I actually first discovered Fun Home last Spring, when a Broadway-obsessed friend showed me a clip from the Tony Awards in which cast members of the musical version of the book sang the song Ring of Keys, in which a young Allison Bechdel has a moment of self-discovery upon seeing a butch woman for the first time, desiring the freedom to act and dress that way herself. Before long, I had purchased tickets to see the show in New York with my mother during summer. On the bus ride up to New York, we both read the original Fun Home comic in its entirety, eagerly devouring the content within. It was half a discovery for me, reading a story centered on a young woman’s journey to self-discovery and to asserting herself as a feminist and a lesbian.
The specific scenes within too, were refreshing. Reading about young Allison’s distaste for wearing dresses or bows in her hair felt so familiar, as did her frustration with the gender roles that constrained not only her existence, but that of her father. Almost immediately I had a particular fondness for the same scene in the novel that has caused so much controversy; the panels of graphic sex between Allison and her college girlfriend. Sex between women, or even sex in which a woman receiving pleasure is the focus of the scene, is rarely shown onscreen without being eroticized, and to have that drawn in the novel, so simply and matter-of-factly, was a fresh change.
The emotional connection I felt with Fun Home and with certain aspects of Bechdel’s journey were made clear when I saw the show in New York. It was an excellent representation of the book, with most of the scenes translated almost exactly, and very little left out, and did a wonderful job of bringing the story to life. Seeing Ring of Keys live, in person, was an even greater experience than having seen it on video, and I found myself moved to tears by the feelings portrayed in that part of the narrative. I know for a fact, too, that mine is not a limited experience. One of my friends was moved to tears upon watching a video of that song alone, and the fact of the matter is that the exploration of gender and sexual discovery within both the novel and musical version of Fun Home is unique and new; something that had rarely been written about previously.