Alison Bechdel’s, Fun Home shows an example of how one’s sexual orientation can affect their relationships with their families. In Fun Home, Alison Bechdel’s sexuality is being suppressed by her father, Bruce Bechdel for more reasons than one. Growing up in this time period it was criminalized to be have a same sex sexuality and this is why Bruce has a desire for Alison to be like a typical girl, not only because that is what is normal during this time period, but so he could live through her femininity as well.
Societal pressures affect the Bechdel family unit which such factors as shame, confusion and the feeling of absence are resulted from it. This essay will argue that the Bechdel family unit is not able to function within the boundaries of heteronormative society, given the problematic ways that Bruce coats his sexuality and treats his family.
Fun Home gives the readers an inside scoop of the Bechdel family household.
The readers can see how society’s gender norms impact Bruce and how he uses shame to hide his sexuality. Bruce is an absentee father and Alison believes even though he may be physically with their family, he mentally is not. Allison paints Bruce out to be feminine because his interest in flowers, fixing up the home and his love for beauty and appearance. Allision says she was the “utilitarian to his aesthete”. (Bechdel 15) A utilitarian, which would be Allison, cares more about being practical rather than attractive while an aesthete, Bruce, cares about art, beauty, and appearance.
Throughout the graphic novel, Bruce feels the lack of control of himself and other things which causes him to act out and exert power over his family members. He doesn’t show love to his children and makes their home life a miserable place to live. He provides them a roof over their heads which he feels is masculine and believes that is enough for them.
As a way to hide his sexuality, Bruce decorates his house, so people perceive him as impressive. Alison says, “He used his skillful artifice not to make things, but to make things appear to be what they were not.” (Bechdel 16) Bruce doesn’t want people to know that he is secretly in relationships with little boys, so he does things to make people think he a family man. When Allison uses the words “skillful artifice” it shows how he not only hides the truth about himself, but he uses skill such as decorating his house to appear as if he is something that he is not. Bruce designs the mansion through his OCD which is driven by his repressed sexuality that is bottled up. Because Bruce is not being true to himself, he is developing frantic obsessive habits to show people what he is not. When a person only cares about what others think of them, they are losing out on what is important in life, this can have an effect on their health. Bruce needing to hide his true feelings through decorations and being a strict father to his children is a prime example of how he wants himself to be perceived by others.
The role of confusion comes into play when Alison believed that “Sometimes, when things were going well, I think my father actually enjoyed having a family… Or at least, the air of authenticity we lent to exhibit. A sort of still life with children” (Bechdel 13) Allison was confused in which she felt like sometimes she had a family but then it would snap back into reality where she felt that her father liked his furniture better than his kids and he controlled them like furniture, not people. Bruce would spend more time cleaning his house than he spent with his children. Allison become upset that her father is like this, for example, “I grew to resent the way my father treated his furniture like children, and his children like furniture”. (Bechdel 14) Bruce was obsessed with the appearance of his house as well as the appearance of his children. Allison grew up always wondering whether or not her father loved her. Allison is being affected by the lack of love and nurture from her family and it places a risk on her health and causes her to develop the feeling that this is her fault. An image of Allison and her father on page 15 shows Bruce telling Allison what to wear because what she has on doesn’t match. “Yellow Turtleneck Now”. (Bechdel 15) Bruce wants his children to dress how they are supposed to go with the social norms of society and so he can live with his sexuality and express it through the way he wants his daughter to act. This shows the readers how Bruce and Allison are opposites because he keeps his sexuality hidden while she is more open to her sexuality and doesn’t care what others think. Bruce shut his family out of his life as a way to hide his sexuality. He never was happy with the person he was, and his actions resulted from shame. Alison gets mixed feelings about her father because throughout her early life, she didn’t receive any love from her father.
Some may believe that being homosexual doesn’t affect one’s mental health and relationships. People may say that Bruce Bechdel being a gay male in his lifetime doesn’t relate to his OCD and ways of trying to be masculine. “Compulsions are behaviors intended to decrease the distress and anxiety caused by obsessions, although relief is only temporary” (Williams para 1) According to some people, having OCD develops at birth. In Bruce Bechdel’s case, his OCD developed from a traumatic incident instead. “The condition might be triggered by a combination of genetic, neurological, behavioral, cognitive, and environmental factors”. (Nichols) Bruce Bechdel developed OCD overtime due to shame and fear. It was brought up in the graphic novel, Fun Home that Bruce was sexually abused during his childhood. Because he was sexually abused, he developed fear and shame and that affected him and scarred him for life. Being a homosexual man has made him develop obsessive compulsion disorder which he hides his sexual desires through obsessive actions due being ashamed of the way he is. He uses his OCD and compulsive behaviors towards his family. Studies show that “people with OCD begin to avoid that object and the fear it generates, rather than confronting or tolerating the fear.” (Nichols) Bruce doesn’t want to come to terms with being a homosexual man. “Different approaches to disclosing/concealing sexual identity are also linked with shame, guilt, and mental health among gay men.” (Bybee) This quote further explains why Bruce uses different ways to hide his sexuality because his homosexuality is linked from shame guilt and fear. He continues to hide his internal feelings and he feels relief by trying to fix everyone and everything else around him. This is the way he exerts his power; he feels he only has control over other people rather than himself. In this case Bruce would be hiding from his sexual behaviors and coating them with his cleaning of his house, treating his family like furniture and his love for beauty and appearance.
Another relationship that is affected by Bruce’s sexuality is his and his wife Helens. Helen becomes affected when she dreams of becoming an actress and then marries Bruce and is trapped in his way of living. While in this time period gender roles were so prominent, Helen felt as she couldn’t be the women in her and Bruce’s relationship due to Bruce being so OCD with how the house looked and how he wanted his children to look and act. When Allison asks how her parents met her mother responds with “I don’t remember. Keep mixing. I need to concentrate on what I’m doing”. (Bechdel 68) When Helen responds to Allison in a way that is frustrated, it shows how Helen and Bruce don’t have a loving marriage like other married people. Allison compares her mother’s life to the book the Portrait of a lady because like “Isabel Archer, The heroine, leaves America for Europe. She’s filled with notions about living her life free from provincial convention and constraint”. (Bechdel 71) Allison sees a relationship between the literature and her mother because like in the book, both ladies get the opposite of what they want in life. Helen also deals with bottled up mental health problems when she knows that Bruce has affairs with little boys and just never says anything about them and ignores the fact that it happens. Bruce’s wife wants a divorce with Bruce and two weeks after she wanted one Bruce dies. This shows the irony of Bruce’s death because he wants his wife as a cover, so people don’t think he is truly gay and because she wanted a divorce, he didn’t know what to do with himself.
Instead of the Bechdel’s taking care of their mental issues within themselves they decided to keep it all in which kept them separated from one another and resulted in suicide, depression, and left guilt on all of them. Bruce tried so hard to fix everyone in his family because of his need for power, but he never was true to himself and it kept damaging him mentally. Because Bruce couldn’t help Alison’s sexuality, he felt it was his fault that she was this way and while Alison feels he committed suicide because of her not being fixed by her father’s ways. The Bechdel’s lived a life without a father figure because Bruce lived an unhappy life and instead of helping his problems, he took them out on his children and treated his family like they weren’t humans. Overall, being closeted homosexual can lead to a hard life filled with shame and depression when the person doesn’t want to seek help to stop feeling ashamed of who they are. Like in Fun Home, being a shameful homosexual can affect relationships with your friends, family and even yourself.