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June 22, 2024 53 mins

In this classic episode, we discuss Alison Bechdel's graphic novel and memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic and dig into themes of sexual identity, gender norms and dysfunctional family dynamics.

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Speaker 1 (00:05):
Hey, this is Anny and Samantha.

Speaker 2 (00:07):
I'm welcome to stuff I Never told you, Protection of
iHeart Radio. And today, in honor of Pride Month, we
are bringing back one that I could have sworn we
already brought back, but we haven't. And it is a

book club episode we did on fun Home, a family
tragic comic.

Speaker 3 (00:31):
Yes, which we've been.

Speaker 2 (00:33):
Talking a lot about the whole thing with book banning
and especially around LGBTQ plus books in this context, and
I know Alison Bechdel has been speaking about it.

Speaker 3 (00:49):
And when we did this episode, this book.

Speaker 2 (00:54):
Was the target of a lot of book banning efforts
and some of them very very intense, very intense. But
we do love when we get the chance to do
graphic novel right, plays on graphic novels that maybe are
not what you would think of. Yes, and this was
a good I think this is one of the first
ones we did that was more serious than.

Speaker 3 (01:16):
Like other things.

Speaker 4 (01:18):
So good, it's so good, Yes, So please enjoy this
classic episode. Hey, this is Sandy and Samantha, and welcome
to Stephane Never told you Production of iHeart Radio.

Speaker 2 (01:42):
Samantha, were you did you ever get into drawing? Did
you ever want to be someone who could draw.

Speaker 1 (01:47):
I did.

Speaker 5 (01:48):
I really wanted to be an artist of sorts. I
felt like if I could just do something amazing, so
I used to do all of my pictures of people
would always be of their profile. I felt like, at
least if I had the nose already on there, then
I could do everything else.

Speaker 1 (02:05):
But yeah, they were a big bubble face. It was
really sad.

Speaker 5 (02:08):
So I had a lot of bubble face drawings. And
then I was able to draw penguins. I was very
proud of that. So I was like, oh, I can
draw a penguin. That's about the extent of it. I
can't draw stick figures really well either, Like you should
be easy.

Speaker 1 (02:24):
But it's not for me. Nothing connects. I don't know why.

Speaker 5 (02:28):
Whenever we play any type of like win loser draw
or you know, guessing games on those routes, people don't
want me on their team. I don't I do know why.
But I was never good at it. I really wish
I had the talent.

Speaker 1 (02:45):
What about you?

Speaker 2 (02:46):
Oh well, first of all, I forgot about the drawing
games on the phone. That's at the early stage of
the pandemic when everyone was like, oh, yes, right, we
shall do whatever we need to keep up these connections.
I'm curious about the penguins. Was that a choice that
you made or was that just something you discovered?

Speaker 5 (03:07):
So I'm not really sure why we started drawing penguins,
but it became like where we use them as kind
of puns. So, but it wasn't necessarily about the penguins.
It would be about movie titles, so the one would
distinctly remember So a good friend of mine who actually
is the older sister of Krestin Conger of s Mentee.

Speaker 1 (03:27):
That's how I met all of them. Honestly.

Speaker 5 (03:29):
Anna and I used to just draw random like penguins
and then make little jokes out of them. And my
favorite one, which she did was Splenda in the Grass,
so it would be a penguin holding a splenda in
tall grass. One of my favorite movies growing up was
Splendor in the Grass, which is really really sad and ridiculous.
But yeah, so we would do things like that and

then we would just pass them all around to each other.
I don't know why, but and it was always penguins
holding something.

Speaker 3 (03:57):
Uh huh, I love that. Yeah, that's fantastic. Do you
have a many any of them?

Speaker 4 (04:02):

Speaker 5 (04:03):
I think they're gone. Oh I know, I'm very sorry
about this. I can distinctly remember hers was much better
than mine too, by the way, way better. Mine would
just be a penguin who like would wear a hat
or something.

Speaker 2 (04:17):
Still, I love drawing and coloring, as you have seen
as an adult, Samantha. If the table mat at a restaurant, yes,
has the crowns and like the canvas, then forget the food.

Speaker 3 (04:32):
That's what I'm doing.

Speaker 2 (04:34):
And I still like there's a restaurant I went to
a couple of years ago where it's kind of hard to.

Speaker 3 (04:40):
Get your picture on the wall, and I got my
picture on the wall.

Speaker 2 (04:42):
And I took a picture of it as if I'd
won some great award, like a picture that you color
on the wall. But I was never very good at
it either. I think I've said before the lowest grade
I've ever gotten was an art. But both of my
friends were really good at it, so I was desperate.
I kept trying and trying and trying, and I would
illustrate all the stuff I would write. I would put
in like little boxes, and the pictures were terrible. They

were so bad. I could trace things. Though I was
good at tracing. I guess that's not so great overall.

Speaker 1 (05:12):
But better than what I can do.

Speaker 2 (05:14):
Then I'm not sure that's the case. I have been
drawing a lot for D and D for Dungeons and Dragons. Nice,
I draw the maps and uh. We recently played Dungeons
and Dragons for the first time in person since this
particular campaign started, and I got out my very silly,

childishly drawn maps and they act as if I was
like presenting them the Decoration of Independence.

Speaker 3 (05:42):
They were so excited, like this the real thing.

Speaker 5 (05:45):
Yes, unlike you compared it to the Declaration of Independence.

Speaker 1 (05:50):
That's amazing.

Speaker 3 (05:51):
They like gas allows. Well.

Speaker 2 (05:57):
For this edition, book Club, we are talking about a
graphic novel, which is why this was on my mind,
and because it is Pride Month, we wanted to talk
about fun Home, a family tragic comic written by American
cartoonist Alison Bechdell in two thousand and six, and yes,
that Bechdel of the Bechdel Test. She also wrote the
comic strip Dykes to Watch Out for Are You My Mother?

Speaker 3 (06:19):
A comic drama, and.

