Being Bold Enough to Look: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
“A queer business –- queer in every sense of that multi-valent word.”
Books have power. Power to hurt, power to drag out emotions you didn't know were lurking. Power to change your mind or soften your heart or make you smile.
The book that held such a power for me is Fun Home by Alison Bechdel - a tragicomic graphic novel and memoir of growing up and accepting herself as a lesbian and coming to terms with the suicide of her gay father. I can't say if this book changed my life, but it definitely confirmed it - took me by the shoulders, looked me in the eyes and said: "dude you've got to live through this, look at all the bloody incredible parts and even the bloody shit parts - you've got to see it."
This book came to me at the perfect time. The post-school gap year blues: being stuck in the same old claustrophobic town. Accepting my sexuality was proving to be more difficult in my head than it was outwardly. I needed Fun Home more than I knew. It is so scorchingly truthful and yet so gently and poetically descriptive. It was a warm bath after a fist fight. It hurt. It drags out deep embedded thorns.
"Sexual shame is in itself a kind of death" she said. "That's goddamn right." I said. Her allusions to Fitzgerald, to Proust, to Joyce made me want to rush to a bookstore and read them through her eyes. Wilde was the worst. I already harboured a covert adoration for my namesake Dorian Gray but after Fun Home there was a definite infatuation with darling Oscar and the flowers sprouting from his turns of phrase. Fun Home was for me the feeling in your stomach of a first crush - I hid the novel under my pillow for a week as I was reading. If that's not true love I don't know what is.
If the passages about Bechdel’s sexuality left “a lingering vibration, a quantum particle of rebellion”, the passages about her father seemed near biblical to my developing mind. “If there ever was a bigger pansy than my father it was Marcel Proust” she writes, and to my closeted little head this came across as an aspiration I longed to reach. I wanted to live and fall in love in 1980s Greenwich Village; I wanted to read Proust to my lover on hazy summer evenings; I wanted to trace poetry onto his lips with my own (post-reading in fit of vehement queer anger I did tear off the cover page of a Wilde to scribble a love letter but that is inconsequential).
Grief is a big part of this book, and the anger and apathy that grief tapes down inside you, the cold fire it lights. It explained my grief at the death of my friend to myself better than I ever could have. I won’t linger too long here but as a recommendation to anyone who has lost someone with whom they have had an odd relationship – this book might help.
Fun Home taught me my first real lessons about pride. Capital ‘p’ Pride, the kind that warms your chest and gives you the strength to hold your boyfriend’s hand in the middle of a bigoted city. It taught me that it, whatever personal “it” there is, it will get better. It taught me to live through my sexuality loudly, obnoxiously even.
Be proud. Be bold. Live in a way that would make a straight man from the 1800s red in the cheeks. That’s the most important lesson I could have taken from this book.
Quotes: Bechdel, A. (2006). Fun Home. Jonathan Cape.
by Dorian Shire