Alison Bechdel, “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic”

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomedy is a memoir chronicling the author’s coming out/coming-of-age story in the form of a graphic novel. The memoir explores Bechdel’s journey from childhood to college student to adult in relation to both her identity as a lesbian and her dynamic with her family, particularly her father who is a closeted gay man. Her acceptance of her sexuality directly contrasts to the deepening repression of her father’s homosexuality, which ultimately results in his suicide. Bechdel’s book expertly weaves themes of suicide, LGBTQIA+ sexuality, gender roles, emotional abuse, dysfunctional family life, and self-discovery and acceptance into an unflinching yet sincere retelling of her life, teeming with both humor and depth. Fun Home was first published in hardcover on June 8, 2006 by Houghton Mifflin. On June 5, 2007, Mariner Books published a paperback edition as well. Subsequently, Houghton Mifflin released a new edition in 2015. Bechdel’s book has been translated into a number of languages including Spanish, German, Dutch, French, Polish, and Japanese.

Fun Home has received a multitude of awards including an Eisner Award, the Stonewall Book Award, the GLAAD Media Award, and the Lambda Literary Award, as well as being a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award. Bechdel herself was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant for her work. In 2013, Fun Home was adapted into a musical by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori. The musical adaptation went on to be a Pulitzer Finalist in 2014 as well as the recipient of a Tony Award for Best Musical in 2015.

Fun Home has been the target of multiple banning attempts, the first of which took place in Marshall, Missouri in 2006. Louise Mills demanded that Fun Home be removed from the public library, referring to the memoir as “pornographic” due to scenes depicting masturbation and oral sex. Fortunately, the library kept the book in circulation due to its contemporary/social significance, critical acclaim, and “timelessness and/or significance of subject matter.” In 2008, Fun Home was challenged for being “pornographic” at the University of Utah when it was assigned as a summer reading assignment. The objecting student was offered an alternate assignment in agreement with the university’s religious accommodation policy, but the book retained its place on the reading list.

In 2013, the memoir was challenged again for its inclusion in a summer reading assignment at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. Legislators retaliated against the school by cutting the budget granted to the college by the exact amount of the summer reading program. The legislators cited “promotion of the gay and lesbian lifestyle” as the basis for their budget cuts. In 2018, Watchung Hills Regional High School in New Jersey included the book in the curriculum. A parent challenged its incorporation into the classroom, claiming it is “pornographic,” and the book is still under review by the school board.

In an interview, Bechdel responded to the attempted ban in Missouri:

“My first reaction is: What a great honor! My second reaction is, it’s a very interesting situation, and it’s all about the power of images, which I think is something people need to talk about. I can understand why people wouldn’t want their children to accidentally think this was a funny comic book and pick it up and see pictures of people having sex. I can understand that. I think banning books is the wrong approach. If you don’t want your kids to read it, make sure they don’t get a hold of it. But I do understand that concern, because yeah, drawings are very seductive and attention-catching. Oh, I think it had everything to do with the fact that it was illustrated. I’m sure that library’s got all kinds of gay material in it. But if they’re just regular books with no cartoon illustrations, there’s not the same kind of concern about it.”

About the Author

Alison Bechdel was born in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania on September 10, 1960 (making her a Virgo if one subscribes to astrology). She earned her BA in 1981 from Oberlin College. She then moved to New York City and began her career as a comic book author. She penned the long-running comic strip called “Dykes to Watch Out For,” in which she first introduced the now well-known “Bechdel Test” as a way of measuring the quality of female representation in media. She also recently published another memoir titled Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama about her relationship with her mother. Neither of these other works has been the target of banning attempts.

Further Reading (clip of the Tony Performance of Fun Home the musical)