Speaker 2 (06:20):
A memoir published in twenty twenty one called The Secret
to Superhuman Strengths. I think it just came out in May,
so very recent. In twenty thirteen, A fun Home was
adapted for the stage by playwright Lisa Krohn and composer
Janine Tassori, and the play went on to win several
Tony Awards. Fun Home is an autobiographical look at Bechdell's

complicated relationship with her father growing up in rural Pennsylvania
at the fun Home, the funeral home her dad runs,
but I guess it also functions for the house that
they actually live in, which was sort of this Victorian museum, right,
which we'll talk about more a bit later. After her
father's death, possibly by suicide, she wrestled with understanding her father,

his choices and the things he kept from her, and
how that interacts with her own coming out and understanding
of gender identities, sexual orientation, and gender roles. The book
also delves into family dysfunction and emotional abuse, suicide, coming
of age literature and how that can be a tool
for understanding ourselves in each other, and sexual orientation and

attitudes around it and how they've changed or.

Speaker 3 (07:26):
Haven't over the years.

Speaker 2 (07:28):
It's beautifully illustrated and draws you into the world. It's
often called a graphic novel for word lovers. A lot
of the reviews will say like it made me go
to the dictionary more than once, which, yes, me too.
It's told in a nonlinear way, with new memories being
repeated and re examined in light of new information.

Speaker 5 (07:48):
Yeah, so we definitely have to talk about the author.
Bechtel was born in nineteen sixty and started drawing as
a child. At one time during her childhood, she expressed
interest in being a cartoonist. She started drawing characters that
looked a lot like her out of college when she
didn't see them anywhere. Some of her first jobs after
college were boring jobs she took so that she could draw,

and this is where she created Dyce to Watch Out for,
a humorous comic strip published from nineteen eighty three to
two thousand and eight that followed a group of radical
lesbians partly inspired by Howard Cruse's gay comics founded in
the nineteen seventies. It's from one of these strips that
we get the famous Bechdel test and the idea she
credits to her friend Liz Wallace. Where you know, I

didn't read this out of the actual comic, but it
is stated where the friend says, I will not go
see this movie unless at least two female characters are
talking to each other and it's not about a man.
And so she talks about how the last film she
saw was Alien, right, and I thought of you.

Speaker 2 (08:48):
But yes, it was funny reading about it because it's
named after Bechdale. She was like, yeah, I don't really
like movies really.

Speaker 3 (08:56):
Before my friend she.

Speaker 1 (08:57):
Was just like, hey, I'll take it though. It's cool.

Speaker 5 (08:59):

Speaker 2 (09:00):
So this book took Bechdel several years to create. I
believe I read seven. She would photograph herself in the
poses of the characters to use as reference when drawing,
over four thousand photos in total, and you can see
side by side comparisons and it's really amazing. I recommend
looking it up. She also referenced real diary entries from
her life. She was meticulous in documenting things and has

discussed the failings of memory, and she even discusses that
within the book. And this hammers home the fact that
while this is a graphic novel, it is autobiographical with
real life and real events and real loss and violence
and pain behind it.

Speaker 5 (09:38):
Right in twenty fourteen, Bechdel was one of the twenty
first recipients chosen for the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant in
part for quote changing our notions of contemporary memoir and
explaining the expressive potential of the graphic form. And she's
appeared in an episode of The Simpsons in which in
the episode where Lisa writes her own graphic novel autobiography
called Sad Girl, with illustrationations by March, and they appear

together on a comic panel with several other famous cartoonists
as well, So that's really fun. It was definitely targeted
by many scissorship and banning efforts, with some labeling at
pornography because it contained all sex between two women and
a woman masturbating four pages of the two hundred and
forty page book, by the way, and it still was like, huh, really,

this is pornography.

Speaker 1 (10:23):
I guess it could be.

Speaker 5 (10:24):
It was even censored in banned at the college level,
so that says a lot during our time period, I'm sure.

Speaker 2 (10:31):
Yeah, and that made national headlines, so you can read
all about what happened there because it caught, which.

Speaker 5 (10:40):
Is kind of ironic because she talks about censorship in
the graphic novel.

Speaker 3 (10:43):
Yeah, and I mean.

Speaker 2 (10:44):
A lot of people rightfully pointed out to say it's
pornography when it's so few, like four pages out of
two hundred and forty or whatever. I mean, that's like
saying a movie is pornographic for having one sex scene
in it in the whole movie.

Speaker 3 (11:00):
It's just disingenuous, right and incorrect.

Speaker 2 (11:03):
A few years ago, in twenty seventeen, Bechdel returned to
her small hometown to see a production of the play.
She said it was super surreal. It was the same
theater where my mother would do her amateur dramatics, and
my father was on the board.

Speaker 3 (11:16):
I was a little afraid.

Speaker 2 (11:17):
I felt anxious, like, oh my god, I'm going to
see all these people and they're going to be pissed
off with me. Because there were people in my hometown
who did not think fun Home was a good thing.
They thought it dishonored my family. There was this great
warmth that I just hadn't expected. I had thought I
was going back to nineteen seventy seven, but the place
has changed, it has evolved. My parents, who had met

in a play would get to go on living in one, right,
I can't imagine.

Speaker 1 (11:43):
Yeah, I do.

Speaker 5 (11:44):
Like how she mentions the fact that she was kind
of glad her mother wasn't alive to see it because
her mother did have a hard time with a book
in general, which.

Speaker 1 (11:53):
I've thought about that, you know, you and I have
talked about this.

Speaker 5 (11:55):
We talked about this with Nicole, the author who came
and talked about her book. And when we were talking
about what would our parents think is it?

Speaker 1 (12:03):
Is it going to dishonor them do? Are they gonna
be hurt by this?

Speaker 5 (12:06):
And yeah, she talked about that fact that she her mother,
I think eventually accepted it, didn't love it, accepted it,
but that.

Speaker 1 (12:14):
The musical may have been too much for her.

