Fun Home is an account of Alison Bechdel’s life with her father Bruce. She reminisces about her childhood and her coming of age, all the while acknowledging the large role he played in it. The fact that he was a closeted gay man was revealed to Alison later in life. Learning this provided her with insight into much of his behavior, particularly that towards her childhood home. In Fun Home, Bechdel’s house represents the façade that her father upheld to mask his true sexual identity.
Bruce Bechdel dedicates most of his time to perfecting the appearance of his home. The restoration completely occupies his mind, as evident in the comic panels. He is always absorbed in activities such as choosing drapes, adjusting decorative mirrors, and ordering ornate chandeliers. In fact, Bechdel describes his passion for refining the home as “libidinal,” “manic,” and “martyred.” These descriptors are accompanied by a cartoon of Bruce carrying a support beam. His posture is burdened and almost seems to suggest that he is a slave to this work of bettering the house.
In fact, he may feel this obligation to the house’s appearance because he relates it to the façade of his own identity. He desperately wants to uphold the appearance of an ideal father and husband. In order to do so, he represses any indicator of his own sexual identity. To Bruce, the perfect appearance of the house parallels his own façade as a straight man.
His fervent dedication to the home’s impression is accompanied by an unwarranted anger at any disorder. This provides further evidence that he sees the house as representing himself. When his son is not orderly in arranging the Christmas tree, he responds in anger. He also responds with an unjustified spanking after seeing that a vase has been moved to close to the edge of a table. Hitting his children for such small matters seems to be a vast overreaction. These account and others like them show that Bechdel’s father takes any kinks in the home personally and is desperate to remedy them. His over-the-top reactions indicate that the order of the home has a deeper significance.
The significance of what the house represents to Bruce can also be seen in Alison’s reaction to his behavior. She resents his obsession with appearances and refuses to comply with it in her own life. In fact, Alison comes to abhor useless décor and has no patience for maintaining the façade of their home. This difference between how they view manufactured appearances parallels the way in which she and her father deal with their “non-traditional” sexual orientations. Whereas Bruce has hidden his sexual identity away and built up an appearance as a traditional family man, Alison comes out and identifies openly as homosexual.
Their sexual orientations may actually be used as an argument against viewing the home as a representation of Bruce’s pretense. Some may argue that his preoccupation with décor is simply a result of his having an effeminate personality. They could say the same for Alison’s lack of interest in maintaining appearances. As someone who identifies more with masculine qualities, she could just not be interested in home decoration.
However, this argument fails to take into account the extent to which Bruce invests his life into home improvement. No generalizations about “typical” gay man behavior go so far as to explain Bruce’s complete obsession with the home’s appearance. In the same way, the stereotypes of lesbians cannot account for how Alison feels toward the upkeep of false pretenses. More importantly, these generalizations regarding behavior are not valid explanations for an individual’s conduct. In the cases of Bruce and Alison, viewers must analyze their behavior as personal choices, rather than conditions of their sexual orientations.
Finally, Bruce could not seem to control the longings afforded to him by this orientation. This is evidenced by the fact that he continued to have affairs and pursue other men. He was unable to restrain this aspect of himself. However, he was able to control how others saw him. Dedicating himself to maintaining his masquerade provided him with a sense of control. He viewed the house in a similar way. Obsessing over the décor and upkeep of the house represented his greater internal struggle and provided an external avenue of control.
The comic’s portrayal of how Bruce regarded his home revealed that it represented his performance as the ideal, straight husband and father. The house required copious amounts of maintenance, as it reflected the attention with which he had to attend to his own personal façade. His dedication to maintaining the perfectly matching drapes and flawless flower beds mirrored his own determination to maintain his appearance.