July 2020 - Reconciling identity and grief with humor

August 14, 2020
  • lgbtqia caucus

In a 2014 interview with archivist Marvin Taylor, artist Julie Ault noted that “People, things, and events can seem to come to life in the archive.” This sentiment feels acutely true of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, a graphic memoir that attempts to make sense of her father’s life, death, and queerness.

Because of Fun Home’s graphic form and use of references to outside texts, each participant had a distinct experience of the book, and a few members of our discussion noted how the book had changed for them through rereading (or after seeing the 2015 musical adaptation). Several participants noted that Alison Bechdel’s almost anticlimactic rendering of her coming out story seemed to foreshadow the increasingly complex LGBTQ+ stories in popular media today, making room for storytelling that sees beyond “coming out” as the single most important moment of a queer person’s life. 

Our discussion lingered on the ways in which queer media has changed since 2007, when Fun Home came out, noting that the visibility of these stories and other positive representation in media can sometimes obscure the epidemic of violence against Black trans women and femmes in the LGBTQ+ community.

Fun Home’s nonlinear narrative, intermixed with frequent references to Greek mythology and the literature Bechdel’s father taught in their shared hometown’s high school English classes, speaks to the dead, its pages illustrating a father-daughter conversation that seemingly couldn’t happen in real time. On a larger scale, the book asks us to consider the ways in which we relate to our own history, from moments as small as seeing a snake on a childhood camping trip, to the Stonewall Riots of 1969 and the HIV/AIDS pandemic that continues today. 

The book’s way of doubling back and returning to its various scenes and locations (such as Christopher Street in Manhattan, a mansion constantly in some state of renovation and restoration in rural Pennsylvania, and the family funeral home) has a haunting quality. It ultimately asks us to remember, to reconsider, and to think about what might be missing, a lesson I find increasingly necessary in my work with students—especially during the current crisis.

Returning to the archive, Julie Ault says that it “is in part a rescue mission,” a way to imbue systems with “the responsibility of memory.” I suppose then what Fun Home might really ask us, as higher education professionals, is how are we to be good archivists? What shall we do with this responsibility? 

Watch the discussion

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