Speaker 5 (12:16):
It would have to be the only way she could
really view it is if she was alone watching it.

Speaker 2 (12:21):
Yeah, I was like, I mean, I hate to harp
on this point all the time, but coming from a
small town, I cannot imagine going back to that small town,
right and having a play about like me coming out
and family drama and having conservative small town Georgia watching.

Speaker 3 (12:43):
It, right.

Speaker 5 (12:44):
As well as the fact that not the coming out
was also kind of indicated some really unsavory things for
the town and especially from her family that.

Speaker 1 (12:53):
You're like, ooh, ooh yeah, oh, she gonna let it
all out. Okay, here we go.

Speaker 5 (12:58):
But of course, even with all the controversy, as we
talked about before, she has won many awards in accolades,
including The book was listed as one of the top
ten best books of two thousand and six by Time Magazine.
It was also given the Eisner Award for the Best
Reality Series Works in two thousand and seven, but it
also was part given the Award for Best Graphic Album

as well, and she was nominated as Best Writer and
Artist with the same award. She also won the Stonewall
Book Awards Israel Fishman Non Fiction Award in two thousand
and seven. She was given the Guggenheim A Fellowship in
twenty twelve, Ink Part Award in twenty twelve, as well
the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement from Publishing Triangle

in twenty twelve.

Speaker 1 (13:46):
So many awards.

Speaker 5 (13:47):
She again won the MacArthur Fellowship in twenty fourteen, Lambda
Board of Trustees Award for Excellence in Literature in twenty fourteen,
the Eric sent Institute Pride for Excellence in Mental Health
and Media in twenty fifteen, and.

Speaker 1 (13:59):
Goes on and on and on.

Speaker 5 (14:02):
I feel like we also haven't mentioned it yet, but
about how she addresses the mental health stuff that she
had to go through with her compulsiveness and her fears
and anxiety that kind of came out because partially from
her family and her trying to figure out her own identity.
But it was really interesting as she talks about it,
especially when she talks about writing and doing the diary

and journaling and how that became compulsive.

Speaker 1 (14:28):
For her but also a release. It was a very
interesting dynamic to see as well.

Speaker 2 (14:33):
Yeah, and she's been very very outspoken about therapy, a
strong proponent of therapy. So the plot is primarily an
examination of Bechdel's father, Bruce, a closeted gay man, and
her own coming out as a lesbian and the relationship
that the two of them had, the very very complicated relationship.

After going to college and realizing her own sexual orientation,
Bechdel sends a letter home to her parents about it,
and this is and she learns from her mother that
her father had affairs with several men, including a few
who were underaged. With this revelation, both Alison and her
dad struggled to come to terms with how repressing his
sexual orientation may have impacted both of them. Her father

died a few months later after her letter, and also
two weeks after her mother. Bechdel's mother filed for divorce
from him.

Speaker 5 (15:23):
While Allison and her father are the primary characters, her
mother and brothers are consistently present, along with her first girlfriend, Joan,
as is the house they live in itself, an elaborate,
meticulous nineteenth century home styled by her father but maintained
by her mother, a home that her father more openly
cared for than his family, and all the beautiful ornate

objects in it. And I do love the beginning comparison
that she has of it with the Adams family. Yeah,
it was such a big, great beginning. It was like, Okay,
I see exactly what you're saying.

Speaker 1 (15:54):

Speaker 5 (15:54):
It has an outward appearance of perfection that he projects
only possible with the help and pain of others. So
they're constantly having to rearrange and dust the funeral home
he inherited after his own father's death. He and his wife, Helen,
who had been living in Europe before that, had to
return to Pennsylvania once his father had died. The depth

of passion and hope and dreams, the thought of escaping
the past of a new life. It kind of just
all disappeared. Yeah.

Speaker 2 (16:22):
Yeah, so they were Helen and Bruce were off in
Europe and there's all the like happiness in front of them,
and then Bruce's father died after return.

Speaker 3 (16:31):
Home and it did kind of represent like his.

Speaker 2 (16:33):
Father's death, but also yes, he's inheriting this funer home
and all those dreams they had in Europe are kind of.

Speaker 3 (16:38):
Like gone, yeah, fizzled outs.

Speaker 5 (16:41):
Yeah, And I do love Bechdel's drawings of the comparison
of her mom before and after. It's it's it's like, oh,
that's too real for her and her.

Speaker 1 (16:53):
Family was like yeah, I did. That resonate everywhere.

Speaker 2 (16:59):
And art is almost character in this book too, something
that moves all of the human characters. Allison's parents met
out a play. Bruce takes refuge in literature and house design,
Helen and music. In one of the few ways that
Allison can connect to her emotionally abusive father is through literature.

Speaker 3 (17:17):
It is constant throughout.

Speaker 2 (17:19):
At first, he is the one doing most of the
recommending to Allison, and he's pretty fierce about his opinions,
but after Allison goes to college, she recommends some books
to him, almost as a way to open the door
to them, talking about her coming out as a lesbian
and her father's closeted homosexuality or bisexuality, don't know for sure,
trying to bond over their sharede yet queerness. Also, just

want to throw in here, there was seventeen year Cicadas
Nixon Watergate was happening, and I was like, wow, time
really is a flat circle.

Speaker 3 (17:57):
So we have so many themes we want to go over.

