Graphic novelist Alison Bechdel became a “professional lesbian” in response to her father’s closeted life.
Bechdel came out in 1980 at 19 years old.
“In many ways my life, my professional career, has been a reaction to my father’s life, his life of secrecy,” she said. “I threw myself into the gay community, into this life as a lesbian cartoonist, deciding I was going to be a professional lesbian. In a way, that was all my way of healing myself.”
In 2006, Bechdel created a graphic book about her own coming out and her father’s death, which she thinks could have been a suicide, called Fun Home. It is now a Broadway play with five Tony Awards under its belt, including one for best musical.
Bechdel said she came out from reading books, not actual experiences with people.
“I had this very formative moment: I was browsing in my college bookstore and I found this book called Word is Out,” she said. “It was a book about a documentary film that had been made which was interviews with a bunch of gay men and lesbians. I think it was made in the late ‘70s. I was spellbound by this book and as I was reading it, I had this simultaneous realization that, ‘Oh my God, I am one of these people in the book,’ and also that it was okay. Just like that, I accepted it in myself. I didn’t have any long period of struggle.”
Not all are impressed with Fun Home, however. Some students at Duke University who were assigned to read the book over the summer refused to do so because of its “sexual themes and use of nudity.”
“I feel as if I would have to compromise my personal and moral beliefs to read it,” incoming freshman Brian Grasso said.
Another student said the nature of the novel “means that content that I might have consented to read in print now violates my conscience due to its pornographic nature.”
Though the reading was voluntary, a Duke spokesman said he hoped that “students will begin their time at Duke with open minds and a willingness to explore new ideas, whether they agree with them or not.”
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