In her graphic memoir Fun Home, Alison Bechdel leads the reader through the difficult journey she had to overcome to be her true self. She demonstrates that a wise society seems to project the most, to be yourself, but it is not as accessible as one would think. Her father, Bruce, was a closeted homosexual who was forced to hide his sexual desires and as a result attempted to create society’s perfect heteronormative family, ultimately ending in his own demise. However, Bechdel, his daughter, didn’t want her sexuality hidden and is now using her graphic memoir as a way to search for answers to help her uncover why her father fought to keep her from being herself. In Ann Cvetkovich’s article “Drawing the Archive in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home,” Cvetkovich argues to find a historical meaning in queer lives through the examination of Bechdel’s graphic panels, while in Jennifer Lemberg’s article, “Closing the Gap in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home,” Lemberg points out that Alison uses the graphic memoir as a source of present research to look back and understand why her father hid his sexuality and expressed it through having sexual encounters with teenage boys, as expressed through Bechdel’s gutters. While I agree with these authors’ perspectives, I believe the main purpose of Bechdel’s memoir was to uncover the motive of her father’s need to have a “normal” family, through the examination of both the past and future stigmas on the LGBTQ community.
In Cvetkovich’s article, she points out that Alison was raised in a time where society held a negative stigma on the LGBTQ community, meaning people in the LGBTQ community were viewed as abnormal. Cvetkovich then claims the purpose of Alison’s graphic memoir is to bring significance to the past, shedding light onto why someone like Bechdel’s father would express his sexuality through shameful acts: “Standing at the intersections of both contemporary LGBTQ culture and public discussions of historical trauma, Fun Home dares to claim historical significance and public space not only for a lesbian coming-out story but also that is tied to what some might see as a shameful sexual histories”(112 Cvetkovich). Cvetkovich expresses that the time period led Alison’s father into having affairs with teenage boys throughout his marriage, as he thought he was forced to marry a woman to fit in with society. Cvetkovich’s point is supported in the scene where Alison’s father dresses her up in what was thought to be the social norm for females: “
”(Bechdel 99). Figure 1 illustrates that Bruce Bechdel wanted to hide his family’s queerness in order to fit into the societal induced heteronormative family. I feel as though this figure helps explain Mr. Bechdel’s motives better, as he did not dress his daughter up to spite her, but rather because he thought it was the right thing to do. Bechdel’s work supports Cvetkovich’s claim that the images in Fun Home highlight how societal normalities historically forced people like Bruce into hiding, and as a result, Bruce must have forced his daughter into hiding simply because he wanted society to accept her, not realizing that she would rather be different and herself, then to be “normal” and someone else. I see this to be evidence of how Bechdel’s father was not a bad man, but rather a confused one, trapped in the societal labyrinth he was born into.
While Cvetkovich argues that Fun Home focuses on how historically society made it out that having different sexual preferences was a bad thing, Lemberg claims the focus of the memoir was to put significance on what it is like to be apart of the current LGBTQ community. Her article states that Alison wanted to demonstrate the oppression a person of different sexuality has to deal with from being in the minority. Lemberg believes that Bechdel suffers from both her and her father’s experiences of being oppressed by society, and attempts to show how this still goes on today: “Fun Home bears witness not only to Bruce Bechdel’s trauma and its effect on his family, but also to the artist’s effort to claim the authority to represent their story”(Lemberg 129). By stating this, Lemberg seeks to demonstrate the significance of the memoir in the present day. Bechdel reinforces this idea through her narrative in the graphic memoir such as when her and her father went out to a diner and saw a woman who looked like a stereotypical lesbian, wearing a flannel tucked into her blue jeans with curly short hair, as seen in the panel below.
In response to seeing the woman, Alison’s father posed the question, “Is that what you want to look like”(Bechdel 118), to which Alison felt forced to respond, “no”(Bechdel 119). It is obvious that at the time Bechdel felt trapped, as in the gutter she laments, “What else could I say?”(Bechdel 119). The gutter response provides an outlook on how Alison truly felt, but despite her desire to be herself she was still forced by the tone in which her father spoke to respond in a way that would make her seem “normal.” Not only is this scene revealing of Bechdel’s character, but also of the pressure her father must have felt. Whether influenced by the jealousy of seeing a life he wasn’t allowed, or the voice in the back of his head telling him he was doing the right thing by turning his daughter away from being openly queer, Bechdel’s father felt the need to comment on the matter. This again supports my claim that Bechdel’s father wasn’t trying to hurt his daughter, but was too busy dealing with his own internal problems to see. the negative effects he was having on his daughter.
Cvetkovich and Lemberg seem to be arguing quite different things while Cvetkovich focuses on the past through the panels and Lemberg’s focus is toward the future narrative, both of these authors are correct. They both play off of one another building on the concept that Bechdel uses both the past and future stigmas on the LGBTQ community to understand her father’s past. Bechdel’s father ends up committing suicide as a result of having to hide himself, which prompts the question who did he really kill in committing suicide? I would argue society killed Bruce Bechdel, and the suicide was only the death of a pawn of conformity. But Mr. Bechdel’s story was not completely in vain, as his daughter uses it as a way to relate to both the past and present LGBTQ problems. Mr. Bechdel was not an antagonist, but rather a victim, and Bechdel makes this clear in her graphic memoir through the study of both contemporary and historical lenses of the LGBTQ.
Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: a Family Tragicomic. A Mariner Book, Houghton Mifflin, 2007.
Cvetkovich, Ann. “Drawing the Archive in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.” WSQ: Womens Studies Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 1-2, 2008, pp. 111–128., doi:10.1353/wsq.0.0037.
Lemberg, Jennifer. “Closing the Gap in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.” WSQ: Womens Studies Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 1-2, 2008, pp. 129–140., doi:10.1353/wsq.0.0051
Honor Code: DB