Speaker 2 (18:00):
First, are going to pause for a quick break for
word from our sponsor, and we're back, Thank you sponsor.
So one of the themes we wanted to start out with,

which is probably one of the biggest of not the
biggest throughout, is Allison's relationship with her father, which was
fraught with yes, emotional abuse and miscommunication, and a lot
of her thoughts on this came out after her father's

death and her kind of re examining a lot of memories,
which I think is one of the most interesting parts
of this book is that like you see one a
memory presented and then she gets new information like, oh,
your father had affairs with young men and it recontects
memories right that she has, she understands them differently. But

as something that we've talked about a lot on this
show is we get to see her processing through the
grief over his death in ways that are quote unquote
not normal. So for one, she gets really angry when
I can't remember it's the priest or the person presiding
over the funeral like pats her shoulder and she wants

to like rip his arm away. She throws like their
flags put on his grave at one point when she
comes to visit and she throws them away, little flags.
And then when someone asked her about it, how are you,
and she's like, oh, my dad died, and she says
it really upbeat, is kind of laughing, and he's like, oh,
that's funny, that's weird, and she's like, no, he actually did,

and she starts laughing, And that's just how she reacts
to it. But it does, I mean, it is presented
in a way even through the literature she cites through
it where it's absurdist. Almost his death is kind of absurdist,
especially when she was raised in the fun home, this

funeral home, and that did make your kind of cavalier towards.

Speaker 3 (20:18):
Death, right.

Speaker 5 (20:19):
I think it's interesting too that she uses death as
it intertwines through the entire book, and it's not just
the father's death. We're talking about the death in literature.
So she talks about those things so many times in
comparison to her father and an author that he left
that died, or something that happens within the book that.

Speaker 1 (20:37):
HiT's right on the head again.

Speaker 5 (20:39):
Yes, the origins of fun home or funeral home, and
her own understanding of death and mortality, which she had
to grow up with at a very young age because
she was face to the face with death often, whether
it's because she had to vacuum, you know, the actual
funeral home, or whether she was had to go and
hand scissors to her father while he was embalming a body,

and the fact that she didn't know if this was
a test or not, and so she made sure to
be completely unemotional and without fear, and she felt like
that was something that she had to do in the
face of death to prove to him that she was okay,
or that she was worthy something along those lines. So
I feel like even though we do, yes, we definitely
talk about grief and having to grieve over or not
grieve over in the most normal, as she would like

to say, and we would not categorize anything as normal,
but quote unquote normal. In her father's death, we see
that she's had to confront it and to show a
different reaction than what we would consider normal as a child,
especially like she has that confrontation of seeing the family
that died. So he said, she called it the triple Yeah,

that came into it, and one of them was a child,
her cousin. It turns out, I believe that was her age,
and he would just show her and like this is
his broken neck and just having to look and identifying
like yeah, there he is, and moving on without any fear,
without any real emotions to it. So I find that
interesting that she puts that as part of the string

throughout the entire book, that yes, we're talking about someone's
specific death, but also there was death, whether it's also
death and identity, whether we're talking about her mom who
had to give up so much, or her dad who
had to closet his own orientation or whatever whatnot.

Speaker 1 (22:23):
It is kind of like oking is.

Speaker 2 (22:26):
Here, yeah, yeah, And that is probably one of the
biggest themes in the book as well, which we're definitely
going to delve into more later, but of the almost
preference for fiction and living in a kind of absurdist world,
and that fits that very well, and just the idea

Allison's grandmother lives in the fun home and you know,
if there's somebody living there that you knows not long
for this world perhaps, and it's just like those blurring
line of life and death. And then her dad went
through this very after he died. He ended up being
embalmd at his own the funeral home that he worked at, right, Yeah,

so there's a lot of layers in that way. And
then yes, there is this ambiguous nature of his death
of did he kill himself? If so, why was it
something he planned in advance? And Allison is always trying
to find clues to find meaning in that, like if
he had underlined a sentence in a passage, or he

was the same age as f.

Speaker 3 (23:33):
Scott Fitzgerald.

Speaker 2 (23:34):
Plus he remnus a couple of weeks when he died,
just like trying to find all these things to give
it some sort of meaning because there was no note
or anything.

Speaker 3 (23:44):
He just got hit by a sunbeam bread truck was she.

Speaker 5 (23:49):
Menture to point out, I did find it interesting when
she brings out the narrative of seeing the snake when
they went camping, and then she was like, maybe he
saw a snake and he jumped back, because that's what
the truck driver or the motorist said that.

Speaker 1 (24:03):
He was across the road. I think was fine. All
of a sudden he jumps back, So no one really.

Speaker 5 (24:07):
Knows because he was doing what he loved, gardening, which
is apparently something that he does almost impulsively throughout her life.
And she sees it, whether it's they're playing game, he
sees something wrong with the garden, so you must fix
it immediately, and that's what he was doing.

Speaker 1 (24:21):
So it's kind of interesting to.

Speaker 5 (24:22):
Hear her talk about that because like, maybe it really
was an accident. Maybe it was the snake that's scared him,
and we just don't know.

Speaker 2 (24:29):
Yeah, And I think that's the pain, the uncertainty, not
that either is necessarily better, but especially in terms of
people in this context who love to give meaning or
to read these books, and they even if it is
absurdist ultimately, which is the word I keep come back to,
but she uses it a lot throughout this that it

has weight, so you're always trying to find that the story,
the thread, and even the fact that it feels so
strange to be talking about this because this is a
real person, right and we're referring to her with her
first name, but it's a real person. But it's also
like a fictional almost a fictional world she created to
make sense of all of this, right, Yeah, So I

did want to read a couple quotes. Maybe I'm trying
to render my senseless personal loss meaningful by linking it, however,
posthumously to a more coherent narrative, a narrative of injustice,
sexual shame, and fear of life considered expendable. And I
think that's a very human trait. I think in my case,

I always want to think about, like horror movies.

Speaker 3 (25:37):
I think that's a.

Speaker 2 (25:38):
Very you know, if I hadn't done this then, or
if this person hadn't done this, they'd still be a
lot to day. And it feels like you're giving meaning
to your choices that if you do the right things
you'll be fine, or if you do the wrong things.
And these are like heavy right wrong quotes, but you know,

like that then there's some sort of punishment that happens,
and that makes us feel better because it makes us
feel like we have more control over things.

Speaker 1 (26:09):

Speaker 2 (26:09):
And then there's another story that her grandmother, Allison's grandmother
used to tell the children, and it was a story
about her father being very young and getting stuck in
the mud and not being able to get out and
having to be rescued, like pulled out.

