Alison, Bruce: Two Genders with a Common Identity

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4th Sep 2017 English Literature Reference this

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Ivory Coast is a west African country where homosexuality is not acknowledged. Even though it is practiced by a minority, they have to keep it secret. Fun Home is about identity. In a tragicomic tone, Alison Bechdel transcends two secrets in her autobiography. These secrets are about gender and identity. Fun Home is home to a special family, an old artificer Bruce Bechdel and his family. This family is not ordinary. After Bruce’s death, which his daughter Alison, considers being a suicide, his homosexuality is discovered. Alison believes her father’s suicide might be due to the declaration of her lesbianism. She has a common past with Bruce; they both have been hiding the truth about their gender preference. Bechdel uses the art of allusion to describe a complex relationship between Bruce and Alison. She says, “In our particular reenactment of this mythic relationship, it was not me but my father who was to plummet from the sky.” (Bechdel 4). Through this metaphor, Alison’s situation is the contrary to the real story, the daughter should have been the one to plunge. It is an unusual situation describing two characters, where Bruce is a man and he likes men. Alison is a woman but she prefers females. Physically and emotionally, Bruce and Alison experience distance. Yet, being gay they both had much in common.

Physically, Alison was distant from Bruce. She starts her autobiography with an image of herself with her father playing the “Icarian Games”.  With this game, Alison presents one of the few physical contacts with her father. The author alludes to her father as being both Icarus and Daedalus, an ultimate artist who sees his children as working materials. Bechdel says, “Daedalus, too, was indifferent to the human cost of his project” (Bechdel 11). This aspect of the book shows the lack of affection establishing a gap between father and daughter. It also describes a complicated relationship between these two characters, characterized by an obstinate Bruce forgetting family affection.

Not only physical, this detachment was also emotional. Alison early suspects the sexual identity of her father. Seeing her father using a bronzing stick was proof that he belonged to a different moral ethic from the norm. Bruce was gay but to further complicate the situation he preferred teenagers. Bruce had a secret relation with Roy, his yardwork assistant/baby-sister. These two characters were opposite, Alison feeling comfortable with short hairs and male attitudes, sees her father as a feminist. During an interview on the NPR radio, Bechdel says, “It’s like one of the first things I remember is wanting to wear boys’ clothes and fighting with my dad about it.” (NPR). She was prevented from expressing her masculinity. Bechdel illustrates this aspect in a discussion between Alison and her father when Bruce says, “I don’t care! Next time I see you without it, I’ll wale you.” (Bechdel 97). Holding his daughter away from her desires, Bruce creates more distance than there was already.

Despite being distant Alison and her father share similarities, they both had a secret. This disparity from Bruce pushes Alison into more understanding of her father. In the quest to reconstruct her father’s history, many common aspects show up. After the brutal death of Bruce, that Alison alludes as a ‘queer in every sense of that multivalent word’, she unveiled her father’s secret. Bechdel emphasizes the detection of this secret by a sensual picture of Roy in the book. She says, “It’s low-contrast and out of focus. But the subject is clearly our yardwork assistant/babysitter, Roy” (Bechdel 100). The picture has a double effect in the book. Certainly, it shows the evidence of Bruce’s sexual identity but it also characterizes the sexual longing of Alison.  Watson in her analysis of fun home says, “The drawn photo is surrounded by elongated dialogue tags that chronicle Bechdel’s conflicted responses, acknowledging both her identification with her father’s erotic desire for the aesthetic perfection of the boy’s body, and her distanced critique as a sleuth of this evidence of his secret life.” (Watson 41). Still in the 1970s homosexuality was to be hidden in the society. Bruce was keeping his sexual preference secret. Alison was in the same situation too. In a business trip to Philadelphia, they met a woman dressed like a man who had a short haircut. Alison was amazed, but when her father asked her if she wants to be like this woman, she answered “no”. But her true answer would have been yes. She kept her sexual identity secret.

Furthermore, the secret they each had, was about their identity. Like Bruce, Alison was gay. She developed her masculine traits early in her teenage years. Alison says, “Indeed, I had become a connoisseur of masculinity at an early age” (Bechdel 95). At a young age, she was a non-practicing lesbian. Yet she shares this same reality with her father. In a New Times article, Gustines says, “She’s a lesbian, and sexuality looms large in her memoir. Bechdel’s father, Bruce, was gay (as she puts it: “a manic-depressive, closeted fag”), and “Fun Home” is at its heart a story about a daughter trying to understand her father through the common and unspoken bond of their homosexuality” (Gustines). Obviously, Alison and her father had this identity in common, they were both homosexuals.

In addition to sharing a similar identity, Alison also had common interests with Bruce. Watson in the description of Bruce Bechdel says, “Bechdel’s story about the meaning of Alison’s childhood memories not only links her sense of her own sexuality to her father’s secret gay side, it also produces a recognition about how their lives are linked over generations” (Watson 42). From Watson’s analysis, there is this aspect of their life that connects them. This connection is emphasized when Alison in Bruce’s twelfth-grade class. They were so consumed by similar thoughts and readings that the class was mostly animated by only Alison. She says, “Sometimes it was as if Dad and I were the only ones in the room.” (Bechdel 199). As if to confirm their similar identity, Bruce decided to bring his daughter to the film. During their revelation one to another, Bechdel states, “It was more like fatherless Stephen and sonless bloom…” (Bechdel 221). This particular moment opens the barrier between these two characters. For the first time, they share unreservedly their sexual orientation.

In many places, especially in West Africa, it is almost impossible for homosexuals to express their identity. The subject of homosexuality is still taboo in some parts of these countries. Through her novel, both tragic and comic, Bechdel draws attention about this particular topic. She shares this theme about homosexuality represented through Alison and her father. These characters struggling to make an intense connection. However, they share similarities. Certainly, this family is more complicated relation because father and daughter share an identity not acknowledged. Fun Home comes out of the ordinary because it touches a sensitive subject that concerns the whole society.

Work Cited

Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006. Print.

Gustines, George Gene. “‘Fun Home’: A Bittersweet Tale of Father and Daughter.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 25 June 2006. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.

“Lesbian Cartoonist Alison Bechdel Countered Dad’s Secrecy By Being Out And Open.” NPR. NPR, 17 Aug. 2015. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.

Watson, Julia. “Autographic Disclosures and Genealogies of Desire in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.” Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, vol. 31, no. 1, Winter2008, pp. 27-58. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com.libdb.dccc.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=32022609&site=ehost-live. Web. 05 Mar. 2017.

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