Hannah Collings – Staff Writer
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CLARION, Pa.- Mary L. Seifert Cultural Series welcomed lesbian cartoonist and memoirist Alison Bechdel to Hart Chapel for the final installment of the 2016-17 United States of Gender Series Wednesday, April 19.
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Bechdel first earned recognition from her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out for,” about the misadventures of a group of political lesbian friends. Bechdel is the acclaimed writer of two graphic memoirs: “Fun Home” and “Are You My Mother?” These pieces explore her relationships with her father and mother, respectively.
She is also the namesake of the Bechdel Test, a technique used to judge literature and movies based on whether they include two female characters who talk with each other about something other than a male.
This test was originally introduce by two of Bechdel’s characters in a 1985 comic strip of “Dykes to Watch Out for” in which one character stated that she would not watch any movies that did not pass these requirements.
Bechdel grew up in Beech Creek, Pa., where her family owned a funeral home.
During her visit to Clarion University, Bechdel spoke at Hart Chapel as well as to Dr. Melissa Downes’ class of Literature, Gender and Sexuality. Downes invited students from other classes to come hear Bechdel.
A student asked Bechdel why she chose to write “Fun Home,” a very personal book which details not only her home life and relationship with her father, but also Bechdel’s discovery, exploration of her lesbianism and sexual accounts of her first romantic relationship.
“It was a good story,” Bechdel said.
She also said she felt it was her “political duty” to get over her shyness and draw the sex scenes she included of herself and her first girlfriend in “Fun Home.” Rather than stay comfortable, Bechdel, a self-described introvert, said she felt it was more important to normalize lesbian sex in this way.
Calling it pornography, some libraries and colleges have attempted to ban “Fun Home.”
Though students did not have as much opportunity to ask specific questions during Bechdel’s Hart Chapel presentation, she was no less honest.
Bechdel spoke about her creative process and the writing of her memoirs. Both “Fun Home” and “Are You My Mother?” helped Bechdel to creatively process her tumultuous childhood.
She said that once someone asked her whether she would rather have her book, “Fun Home,” or a happy childhood.
“I’d rather have the book,” Bechdel said.
Bechdel grew up in a home of secrets. In college she learned of the closeted sexual relations her father was having with teenaged boys. Soon after she discovered her own lesbianism, she made her revelation public.
Bechdel told the audience that they have a “sacred” duty to the truth, both in knowing it and unrelentingly communicating it. She said that her books are her contribution to seeking truth.
In “Are you My Mother?” Bechdel uses the writings of Donald Winnicott to psychoanalyze the effects of her emotionally distant mother on her adulthood. Because of the secrets and repressed emotions of her parents during her childhood, Bechdel has spent many years in therapy and has sought release through memoir writing.
Only able to write about her own experiences, Bechdel said she is now in the process of writing a third, but lighter memoir about her pursuit of physical fitness.