Speaker 3 (26:25):
By an older man.

Speaker 2 (26:27):
And after he dies and Allison is thinking she's hard
for her to imagine him in the ground rotting, she says,
stuck in the mud for good this time, or she
thinks that right, Yeah.

Speaker 5 (26:40):
Yeah, I do love that she and her brothers love
these stories because it makes her dad so human and fallible,
as where you know, the man that she sees at
that point in time is seeking perfection in everything and
everything must be beautiful and pristine, and so for hard to
imagine that he was a stuck be in mud, see

having to be unclothed and naked and being taken care of,
and such a whole thing for her that she's like
what and humanizing and that she just loves it as
if it's a fairy tale.

Speaker 2 (27:11):
Yeah yeah, And I think you know, not to get
too deep. But I feel like he was kind of
stuck in the mud for most of his life, right,
because he couldn't really move on or accept himself fully,
and he really wanted to present this certain persona and

it made him and everyone else around him unhappy.

Speaker 3 (27:36):
So it was like being stuck, right.

Speaker 5 (27:48):
And yeah, you mentioned about the fact that about Fitzgerald
and in the parallels in his death kind of the
age and the upbringing and kind of that whole level,
like his love for these books. I know Ulysses ended
up being his most read and most loved book, but
he also really absolutely loved Fitzgerald's books and made sure

to talk about it on a consistent basis.

Speaker 1 (28:10):
Apparently. I think that's how he I won't say seduce, but.

Speaker 5 (28:16):
Seeks a long conversation with younger men is by handing
out Fitzgerald's books a lot of the times. But the
fact is, like she sees the similarity, like he kind
of wanted that life, and he understood that life of
being hidden and wanting to become someone different and being
something so grandiose.

Speaker 1 (28:36):
And big.

Speaker 5 (28:37):
And I think she also talks about comparing him to
Robert Redford and from the movie when they saw it
as a family that like, I always talk about it
as if he made a little more sense when she
watched this movie and I'm like, yeah, I could get that.
M h.

Speaker 3 (28:53):

Speaker 2 (28:54):
So we did want to talk about the sexual orientation
and coming out aspect of this too, because yes, the
damage of being caoseted on both her father and the
family is something that Allison examines throughout, but also wondering
if it would.

Speaker 3 (29:11):
Have been better or not if it was different.

Speaker 2 (29:13):
She recognizes she would not exist for one or probably wouldn't,
and speculated that maybe he wouldn't have lived much longer
due to the AIDS epidemic, which you do see like
on newspapers and stuff throughout news about that. Here's another quote.
I suppose that a lifetime spent hiding one's erotic truth
could have a cumulative renunciary effect. Sexual shame is in

itself a kind of death. So, like you were talking
about Samantha about the multiple layers of death in this book.
And then when Allison does send the letter to her
parents and then kind of gets this not what she
was expecting reaction, but also this bombshell or revelation her

about her dad. She has these feelings of being upstaged
by this news and then his death, and wondering if
coming out to your parents crossed it or was part
of the cause of why he did it, because she
seems pretty convinced that he did take his own life
right and still trying to put that her experience into

a cohesive narrative, wondering if the repression, ultimately it would
have been better for her family and herself after all,
like because and it's so kind of heartbreaking because when
this happens, she's like, well, I hadn't really had sex
with any a woman yet, questioning all of the stuff,
which makes sense to in response to how they reacted

to the news.

Speaker 5 (30:43):
Yeah, I did love though, as she talks about in
later parts of the book, and she does the hindsight
of them spending time together, and with the fact that
her mother just kind of outrights as well, he's had
affairs with young men for blah blah blah. So she
starts asking and was like, oh, oh, so trying to
probe at her dad, and then the revelation about and

we're gonna talk about gender roles in a second, but
like they had a flipped idea of what they wanted
and why this conflicted with each other so much, and
then also kind of explaining who he was, and then
through the love of books and the recommendation and showing
themselves to each other without telling each other who they are, like,
you see a lot of that unfolding, and it is heartbreaking.

As it becomes a point that they are actually communicating
through their own special way, it kind of still falls apart.

Speaker 1 (31:31):
So it's definitely a big part of that.

Speaker 5 (31:34):
And again, just we were talking about just trying to
identify when she sees a delivery person and she identifies
with her because she's dressed, as they want to say,
but very very masculine, and she suddenly feels like she's
not alone. But her father also realizes this, and that's
kind of one of the big narratives again at the
look Back, he keeps saying, yeah, I kind of knew, Yeah,

I kind of knew, Yeah, I kind of was there.
He witnesses this and realizes that she is going to
have a really difficult life like him. When he talks
about the fifties in comparison to that day that she
was present and even then it still wasn't easy.

Speaker 1 (32:09):
We know that the eighties and nineties were not easy.

Speaker 5 (32:12):
But for him we be like, you know, in the
fifties that wasn't even thought of, that was very looked
down on, and just kind of that reminiscence with her
when they talk about that moment of her.

Speaker 1 (32:22):
When he asked, do you want to dress like her? Yeah,
that's that who you want.

Speaker 5 (32:25):
To be, and she's just like, uh, obviously my answer
has to be no.

Speaker 3 (32:30):
Yeah, you're like giving me no space for any other
I know.

Speaker 2 (32:34):
Yeah, And she's pretty young at this point when this happens,
but like jumping way ahead, when her and her dad
are trying to have a conversation after she's come out,
they're going to the movies and they're having this really
stilted conversation which is beautifully illustrated and I read like
a breakdown of why it's so good because it makes

you sit with every panel of silence. It did remind
me of recent topic we talked about, which is parentification,
because Alison feels more like the parent in this exchange
when her father finally starts to open up to her
a little bit about his homosexuality. She's the one that's
trying to be supportive and feels like she can't share

her experience but wants to hear his, and that moment
he does seem very childlike and like he's never spoken
out loud about this before, perhaps so especially not with
people and his family, right, and so vulnerable, and then
it shuts down very quickly and the conversation just fizzles out, right.

