The Dysphoric Bruce Bechdel

Bruce Bechdel as he is represented in his daughter Alison’s autobiography Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is an obviously gender dysphoric man who feels incapable of expressing himself in a feminine manner due to the societal constraints of gender binary. Born physically a man in a generation where LGBT rights were literally nonexistent, he ignored his identification with the female gender role and forced himself to lead a traditionally “male” life. He went to university, met his wife, bought a home for themselves and their children and planned to live “happily ever after.” Except that could not be possible for Bruce. Instead, he felt forced to lie to not only everyone around him but more harmfully to himself about his identity. The post-modernity of this graphic novel is clear through the way in which it convinces its audience of the absurdity of the gender binaries that had been previously considered fact rather than perception – for that is exactly what made Bruce lead his life the way he did. Alison believes his inability to express his femininity even led him to suicide, and her novel demands re-definition of past “realities.”

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Alison shares with her audience an image she found of her father when he was young, dressed to express the gender he identified with most in a feminine bathing suit. She draws attention to the pain she knows he felt throughout his life rejecting his true sentiment by sharing this image of Bruce next to the words: “What’s lost in translation is the complexity of loss itself,” (120). In context she is speaking about a misnomered novel her father had read before his death; but by pairing these words with the only honest image of her father she has, it resonates with the reader how very different Bruce’s life may have been if he had not felt trapped by gender binary. What’s lost in the translation of the simple photograph of her young father is the complex loss he would feel for the rest of his life by losing the ability to express his own gender.

This is exemplified further through his relationship with Alison and the interactions between them. Bruce resisted at first when he began recognizing familiar behavioral patterns to his own youthful experiments with gender in Alison but of the opposite nature. Several times Bechdel recounts her father having scolded her for her appearance if she was not primed to his perception of a lady, for example the horror mismatched necklines struck into him. Alison suggests even that he was projecting his own desires onto her by calling him a sissy, but understanding why he could not realize his desires in himself and bearing it while he fussed over her with hair clips (97):ImageAs she got older, however, he was more understanding of her situation and allowed her the freedom to act how she pleased without his judgment. Bruce was happy that his daughter found inclusion, but it seemed too much for him to have had to live his whole life falsely and he still chose to take his own life in the end, so Alison believes.

Alison Bechdel’s autobiography Fun Home calls for change in the general societal ignorance surrounding gender issues. These topics need further activism to become the new norm: so that no one else should need to live the same forcefully closeted and obviously depressed life exposed in this graphic novel.

Works Cited:

Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. United States: Mariner Books, 2007. Print.

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