Queering the Family: Queer Temporality in Fun Home

In Fun Home, Alison Bechdel creates a narrative that responds to the famed conception of queer temporality, developed by queer theorist Judith Halbertstam. In “Queer Temporality and Postmodern Geographies,” she writes, “Queer uses of time and space develop, at least in part, in opposition to the institutions of family, heterosexuality, and reproduction.” This queer space that develops leaves the temporal constructs of reproduction, family, longevity, safety, and inheritance. Instead, what develops is a space in which radical conceptions of family and social structure can develop, particularly revolving around a queer identity. Halbertstam writes, “’Queer space’ refers to the place-making practices within postmodernism in which queer people engage and it also describes the new understandings of space of space enabled by the production of queer counterpublics.”

However, as we see in Fun Home, Bechdel is able to create a narrative of queer identity and politics without having to renounce the heteronormative, traditional family. Instead, her narrative argues that queer temporality emerges and develops alongside and within traditional family and social structures. We can see this both in her own journey discovering and developing her identity as a lesbian woman but also in that of her non-heterosexual father, Bruce. Bruce’s journey lends itself to this argument because even as he works to establish his role as a father and husband, he also engages in same-sex sexual relationships and encounters. Both father and daughter also engage in a complex system of gender inversion. Alison rejects her feminine identity, instead enjoying to dress in men’s clothes and being nicknamed “butch.” Her father, meanwhile, rejected the traditionally masculine role of husband by enjoying interior decorating, dressing in girl’s clothes as a child, and engaging in same-sex relationships. As Alison writes, “Not only were we inverts, we were inversions of one another. While I was trying to compensate for something unmanly in him…he was attempting to express something feminine through me.” (98)

It can be argued that Bruce’s resistance of traditional conceptions of what it means to be a family man even while he himself fulfilled the role of husband, father, and provider, can be considered a type of queer temporality. As Halbertstam writes, queerness can be “an outcome of strange temporalities, imaginative life schedules, and eccentric economic practices…” Bruce exemplified this by engaging in same sex-desires, practicing gender inversion as a child, and being unusually interested in interior decorating and gardening. He also did so by queering traditional notions of queer location. As Halbertstam argues, “a ‘queer’ adjustment in the way in which we think about time, in fact, requires and produces new conceptions of space. And in fact, much of the contemporary theory seeking to disconnect queerness from an essential definition of homosexual embodiment has focused on queer space and queer practices.” Bruce, by having his life and seminal life events revolve and evolve in a small town, rather than in the known gay meccas of Castro or New York City, queers notions of which locations inhibit gay/queer identities even while he exists in heteronormative spaces. The fact that he is able to express his homosexual desires for other men in this small town and transgress expectations of masculinity and fatherhood allows Bruce to queer his time and space.

Bruce transgresses heteronormative standards even while living a seemingly traditional family life. In doing so, he comes to represent queer temporality, not only because he engages in same-sex sexual encounters and relationships but because he is able to do so while still living in and participating in a heteronormative space and time. In fact, Alison allows us to understand and position her father as a queer figure by describing us how he was able to transgress normative standards even while he participated in them. Doing so allows one to queer traditional structures like the family without outright rejecting them or viewing them as antithetical to queerness.

–VCA

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2 Comments

Filed under Week 9: Cherrie Moraga and Alison Bechdel

2 responses to “Queering the Family: Queer Temporality in Fun Home

  1. I believe was a fantastic interpretation to the family and the homosexual relation of Alison and her father. I did not completely put together the idea of Alison and her father being inverts of one another. I found that very interesting that you were able to decipher that from the novel. I really enjoyed reading your blog post and completely agree with what you were able to draw out from the relationship between Alison and her father.
    –Calais

  2. I love the idea that Bruce was able to create a queer space for himself alongside his traditional role as husband and father. I wonder about the same-sex sexual relationships he had though – they were all with students much younger than he was. These relationships had a huge power differential, and it’s never quite clear how much he’s taking advantage of these boys. In any case, it’s not what we would think of as equal or mutual relationships, and so using it as an example of queering and transgressing normative standards bothers me, even though it is an accurate description.
    -Ash

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