My previous posts have all discussed struggling with identity in fiction literature. Readers are still able to relate to the characters and feel what they are going through, however they are not able to make a personal connection as the characters are made up. Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home goes beyond the power of fictional characters and allows readers a look at her personal experiences growing up. This graphic novel memoir deals with events that I’m sure many readers can relate to. It “…features the author’s family home as it undergoes meticulous historical restorations, providing a shifting framework for the more disorienting and on-going construction of bodies, identities and relationships taking place within its walls” (Lydenberg 58). The two characters that struggle with finding their true sexual identities are Alison herself, and her father Bruce. The use of multimodality “any text whose meaning is reached through more than one semiotic code” shows the social expectations that are created throughout the novel (Humphreys Lecture 9). By using both images and text to render her personal experiences, Alison shows how signs and signifiers can impact the readers understanding.
Alison’s father, Bruce, is a closet homosexual throughout the novel. As readers we do not gain the knowledge that Bruce is actually gay or bisexual, however Alison alludes to the fact that her father is hiding something at numerous points in her narration. “He used his skillful artifice not to make things, but to make things appear to be what they were not” (Bechdel 16). In order for one to explore their sexuality they must first go outside their comfort zone and learn to accept who they are. Bruce struggles with the fact that he is a closeted homosexual and channels his energy into renovations on the family home. As Alison relives the memories she has of her father and the work he was always doing on their family home, she realizes that this was his attempt to mask his true identity. Bruce seemed to believe that if he could have the perfect house and a perfect family, then he would not have to accept the fact that he was a homosexual. He felt as though he could continue to delude himself into living a lie for the rest of his life. As stated in lecture, one must step out of cultural encoding and enter into self-reflexivity (Humphreys Lecture 10). By creating a fictional, ideal world for himself, Bruce is oppressing his true sexual identity, all the while making it harder for his family to understand and relate to him.
From a young age, Alison is aware that she is considered ‘different’ than most girls. Bruce tries to ignore these small tendencies that start popping up with his daughter in order to keep his façade intact. Alison defies gender roles constantly, even as her father tries to force femininity upon her. She tries to get her brother to call her Albert, instead of Alison; she doesn’t understand why she cannot wear a boy’s bathing suit, and she doesn’t like to dress in the clothes her father picks out for her. Alison would rather identify as a male then as a female and she truly starts to realize this when she sees the female truck driver. Alison is trapped by her father, his beliefs and in the way that she was raised. If Alison had lacked the courage to come out to her parents then she would have continued living a false life. However, her fortitude to accept herself changed the story of her life
If Alison had been aware of her father’s struggle with his sexual identity then it would have made coming out as a lesbian much easier for her. After sending her parents a letter announcing that she was a lesbian, Alison receives a phone call from her mother explaining that her father had had affairs with other men. After her father’s death, Alison begins to discover more about him. She finds pictures of him dressed in a woman’s bathing suit striking an “elegant” pose. It seems to me that Alison truly began to understand her father after his death. All of the arguments they had throughout her childhood began to make sense for her in a way. “I suppose that a lifetime spent hiding one’s erotic truth could have a cumulative renunciatory effect. Sexual shame is in itself a kind of death” (Bechdel 228). The Bronski Beat song Smalltown Boy deals with a young man struggling with his sexual identity. The song would resonate strongly with both Alison and Bruce. The lyrics “But you never cried to them, just to your soul” would have resonated with Bruce as he never talked to anyone about his struggles, he lived in silence and only had himself to cry to.