Queer history is provocative; it inherently centers sex and other things that many deem sinful.
Activists have laid in the streets of New York City, where Alison Bechdel would take trips with her father, with cardboard tombstones and clothing with fake blood in protest of politicians and pharmaceutical companies’ denial of queer humanity only a few years after Bruce Bechdel’s death (Aizenman). While Bechdel doesn’t go as far as ACT UP did in the early AIDS crisis, she does not hold back in her graphic memoir.
History is made up of individual stories, thus, Fun Home serves as a queer historical document. The memoir includes panels placing Bechdel’s life in the context of the public queer landscape, even if she and her father weren’t active participants in the mainstream queer scene. She links her private trauma to public events to affirm the value of queer lives and connect personal history to public history. Fun Home employs primary source documents from Bechdel’s childhood, making her memoir a piece of public queer history; any attempt to censor or alter her work is an act of revisionist history.
In her article “Drawing the Archive,” Ann Cvetkovich, a queer studies specialist, analyzes Fun Home as a “queer perspective on trauma that challenge[s] the relation between the catastrophic and the everyday and that make[s] public space for lives whose very ordinariness makes them historically meaningful” (111). She expands on the connection between Bechdel’s personal family trauma between her and her father and the queer history being made around her. One of Cvetkovich’s central points is that Bechdel herself is queer history; she claims that “the effect of Bechdel’s archival documents is the insertion of her family story within a larger public history and one that is significantly queer” (122).
Bechdel herself employs an alternate ending for her father based on what was happening historically at the time of his death. On page 195, she proposes a scenario where he does not die via being hit by a truck, but instead dies from AIDS-related complications along with thousands of other gay men in the 1980s.
As she explains, fantasizing about this hypothetical scenario makes it easier for her to forgive her father as “a tragic victim of homophobia” (196). Focusing on his queerness as an oppressor dilutes his actual lived history of assaulting adolescent men and creating a borderline abusive household for Bechdel. Similarly to the way Fun Home’s musical was misadvertised, straying from the truth of history changes our perception of Bechdel’s upbringing and dilutes the trauma that others endured as a result of Bruce’s actions.
First adapted in 2013, Fun Home the musical became a Broadway hit in 2015, taking home several Tony Awards and other prestigious accolades. The musical brought Bechdel’s queer story to more eyes and a broader audience, but at a cost. In her Atlantic article, “Selling Queerness: the Curious Case of Fun Home,” Kalle Oskari Mattila dives into the marketing campaign of the musical adaptation of Bechdel’s graphic memoir. She explains how those behind the musical’s advertising, SpotCo, wanted to reach as broad of an audience as possible, so they made sure to “never ever associate specifically with the ‘plot or subject matter’” when running ads for Fun Home. They did not want to advertise the musical as “a lesbian suicide musical,” as they called it, because they did not want to alienate non-LGBT audiences. On the other hand, Mattila argues that “by sidestepping the story’s more divisive subjects, Fun Home advertisements are potentially slowing the embrace of proudly queer voices and perspectives.” To further her point, by dishonestly advertising Fun Home’s musical, marketers are actively rewriting Bechdel’s history and contributing to the respectability politics that surround queer history and modern-day politics. Queer activists, artists, and everyday people aren’t allowed to be bold or authentic- they must conform to heteronormative standards and make themselves digestible to all audiences. In the interest of basic acceptance, queer folx feel the need to “put their best foot forward.” When she published Fun Home, Bechdel went against this principle and demanded that she “claim historical significance and public space not only for a lesbian coming-out story but also for one that is tied to what some might see as shameful sexual histories” (Cvetkovich 112).
Mattila and Cvetkovich both agree that the preservation of Bechdel’s honest narrative is necessary as a way to uplift queer voices that traditionally have been censored because of negative stigma. Cvetkovich focuses on the historical significance of Fun Home and what it means to record personal experiences of intergenerational trauma in the queer community, while Mattila focuses on the modern implications of the dilution of Bechdel’s story.
Bechdel’s memoir is supposed to be uncomfortable. It is the opposite of the respectable queer narrative that is disproportionately projected into popular culture. Queer history is graphic. It’s full of loss and violence and lust and sex, and Bechdel’s history is no exception. We must uplift stories like Bechdel’s to conserve queer history authentically. Queer voices should not be censored, diluted, or altered in any way in terms of historical preservation.
Aizenman, Nurith. “How To Demand A Medical Breakthrough: Lessons From The AIDS Fight.” NPR, National Public Radio, Inc [US], 9 Feb. 2019, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/02/09/689924838/how-to-demand-a-medical-breakthrough-lessons-from-the-aids-fight.
Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: a Family Tragicomic. A Mariner Book, Houghton Mifflin, 2007.
Cvetkovich, Ann. “Drawing the Archive in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.” WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly, vol. 36 no. 1, 2008, p. 111-128. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/wsq.0.0037.
Mattila, Kalle Oskari. “How a ‘Lesbian Suicide Musical’ Was Branded as a Feel-Good Broadway Hit.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 10 May 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/04/branding-queerness-the-curious-case-of-fun-home/479532/.
You have a good start as far as your idea, and it’s clear that you’re very passionate about your topic. You make an attempt at a thesis, but it could be refined more and better accommodating of the evidence you chose. While you were intentional about choosing your evidence, especially in the paragraph about the musical’s advertising, your quotes could still be better integrated/sandwiched, particularly when you quote Cvetkovich. Make sure to give your “I say” in response to Cvetkovich’s ideas. You made a good choice about which authors to pick- they pair well with your thesis/topic- but the structure of your essay should be more of a conversation between the two. As of now, your essay is choppy and lacking in structure. Overall, not a bad first draft!
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