Teaching Notes: Fun Home

Alison Bechdel’s Fun Homea 2006 graphic novel memoir, tells the story of Alison coming out as a lesbian to her parents while in college. A short time later, she learns that her father is gay and has been getting into trouble with local youth for her parents’ entire marriage; her mother is now leaving him. The father dies a short time later in a possible suicide. 180px-Funhomecover

None of what I’ve just revealed counts as spoilers. You learn all of this right off the bat–in fact, this feature of the book is one of its most interesting. Bechdel’s narrative visits various points in her childhood and young adulthood, but non-linearly. We circle back over the same material repeatedly, seeing events through multiple viewpoints and in light of new information. Because of this structure, Fun Home would be great for teaching lessons on queer temporalities. It’s not just two intertwined coming-out stories–it also exemplifies the affective touch across time written about by Carolyn Dinshaw, Elizabeth Freeman, Heather Love, and other queer theorists. Later events retroactively change earlier ones; the past is a source of shame, pride, lingering questions, identifications, and belongings; and the cyclical, circular, sideways nature of these queer lives sits uneasily in the straight-line structure of family life/reproductive futurity.

Other fun issues to teach with this book:

  • How do we assign gay/queer as an identity label? Is it what the person does or the labels he assigns himself?
  • What is the role of books in this book? Fun Home explicitly references Wilde, Colette, Proust, and Joyce–why these authors, and how do they work as intertexts for this book?
  • What is the role of books in our lives/Alison’s life? (This memoir fits into a subgenre I’m fascinated in tracking: books about reading.)
  • Related: many of the images in this graphic novel are actually images of words. Why use this genre at all if words are so highly valued and centrally placed? What is the relationship between words and images here?
  • Related: Bechdel’s sometimes ornate use of language seems to complement her father’s ornate taste in home furnishings–and contrast her own stated preference for all things spartan and functional. How are words like and unlike furniture? What do we make of Bechdel’s style and of her father’s?