Queer, charismatic and feminist as f*ck. You may know Alison Bechdel as the creator of the Bechdel test, a system used to evaluate if a movie treats women as the complex people they are. Or, you may know her as the author of graphic novels Fun Home and Are You My Mother? Maybe you know her as a recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant in 2014. Or perhaps, if you’re a little older than me, you may know her as the cartoonist behind Dykes to Watch Out For, a bi-weekly comic strip that ran from 1983 to 2008. However you know or don’t know her, Bechdel deserves appreciation.
I had the pleasure of seeing Alison Bechdel give a lecture at Davidson College (in Davidson, North Carolina) as a part of the Reynold’s Lectures that the college hosts once a semester. Although I had no intention of watching her speak while I was visiting the college, I am so glad that I did. On the evening before Donald Trump’s inauguration, Bechdel discussed life as a member of the LGBT+ community in the years before liberation, mental illness and the importance of creativity during difficult times such as these.
Alison Bechtel was born in 1960 in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. Her father was an English teacher and ran the local funeral home. He was also a closeted bisexual man in a time when it was not acceptable to be LGBT+. Bechdel came out as gay at the age of 19. After graduating from Oberlin College, she began her bi-weekly comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, a strip that followed the lives of queer women. The strip ran for over twenty years.
In 2006, Bechdel shifted gears and published her first graphic memoir, Fun Home, which focused on her relationship with her father. Fun Home was the Times number one book of 2006. Several years later, in 2012, Bechdel released Are You My Mother?, a second graphic memoir that delves into her complicated relationship with her mother, her experiences in therapy and her creative process. Both novels are raw, personal and very inspiring to anyone who is LGBT+, struggling with mental illness or who simply has a weird relationship with their parents.
The real reason that we should all love Alison Bechdel is because of the message she gives to her readers. Although she may be writing about lesbian couples, being a cartoonist and her parents, the lessons she teaches her readers and fans go much deeper. Bechdel is a mental health advocate and a strong proponent of therapy; she argued at her talk at Davidson that everyone should see a therapist and openly spoke about her experience with getting counseling.
A major issue discussed in her two memoirs is the value of open communication. Growing up, Bechdel experienced a kind of censorship in her home— her mother was stiff and impersonal and her father was a closeted bisexual man with anger management issues. As she discussed in her Reynold’s Lecture, that lack of communication forced her to learn to share her thoughts and feelings completely as an adult.
Bechdel has never been afraid to get political or controversial in her comics. Dykes to Watch Out For debuted in the mid-eighties, when the AIDS crisis was at its height and homophobia was extreme. Dykes to Watch Out For served as a medium for political commentary; Bechdel openly criticized George W. Bush regularly in the comics. The comic strip ended when Obama was elected, but Bechdel recently restarted it this year with the election of Donald Trump.
Alison Bechdel is a role model for me. Through her speech at Davidson College and messages of her comics, Bechdel has encouraged me to be unapologetic in who I am. I have never been afraid to get political, but Alison Bechdel has inspired to take my frustrations and experiences and do something productive with them. That’s what I’m trying to do here at Affinity. So, for anyone that enjoyed this article, you have Alison Bechdel, queer comic extraordinaire, to thank.