Gender Binary and the Bechdel Family

In Alison Bechdel’s autobiographic graphic novel Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006) her audience is invited to follow her throughout the development of her young life, particularly focusing on the life of and her relationship with her late father, Bruce Bechdel. This is the first of a two-part entry wherein I will study how gender binaries affected the lives of both Alison and Bruce Bechdel respectively. Firstly, I will discuss the way in which binaries affected the author and narrator of Fun Home, Alison. She is clearly aware of these facts herself, having published her own story with an astonishingly levelheaded honesty that exemplifies her understanding of the topic. Her visual narrative succeeds by its conclusion to point out the absurdity of the notions projected by gender binaries.

In Surya Monro’s 2007 study on the transformation of gender binaries, she discussed how ineffective they had been previously: “People whose sex/gender[1] identity is fluid, or other than male and female, challenge the ontological assumption that sex/gender fall into binary categories.” Bechdel herself exemplifies this fact with her refusal to identify with any one specific gender classification considered “normative.” She is both masculine and feminine at the same time, embracing all aspects of the beauty in herself. She is herself proof of Monro’s theory that binaries are ineffective and nonsensical since she adheres to neither extreme yet remains an empowered person. Through the narration of her father’s story, Bechdel’s audience can truly feel her rejection of these binaries and demands of her audience to be more aware of the harm they can force people to project onto themselves. She demands that her audience reject the old manner of thinking that she strongly believes led her father to his suicide and early grave.

I believe the graphic novel medium that Bechdel chose to present her story with was the most effective for her style of narration. She presents her audience with effective imagery of her family in everyday life that forces one to acknowledge the painful and difficult topics she addresses and then combines them; for example she overlays text over some of her images to bring focus to a particular point, not to mention that an image itself is said to hold the value of a thousand words. By exposing her story and that of her late father, Bruce, into the published world for anyone to see, she attempts to break the boundaries of gender binaries and to bring about awareness of their absurdity. She always envied the associations given to the “male” gender binary as a child, which her father resisted at first due to his own lifelong struggle to hide his own discomfort with the binary he felt forced to because of his physical sex.

Through the sharing of her own personal experiences in this postmodern novel, Alison inspires a rejection of typical gender binaries in her audience that is irrefutable. She truly succeeds, at least in my opinion, in pointing out the folly and potential harm gender binaries can continue to cause if society does not reform its closed way of thinking.

Works Cited:

Munro, Surya. “Transmuting Gender Binaries: the Theoretical Challenge.” Sociological Research Online. 12.1 (2007) Web. 23 July 2013. <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/12/1/monro.html>

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