Speaker 5 (33:37):
Yeah, Yeah, Honestly, her whole coming out at her parents'
reaction I thought was interesting because her mother was upset
and didn't want to talk to her, didn't want to
even acknowledge what was happening. And I'm sure this may
have triggered her and everyone just knowing what she was
going through with her own husband.

Speaker 1 (33:55):
And the dad is like, great experiment, did you partake?

Speaker 5 (33:58):
Alrgie like it was his reaction, just thinking it was
not necessarily because he knows it's not just the stage,
but that's how he's been seeing it in his mind,
so he will fulfill things in the dark, to fulfill
his desires in the darken and in secret and hope
it passes. But it never does obviously, so he's wondering
just what she's doing or you're having, you're experimenting, like

I do? Great right, but that's not really are you really?
It still was like questioning. I thought that was an
interesting take as for the man like reacting for the
way he reacts to himself to her, who is obviously
very open at this point, and I thought that was
again really well put out by her.

Speaker 1 (34:40):
It was reality. It was what happened.

Speaker 5 (34:42):
The fact that you know, he had to be like,
your mother's busy, she's kind of too upset to talk
right now, she's still processing.

Speaker 1 (34:48):
It was still part of the reaction.

Speaker 2 (34:50):
Yeah, yeah, And that's one of those situations where.

Speaker 3 (34:56):
It kind of.

Speaker 2 (34:59):
Sucks because, yes, the mother is dealing with Helen has
this pain from what she knows about her husband, so
she she is.

Speaker 3 (35:11):
Reacting that way.

Speaker 2 (35:12):
And then yeah, Bruce is like very much reacting to
how he thinks he is. And then she Allison has
kind of didn't know this was a thing, right and
was just like, you know, trying to come out and
maybe the way she did it had this kind of

like vision of how it would go and instead it
kind of and you can't really blame everyone, but it
kind of became a very selfish thing, right.

Speaker 3 (35:44):
Right, Yeah, yeah.

Speaker 1 (35:46):
Really did.

Speaker 5 (35:47):
Yeah, And I also think like we can't go without
mentioning the fact that, yeah, her dad's pathological tendencies, the
fact that he went for young boys and even soliciting
with buying minors beer, and that was his only charge
with that whole But we know, but we know why
this is happening, and it's very sad because you you

have so many aspects of feeling sorry for people and
really understanding that this is a hard time. But at
the same time you're like, yeah, but we can't excuse this.
This is not a thing and she and she kind
of does the same thing of like, I'm not excusing this.
This is what happens. We know what happened, we just
don't talk about it and.

Speaker 1 (36:27):
Kind of that way. But I'm and she, I'm sure,
I have no idea. I didn't read this.

Speaker 5 (36:32):
If that she had any backlash from her family for
revealing is saying.

Speaker 1 (36:36):
Out loud, was you know when everybody's been keeping quiet.

Speaker 5 (36:39):
So it's kind of, oh, I wonder how that went down,
because when family secrets happen, it's not pretty, but it's
also offensive for the victims or those who have been
affected to ignore it as well and pretend like it no.
It was a thing, and obviously was a thing, as
she would pinpoint each time when there was like this
dude helped us, and she would always say things like

this dude helped us clean out the basement, this dude
helped us with you know, they were all young students
of his, which we've talked about as many times. Is
obviously a power play and is inappropriate, So we can't
ignore those conversations either. And though it is a black
cloud in the family, she didn't shy away from it
for sure.

Speaker 3 (37:21):

Speaker 2 (37:22):
Yeah, And there's also the whole sequence where they're in
New York and your younger brother, yeah, like goes not missing,
but uh, it's just painted in a way where you're like,
if this had gone differently, right, like almost putting her
father in that same box.

Speaker 3 (37:39):
But then he is fine with.

Speaker 2 (37:40):
It, Like once the situation is resolved, he like goes
out on the town.

Speaker 5 (37:44):
Right, but he's very aware, yeah, of what can happen
and who can come after him, And it says yeah,
it definitely says a lot.

Speaker 3 (37:53):
Yeah. Yeah.

Speaker 2 (37:55):
My ex boyfriend gave me this book of untranslatable words,
and one of them in there translates to the family
secret that everyone knows what everyone refuses to talk about
oh yeah, which is yeah, that's a great word. But
that kind of reminds me that kind of part of
this mm hmm. We do have some more themes we
want to discuss, but first we have one more quick
break for word from our sponsor and we're back, Thank

you sponsor. So, yes, we did want to talk about
gender roles in this book because we do see instances
of dressing in gender nonconforming clothes. So Alison did that
with a friend of hers where they were kind of
playing dress up and her friend wanted to do something
else and she's like, no, this would be way more fun.

Speaker 3 (38:52):
Let's sis up in men's clothes.

Speaker 2 (38:54):
And she asked her dad to get her a measured
shirt and he said like, we'll have to measure your
yes meaning breast, and she was like okay, no, never mind.
But yeah, Alison felt like she needed to fill the
space of masculinity her father didn't, while her father wanted
to express femininities through her, putting them forever at quote

cross purposes, a war of cross purposes.

Speaker 5 (39:20):
I think I do love the scene in the car
when they had that revelation and when she's just when
I was younger. I wanted to be in dresses. I
wanted to dress like a girl. She's like, I wanted
to dress like a boy. Like she says it so excitedly,
but then it goes quiet, right, because comes down to
because the realization comes down to the fact that, yeah,
they were really at odds with each other because they

were envious of the other, which but we also saw
as Alison grows up, she is giving him advice on
what kind of suit he needs to wear, what kind
of things invests that he needs to look at, and
he's like, you're you're right, you know, understanding that that okay.

Speaker 1 (39:54):

Speaker 5 (39:54):
At the same time, she's having the battle of not
wanting to wear a stupid burrett, but he is insistent
that she must throughout to the point that it comes physical,
and she's like, why is this is dumb?

