Last week, I went to see the poignant musical “Fun Home,” based on cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir subtitled “A Family Tragicomic..” ( the book and lyrics are written by playwright Lisa Kron). As a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, “Fun Home” is the “first mainstream musical about a young lesbian.”
Author of comic strip, “Dykes to Watch Out For,” Alison takes family secrets head-on while she comments throughout the play as an observer at different stages in her life in small-town rural Pennsylvania. Alison comments on her dysfunctional upbringing with captions, drawings that her father disapproves of, and songs in this moving story.
Becdel, now 55, is raised by a long-suffering distant Mother who gave up her career in acting in New York City for a provincial life that feels suffocating, and an unhappy father who teaches English and restores homes while running an inherited funeral home. Constantly angry, Alison’s father, “flies off the handle” when his daughter, wise-behind-her-years, doesn’t comply with his notions of how a girl should dress and act: Asking Alison if she wants to be the only girl not wearing a dress to a birthday party, he humors her into changing out of her ubiquitous jeans and T-Shirt.
Later, Alison sings that when she saw a delivery woman, a “butch” with lots of keys, she thought she was “handsome,” and identified with her. At Oberlin College, Alison is reluctant to go into the College’s Gay Union. But after the urging of her later girlfriend “Joan,” whom she has her first gay sexual experience with and finds rapture as evidenced in the amusing song “I want to Major in Joan.”
Finally finding a name for the way she has felt all these years, Alison writes home that she is a lesbian. Alison wants her Mother and Father to acknowledge her sexual orientation that she’s proud of, but they never acknowledge it. Trying to make sense of a brooding family, Alison goes home to find her mother tipsy and her father alienating. Turns out he, for years, has been plying underage boys with liquor to have sex with them and has been arrested by the police. A closeted gay, Alison’s father commits suicide after Alison has revealed her sexual identity.
Her father is in denial and to discuss the gender queer existence he shares with his daughter would force him to admit he’s gay. The Elephant in the Room is Alison’s father’s non-authentic life that wrecks havoc on his entire family.
The Bechdel family doesn’t work, not because the father is gay, but because he is an unhappy closeted gay who wanted his daughter to succumb to society’s perception of male and female roles as he tried unsuccessfully to do. In the audience were some who were crying. One wonders if they experienced the same upbringing as Alison’s and like she, knew better.
When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need To Know
For more detailed advice, see book, co-authored with a mother of a gay son and a psychiatrist, Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D.