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Est. April 5, 2002
November 08, 2018 - Issue 763

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“Fun Home”
Exposes the Straitjacket

"It is the first-ever Broadway musical
to feature a lesbian protagonist, and an
all-female creative team to win the Tony."

"Fun Home" - winner of five Tony Awards, including Best Musical - is in its last full week of performance at the SpeakEasy in Boston as part of its national tour. And, it’s a must-see!!!

It is the first-ever Broadway musical to feature a lesbian protagonist, and an all-female creative team to win the Tony. Many of us in the LGBTQ community know Bechdel for her long-running lesbian comic strip, “Dykes to Watch Out For,” that ran from 1983 to 2008, and helped educated and shift public opiion about us.

Leo Tolstoy’s quote in the novel “Anna Karenina” states that “All happy familes are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” never rang more true than in Alison Bechdel’s tragicomic “Fun Home.” Based on Bechdel’s 2006 best-selling graphic memoir of the same name, “Fun Home” is the nickname for the family business: a funeral parlor. Also, the nickname is an appropriate comic spoof to depict the home Bechdel actually grew up in that was anything but fun.

While not your typical “daddy’s girl” parent-child relationship, “Fun Home” is Bechdel’s coming out story and her complicated relationships with her father, Bruce Bechdel. Bruce was a “closeted” gay and suspected pedophile, who taught high school English and restored and ran the familial funeral parlor. His maniacal perfectionism restoring the family’s Gothic-revival house kept him icy, preoccupied and distant from the family. Bruce’s secret life and his obsessional interest in fitting the house can be seen as his way to sublimate and to channel his sexual desires for men, especially in an era where being LGBTQ wasn’t allowed to out the closet.

Bechdel, however, comes out in a different era than her father’s - 1980s, post-Stonewall. And, while the 1980’s was profoundly shaped by the AIDS epidemic, and homophobic reactions to it, the LGBTQ community, nonetheless, continued to come out.

What catapults Bechdel to tell her coming out story is the death of her father. Four months after Bechdel comes out, tragically, her father violently died beneath the wheels of a fast moving truck. The nagging questions which haunts Bechdel, throughout the play, is whether her father’s death was an accident or suicide?

While undeniably Bechdel’s coming out story will always be tied to her father’s death, sadly it also exposes how the invisible and toxic heterosexist straitjacket her father attempted to wear profoundly and irrevocably impacted him and the family.

When young Alison asked her mother, Helen, why she stayed in the marriage knowing her father was gay, Helen, replied she gave away her days and advised Alison not to do the same. 

“Days made of bargains I made because I thought as a wife, I was meant to and now my life is shattered and laid bare.

Days and days and days and days and days and days and days

That's how it happens”

The point of view of the story is told through the adult eyes and ruminations of Bechdel looking back at her home life and family growing up in rural Pennsylvania. The mode of narration is Bechdel portrayed at three different age-versions of herself- child Alison, around 8 years old, young adult Alison, around 19 years old and a college freshman, and adult Alison at 43 years old, and a cartoonist.

One of many moving moments in the play is when the child Alison is in a diner with her father and sees for the first time -“an old-school dyke - a butch lesbian making a delivery and is transfixed by her presence. At her age, Bechdel has neither language nor emotional maturity to understand what she’s feeling at that moment, so Bechdel describes the woman as a form of self-validation:

"Your swagger and your bearing
and the just right clothes you’re wearing
Your short hair and your dungarees
And your lace up boots.
And your keys oh
Your ring of keys.

I know you.

When Bechdel was asked on the TV, radio and internet news show “Democracy Now” by Amy Goodman about that moment in the play, Bechdel told Goodman the following:

We were in Philadelphia ... having lunch in a diner and this woman came in — this big, burly woman with short hair and men's clothes — and I was spellbound. My jaw dropped... In that moment, I recognized that woman: I identified with her; I wanted her; I wanted to be her. And I knew that that was completely unacceptable.”

The play’s universal themes of coming of age, self- acceptance, death, trauma, and navigating dysfunctional family dynamics immediately journeys us back to our home life.

The open question of whether Bechdel’s father’s death was a suicide or simply an accident remains. However, being closeted most of his life, I surmise, Bruce felt like a dead man walking while alive. Editorial Board member and Columnist, The Reverend Monroe is an ordained minister, motivational speaker and she speaks for a sector of society that is frequently invisible. Rev. Monroe does a weekly Monday segment, “All Revved Up!” on WGBH (89.7 FM), on Boston Public Radio and a weekly Friday segment “The Take” on New England Channel NEWS (NECN). She’s a Huffington Post blogger and a syndicated religion columnist. Her columns appear in cities across the country and in the U.K, and Canada. Also she writes a  column in the Boston home LGBTQ newspaper Baywindows and Cambridge Chronicle. A native of Brooklyn, NY, Rev. Monroe graduated from Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an African-American church in New Jersey before coming to Harvard Divinity School to do her doctorate. She has received the Harvard University Certificate of Distinction in Teaching several times while being the head teaching fellow of the Rev. Peter Gomes, the Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church at Harvard who is the author of the best seller, THE GOOD BOOK. She appears in the film For the Bible Tells Me So and was profiled in the Gay Pride episode of In the Life, an Emmy-nominated segment. Monroe’s  coming out story is  profiled in “CRISIS: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America" and in "Youth in Crisis." In 1997 Boston Magazine cited her as one of Boston's 50 Most Intriguing Women, and was profiled twice in the Boston Globe, In the Living Arts and The Spiritual Life sections for her LGBT activism. Her papers are at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College's research library on the history of women in America. Her website is  Contact the Rev. Monroe and BC. 
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is published every Thursday
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
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