Speaker 1 (40:06):
I don't want it.

Speaker 5 (40:06):
I just want a crew cut. She literally says, I
would rather have a crew cut. And I find that
interesting and just that level of it's not necessarily that
trying to make sure each of them have a defined gender,
but that the fact that the other wish that bet
were that gender.

Speaker 2 (40:22):
Yes, And I think there's a lot of shame there
for him of himself. But also I do believe he
really thought he was trying to protect her because he
was afraid of how society would treat her if she
didn't hide herself like he did. But also there's a
lot of instances of him living vicariously through her throughout.

And one of the one of the scenes that sticks
out in my head is when she's coloring and as
a kid, and he takes a gun book and starts
coloring in it because he's like, I can do it,
I can do it better. And there's just a bunch
of instances of that too, So you can definitely see
like him trying to live through her and be feminine

through her, but it's not what she wanted and it's
not when she felt.

Speaker 3 (41:10):
Or who she was.

Speaker 2 (41:12):
And then there's Alison kind of observing her mom having
to clean the house, cook the food, raise the kids,
and especially when there's a scene where Alison and her
mama at a table and her mom is speaking to
her as an adult for the first time, it was
kind of like I hate doing this that, like I
hate cleaning this stupid house and it's his house, Like
I don't want to do it and having that moment.

Speaker 1 (41:34):
They didn't want to live in this museum. Yeah exactly, Yeah, Yeah.

Speaker 5 (41:39):
I think it's interesting because she, again we know that
at the same time she was continuing on with her education,
was having to defend her paper, as she's doing plays,
and she's trying to do all of these things. She's
trying to be the support of wife that goes to
court with him, all of these different levels. But I
also find it interesting at the beginning of the relationship
with her mother, Helen and Bruce, that it becomes a

little explosive and she realizes what she's kind of getting into,
even though at the beginning it was all poetry and
love stories and all of these things, and calling her
a crazy bitch when she didn't want to do something
or question something or was confused about something, or when
he would go out and do things that was obviously
against their marriage, as in he was having an affair

no matter what gender, she was having an affair and
bringing in different types of heartaches to her that when
she would get upset that he would call her a
crazy bitch. It was mentioned a few times, or she
would just kind of give up and just be like, Okay,
and just kind of do her own thing in her
own world, and that included doing those plays that she

love and doing it to her best, including memorizing everybody
else's lines so she didn't flub one line at all.

Speaker 2 (42:49):
Right, Yeah, and that kind of goes back to that
the whole fiction aspect that is in this of people
choosing to live in these fiction worlds more than reality.
And yeah, like you said some that that broke my
heart to you and it described her. Alison described her
picture as dull, like she had just been dulled so
much from like when they first got married to several

years later.

Speaker 3 (43:12):
But yeah, that was.

Speaker 2 (43:13):
Kind of one instance where at least felt to me
that Alison was observing this between her parents and was
like the gender roles of her mom having to do
this stuff, did it necessarily make sense to take click
and then just wanted to mention there is a whole
segment of Alison getting her first period and trying so
desperately to hide it.

Speaker 5 (43:35):
I do love her things of trying to figure out
when she needs to say it. She's like not now,
not now, and even talking about the suite that as
meticulous as she was and as factual as.

Speaker 1 (43:45):
She was for her journaling and diary.

Speaker 5 (43:47):
They were she did not write it out or she
was cowed through the entire time until she finally does,
and her mom's reaction but non reaction. She talked about
her mom starts shaking, so I've been like, I don't know,
I didn't exactly know what that meant, but obviously it
was a big deal enough that she was trying not
to react, but she was reacting, and I found that
super interesting, as well as the fact that asking her

are you cramping? Which I feel like, yeah, I think
for her as a mother, she's just trying to find
out that she's in pain. And I was like, that
makes sense. That makes sense because I had extensive amounts
of pain from cramps and my mother understood it and
try to take care of me as much she could.

Speaker 1 (44:25):
But yeah, that was her only reaction. Do you need
more pets? Are you cramping?

Speaker 3 (44:30):

Speaker 2 (44:33):
Yeah, which is kind of a anti climactic because Alison
had been hiding it like this is going to be
such a huge deal, which it is, but her mom
was kind of like, oh, so we wanted to wrap
this up with art because we've been talking about that
art and how the fiction aspect and trying to find
a narrative have been just present throughout this. There are

so many literary references f Scott Fitzgerald, Dames Choyce, Marcel Proust,
Kate Millet. The list goes on and on. And this
is one thing I related a lot to communicating with
your dad through art. We weren't great at communicating, but we.

Speaker 3 (45:11):
Did love movies.

Speaker 2 (45:13):
He loved movies and I loved movies, and he would
send me movies when I was in college, and that's
what we would talk about. To a lesser extent, books.
He was also extremely poetic and would do the same
thing where he would underline things or he would quote
things to me all the time, which I in his
relationship with my mom, he would write her poetry. It
was very similar in that, like very artistic and almost

presentation of here's my perfect family. And I'm not necessarily
sure that's what he really wanted, but it's what he
thought he wanted and it's what he wanted to present
to people. He was very much similar in this whole
kind of vein of quoting things and asking you to
read things or see certain movies or things like that.

Speaker 3 (46:00):
And I do think. I don't know. I just really
related to that. I really related to.

Speaker 2 (46:09):
That whole thing where it's almost easier to build this
fiction world or to use this fiction world to try
to have a conversation that might be difficult or that
you don't feel certain in communicating with the other person, right, And.

Speaker 5 (46:25):
Yeah, I think you're not the only one. People who
feel disconnected from their parents find a common ground. And yeah,
you were talking about living vicariously. One of the main
things in college. One of the biggest things that really
helped them communicate was her taking classes with literature and
of course having to actually take a class about ulysses
and having to sit and listen to her dad. Of

course she got to the point that she got tired
of it, But the fact that they were living vicariously
is through each other to really be in love with something,
or be able to discuss something, or be able to
understand something in such depth and perception, or maybe just
too too much or like a mom calmed down.

