from Minnesota; and a prostitute I ordered out of the yellow pages
as a curious teenager. Don’t worry–we used a dental dam. Now, did anyone else ever use
those? I mean, who uses those? This is a true story. I’m not kidding. Anyway, my point
is that it’s crucial for everyone to have the basic freedom of experimentation and open-mindedness
in this life. How are we to figure out who we are in a safe way when we’re living in
fear? My stance on this is that I hope to remain as open-minded in my twilight years
as I was as a teenager. Let me paint you a picture of myself in the 90s in New York City.
I remember being thirteen riding the bus to school reading about Gertrude Stein while
looking out the window seeing Kate Moss on these Calvin Klein billboards and thinking
who would I rather be. I mean the answer was obvious to me. The goal was to someday have
a salon of equal-minded troublemakers and someone as great as Alice .B Toklas–not to
be a contrived idea forced-fed by the media. That just seemed like a royal pain in the
ass. Some years later in my twenties, I remember becoming obsessed with this book by Diana
McLellan called The Girls, in which she wrote about Lavender Hollywood. Everyone from Garbo
to Dietrich and Hepburn gets name-checked, and their affairs reflected the high-end sexual
morays of their times. Amidst all of these glamorous ghosts, I remember being particularly
taken with the amorous chain between the famous anarchist, Emma Goldman, and the legendary
silent film star, Alan Asamova, the exotic actress who became the founding mother of
South Hollywood. Now Asamova, like me, suffered from great stage fright; so Emma, her friend,
would come backstage–and by the way this is true–she would give her vulvic massage
to alleviate the tension. True story. I mean, how cool is that? Well, I’ve ascribed to
that AC/DC backstage ritual ever since. And I am so grateful that, even though I’m not
gay, Lea DeLaria continues to be there for me in this way each day before we do a scene
in prison. It’s very nice of her. She’s very generous. My only regret was that she
wasn’t here tonight. Now, some of you may think that it’s a recent thing that people
think that I’m gay–that it’s my on-screen roles and my pension for loafers in real life
that have created this aura. But that’s not actually true. This all came up years
ago at the Rabbi Joseph H. Lookstein Upper School of Ramaz on New York’s Upper East
Side. Well, as you may have guessed from that handle, it was incredibly uptight Orthodox
Jewish school for Manhattan’s elite. And there I was: a scholarship kid living with
a single mother. Suffice it to say, I did not fit in. But I’m over it, clearly. I
must have been about twelve or thirteen years old when I discovered that someone had scratched
the words “Natasha is a lesbian” into my desk. My desk. And I was a preteen. Of
course I knew what “lesbian” meant;however a million feelings came through me when I
read it, and I wondered why someone had written it there on my desk for everyone to see. I
mean, was I special or odd? Was my personality too big? Was my hair too big? Is it that I
spoke my mind? Was someone sending me a warning? Was it meant to shock me or label me? Was
it that I made them afraid? I never found out, but I did learn one thing that I kept
my whole life long: Words have power and so do labels and identities. I’ve been lucky
to go through this life doing the work that I love and in return being loved and respected
by others–not allowing anyone to label me and, more importantly, not allowing myself
to be limited by any labels. If you are a lesbian or not, or a gay man or not, or bisexual
or not, or happen to be transgender or questioning, you came here tonight in solidarity for the
same reason I did: to just have the damn freedom to be yourself in this world no matter what
it takes. Receiving this award is very moving to me, but let’s remember it’s now 2015.
Shouldn’t everyone be an ally by now? Shouldn’t we all earn this award by now? Equality under
the law should be the oxygen we breathe and the real religion we practice in America.
Until that day truly arrives, this reward reminds me not so much as how far we’ve
come, but also serves as a reminder of how far we have yet to go. I am sincerely proud
to be your ally and to share my love with you and the Human Rights Campaign. Thank you
so much.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *