Well-known author and cartoonist Alison Bechdel shared her experiences on translating her sexuality into a personal narrative as the keynote speaker for an Out and About Month event on campus Wednesday.
Bechdel paralleled her writing and illustrating career to the difficulties she experienced coming out to her own parents. Her lecture, put on by the University of Wisconsin’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Campus Center, focused on how the personal can become political. Bechdel said she worked to convey this idea in her comic strips, which she called a way to “normalize” her own differences.
“I felt tension between being an outsider and being a citizen,” she said.
Bechdel said she decided to cease production of the comic strip in 2008 to pursue her first graphic memoir about her father, who committed suicide when she was younger.
It was her own form of rebellion, Bechdel said, to combine methods of writing and drawing.
“It was the only turf my parents had no interest in,” Bechdel said.
Her memoir was a success, and Bechdel said she spent about seven years recuperating before starting her next memoir.
Bechdel said she initially had no intention of writing about her mother, but that is exactly where it led. She detailed how her mother dealt with her coming out and deciding to share the family’s personal stories through her memoirs.
“Writing has been a bridge for us,” Bechdel said. “My mother wishes I weren’t a memoirist, but I feel like it’s her own fault.”
About 320 people were in attendance at the event, half of which were students, Katherine Charek Briggs, associate director of the LGBT Campus Center, said.
UW Junior Hanna Hermanson said she was interested to hear Bechdel speak after reading her books for a gender and sexuality class.
“I was really impressed with the honesty,” Hermanson said. “She’s really personable and it’s easy to listen to her.”
UW graduate Kate Knudson said Bechdel’s books had an impact on her life. Since the memoir about Bechdel’s mother included information about psychotherapy and analysis, it sparked her own interested in therapy, she said.
“She’s super charming and funny and insightful,” Knudson said.
Briggs said since Bechdel is relatively famous, she would draw in members of the student body as well as older people, and said it was important to make these communities a part of the event. Briggs added the event was a success overall.
Briggs said Bechdel’s appearance was important to being visible with queer identity issues and also celebrating them. It brought awareness to issues such as bullying and other traumatic events, Briggs said.
“A lot of [Bechdel’s speech provided] humor, and we don’t get to be joyful about this stuff a lot,” Briggs said.
Bechdel is the author of several graphic memoirs, including “Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama” and “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic,” both of which are recognized New York Times bestselling works. Bechdel also illustrated the comic strip, “Dykes to Watch Out For.”