In a nutshell, when Alison Bechdel – of ‘the Bechdel test’, but also of the seminal Dykes to Watch Out For which it came from – came out and came of age, she found out that her Dad had been having affairs with men throughout her childhood.
Her Dad then – maybe – killed himself by stepping out in front of a truck.
This became the basis for Fun Home, Bechdel’s first graphic novel memoir, which then became an off-Broadway musical, which then became a Broadway musical.
‘Ring of Keys’ is the song everyone talks about, a celebration of butch as a legitimate identity as Alison recognises something in a delivery woman who arrives, momentarily, at the funeral home.
Full of sighs and ellipses, ‘Ring of Keys’ speaks to the experience of being young and queer when being queer is something in the corner of your eye that you can’t quite see, something you don’t have the language to talk about, something you know (or have been told) is wrong but feels so right.
My favourite song is ‘Telephone Wire’, which comes at the end of the musical and pastiches 70s radio pop in the best possible way.
Alison wanting to talk to her Dad about the experience and excitement of being queer – ‘Dad, me too! / since like 5, I guess / I preferred to wear boys shirts and pants / I felt absurd in a dress’ – feels so familiar.
2015 has been a stand out year for queer representation, and queers talking across the generations – as much as her Dad can’t quite find himself in her freedom, her pride, Alison can’t find herself in him being closeted and ashamed – is so important.
I’m glad we’re finally at a part in our conversation where it can be part of our stories.
(That, and: familial suicide was a big part of my own coming out experience, and is something I’ve always wanted to write about but never felt brave enough; the first couple of times I heard ‘Telephone Wire’ – which is so full of pathos – felt personal in a way that no other music ever has and, like all the best media, made me cry on the bus.)