Behind the Scenes: Going public

From the February 28, 2013 edition

Billed on its book jacket as a family tragicomic, “Fun Home” is a 2006 autobiography told graphic novel-style that explores illustrator and author Alison Bechdel’s relationship with her closeted gay father, who committed suicide when she was 19. She learned he was gay shortly after her own pronouncement of lesbianism, an event that was a common theme of her early life, turning “from a protagonist in my own drama to comic relief in my parents’ tragedy.”

Critics loved the book and its new take on personal storytelling and Bechdel’s ability to balance so much universally relatable personal dissection with details of her own life.

Bechdel’s mother, however, was a different matter. Fair, considering just how personal the story was. She was even less thrilled with Bechdel’s follow-up, “Are You My Mother,” a 2012 graphic memoir of the pair’s relationship.

“I don’t know what compels me to do it. It’s very unseemly to unveil your family’s pain and secrets like this,” Bechdel said. “When I was writing ‘Fun Home’ I had a more clear sense of a mandate. I felt the story was really meaningful. This is a story about the toll homophobia takes on people’s lives. It felt like self-exposure was worth putting my family through some discomfort because it was a worthy message.”

She had trouble justifying the public display of her mother’s story, even though it also holds a lot of political and cultural weight — how two women came of age on opposite ends of the women’s liberation movement.

“The story of a mother is a much murkier place. Our relationships to our mother, whether male or female, are much more complicated than our relationships to our father,” Bechdel said. “[Finding peace after finishing ‘Are You My Mother?’] was my hope, but I have to report that it has not happened yet.”

I am happy to report that her conflicted feelings on sharing her stories this way won’t stop her from continuing. Bechdel is working on a third graphic memoir, which she’ll take a break from this Tuesday when she visits Otterbein to discuss drawing comics, crafting stories visually and overcoming the fear of sharing too much.

I, for one, thank her family for their sacrifice of privacy. Honesty begets humanity.