I feel like most of my readers probably already know who she is because I post a lot of super gay stuff and most of my readers are, happily, super gay (!!!), but in case anyone doesn’t know, she self-syndicated the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For for twenty-five years, from 1983 to 2008, and is the creator of the Bechdel test, which is often used in feminist analyses of movies and which has its origins in Dykes to Watch Out For.
She wrote the graphic novel memoirs Fun Home and Are You My Mother? Fun Home explores the connections between Alison (who is a lesbian) and her father (who was either gay or bisexual and remained closeted his entire life): When he committed suicide shortly after she came out, she began to wonder whether it was her fault, and the novel was born out of that question. Are You My Mother? picks up where Fun Home left off, focusing on her relationship with her mother, as well as her mother’s discomfort with Alison telling the world who her father really was.
And she’s one of my favorite authors ever.
Anyway, she came to Iowa City on Tuesday and that afternoon I went to a signing at the comic book store and she signed my copy of Fun Home! I was MEGA EXCITED because not only is she one of my favorite authors, but it was the first book signing I’d ever attended!
OMG WHAT DO YOU EVEN DO OR SAY WHEN MEETING ONE OF YOUR FAVORITE AUTHORS. Like, do you curl up in a ball and squeak out, “Can you sign my book, please?” or do you fling glitter absolutely freaking everywhere and proclaim that “your book changed my LIFE!” or… what?
I ended up just kind of standing there. Awkwardly. Not saying anything because I am bad at small talk. But I did thank her for writing Fun Home after she finished signing (and doodling!) in it. LIKE HOW AMAZING IS THAT LIL CARICATURE OF HER?! She drew that in everyone’s books.
She also gave a free public lecture later that evening, which I attended with one of my friends. I saw a lot of my other friends there, as well as a ton of people from my floor, but that wasn’t really surprising since I already knew that a ton of them were LGBTQ+. What really surprised me was how many people from my Intro to the Short Story class were there and the next day in class we all sent one another knowing looks.
During the lecture, Alison Bechdel showed us a ton of her drawings: Art from her childhood, strips she’d drawn for Dykes to Watch Out For, things that would later grow to be part of one of her autobiographies. Also, lots and lots of cat drawings. I’M SO HAPPY ABOUT THAT LAST BIT.
She was very funny and honest and warm. And I really liked her speaking style, which was… well, how do I say this without it sounding bad? She seemed a bit nervous, although I’m sure she’s done this kind of thing hundreds if not thousands of times before. She ended her lecture by saying, “Well, that’s the end of my lecture.” I certainly hope this doesn’t come across as some sort of criticism, because it’s not meant to be. I felt reassured, TBH, because here was this woman who has achieved utter mastery at one thing but who isn’t perfect in every way.
UGH THIS KEEPS SOUNDING SO BAD. I don’t know… there’s something very intimidating about someone who is good at All Of The Things, you know? I prefer someone more relatable.
And I just… I just can’t get over how meaningful it was to see a butch lesbian so celebrated, because that doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should. I’m glad that there’s been such a push for diverse books lately, but lesbian authors and stories about lesbians are still devalued, and the only book with a butch protagonist I’ve ever heard anyone praise is Fun Home.
My favorite part of the lecture was when she talked about the difference between creating as a child and creating as an adult. When you’re a child, she said, you just make stuff. You draw and write without really thinking about it. But once you’ve reached adulthood, you’ve become much more critical of yourself and sometimes it interferes with your creativity, because you’re so worried about your project not being perfect that you never even start the project.
And I feel that. That sort of feeling stops me from doing so many things, even though the logical part of me knows that of course nothing I write will ever be perfect in a first draft. The rest of me, the part that’s irrational, keeps whispering that I shouldn’t even try and should just give up.
One thing that amused me was that Joan, her ex-girlfriend from Fun Home, apparently lives in Iowa City now? Just a week or so earlier I’d read about how Iowa City had an enormous lesbian population in like the nineties and still does, and it just made me so happy. Like, I had no idea that this town had such a large LGBTQ+ population when I made the decision to attend this school and now I feel super lucky to get to spend the next few years here.
In short, Tuesday was an amazing day and I’m so very very glad that I had the opportunity to attend both the signing and the lecture. As a young lesbian who aspires to be a published author someday, it means so much to me to not only read the works of older lesbians who have paved the way for girls like me, but to meet them and tell them how much their books mean to me.