Speaker 1 (47:02):
I did love her. She's like, calm down, I think
you're okay.

Speaker 5 (47:05):
Then it later transfers as the Kate Millet and the
fact that her dad is like, oh my god, and
doing the same thing. She talks about how he had
left that book for her, and then the vice versa.
She had left that book for him, and he is
so enthralled and loving something new, something brand new, and
it is because of her knowing who he was through literature,

and I think that was beautiful.

Speaker 1 (47:28):
That is their biggest connection.

Speaker 5 (47:29):
Also her understanding of his death, Like that's one of
the biggest ways that she was able to connect to
his death. Whether it was by suicide or not, it
was through literature, Like the whether she's underlining something or
he's underlying something, or he's loving a character. She has
some kind of commonality with these books to connect to
him and his death. And I think it is a

very beautiful way of understanding him, especially with something that
he loved. It's it's a bigger point of like, it's
not something that I love, it's something that he loved.
And and of course his whole library. The fact that
he was able to give her ten thousand books, it
was so excited And I get that way too.

Speaker 1 (48:07):
I don't know about you.

Speaker 5 (48:08):
When someone is interested in something I like and then
starts asking me questions, I start pulling out references. Here,
you go do this. You need to do this, you
need to look at this. I mean that kind of
love and level of you're able to see me is
a beautiful thing, and it's through this art. Of course,
I don't think anyone understood his art and love through
his house. That seemed like a point of contention for

all of them, But she still understood what he was
getting towards.

Speaker 2 (48:34):
Yeah, And that is something you can understand something about
someone based on, especially if they're really passionate about a
certain character. For my dad, my dad loved to kill
Mocky Bird and he loved Atticus Finch, and he was
a lawyer and he represented people who couldn't afford to
represent themselves. And just knowing that, like you know something

about that person. And it was kind of like funny
sad to me of the where she went to college
and she's like, I never take English again because her
father was trying so hard to live vicariously through her.
My dad was kind of the same, but I was like, no,
I'm never going to be a teacher, and so I
shut it down, I guess, but.

Speaker 3 (49:16):
I connected with that as well.

Speaker 2 (49:19):
Something else I did find interesting is which we've been
talking about but I thought it was interesting that not
only does this book examine memory and the failings of
memory or how it can get recontextualized, it also talks
about recontextualizing art and mistranslating art. There's a couple of
examples she gives where she talks about like I think

this is a mistranslation, like from French to English or whatever.
Are her father using Albert Camus and his thoughts on suicide,
but ultimately the thoughts on suicide it's absurd, like choosing,
picking and choosing and recontextualizing happening.

Speaker 3 (49:56):
Not only in memory and in our real.

Speaker 2 (49:59):
Lives, but also in art that we do consume, which
does inform our real lives, which.

Speaker 3 (50:05):
I thought was really interesting.

Speaker 2 (50:06):
And then one of the things that I think we
should come back and talk about later is the power
of images, because that's not necessarily discussed in this but
it is a part by nature of it being a
graphic novel. That's why most people, including Alison Bechdel, think
this has been the target of so many banning and

censorship efforts because it's I think she says something like
I guarantee you there's more things in there that have
way more gay.

Speaker 3 (50:34):
Sex than this.

Speaker 2 (50:35):
But this is illustrated, this art and you can see it, right,
So that's why it made people so uncomfortable, which I
think is worth returning to.

Speaker 3 (50:45):
In the future.

Speaker 2 (50:46):
And then I just I did want to talk briefly,
I mean, just to mention of this whole idea that's
present of Daedalus and Icarus of Acres flying two Coas's sun,
but Allison is kind of constantly making comparison to that.
But Allison's father was there to catch her in her

memory of jumping off the diving board, which is I
thought it was really sweet and well done, and uh
it makes her you know, question, is there somebody to
catch him right, right? Or had he been like just
all these years waiting right?

Speaker 3 (51:23):
But yeah, it was really touching. It was touching.

Speaker 5 (51:26):
Yeah, And you know, she actually did talk about the
fact that the mistranslation and learning new things after the
book was released, and she talked about the fact that
she's like, oh, Ill, you know, there's so many things
that I'm like, oh, that makes more sense, and yeah,
it would have changed that perspective of the book had
I known these things. But I'm glad I didn't because
it makes it more honest from me, but I felt

like that was such an interesting idea. It's like, there's
so many things that we don't know behind pictures.

Speaker 2 (51:52):
You know.

Speaker 5 (51:52):
You and I've talked about this before, and I've talked
about it with so many people recently that we don't
know what has happened through the generations of our families,
so we don't see the true stories, and oftentimes because
they're our parents or were connected with them on an
everyday basis, we don't think to ask. We just assume
we know. And then when people start asking and you're like, oh,
I didn't know that about you what? It changes so

much perspective later on, It could change the whole book
in general, the whole novel in general, to like, I
wouldn't want to change that, but there's definitely new things
that I have learned that I'm like, wow, you know,
and I feel like that's something to note because of course,
as we go into any kind of conversation about our
own past and our families past, there's so much that

we mess out and how things get mistranslated or even
just left out altogether.

Speaker 1 (52:39):
And I think it makes it interesting.

Speaker 2 (52:41):
Yeah, yeah, I'm glad you brought that up. I hadn't
read that from her, but that is that is really interesting. Well,
clearly a lot to talk about. Very highly recommend this
book you have not read it, and as always we
love getting book recommendations from you. Listeners can send them
to our email. It is Stuff Media, Momstuff at iHeartMedia

dot com. You can find us on Instagram at Stuff
I've Never Told You, are on Twitter at mom Stuff Podcast.
Thanks as always start a super producer, Christina, thank you
and thanks to you for listening Stuff I Never Told
You the direction of iHeartRadio. For more podcasts from iHeartRadio,
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