The top panel on page 117 presents a look into Alison’s internal state and how that relates to her father and societal norms. The panel reads, “…in a way, you could say that my father’s end was my beginning. Or more precisely, that the end of his life coincided with the beginning of my truth. Because I’d been lying too, for a long time, since I was four or five” (117). The word that sticks out the most to me in this section is ‘lying.’ Here, lying presents not just a bending of the truth, but a look into the motivation for why Alison feels like she needs to bend the truth. Lying has a negative connotation in this sentence not just because she is bending the truth, but moreso because it is society itself which is making Alison feel uncomfortable with her own self. Alison’s reluctance to reveal her sexual orientation reveals a sad reality about heteronormativity in our culture. As a straight woman who is very comfortable with whatever choices other people make about their sexual orientation, I must almost sheepishly admit that the silencing that homosexual people may face is not something I’ve spent much of my life thinking about. But now that I do think about it, it’s a tremendous issue that implies a level of prejudice that seems as arbitrary or antiquated as judging someone by the color of their hair….or the color of their skin. Alison’s prolonged hesitance to reveal her sexual orientation — to lie as opposed to choose to be her authentic self — represents an issue which adds another undertone when paired with her father’s death (and potential suicide). This panel, due to its combined discussion of secrecy and death, seems to imply that Alison’s father’s death was a suicide. The undertone is that he committed suicide due to the lifetime of lying and hiding that resulted from society’s pressure to conform to heteronormativity, and his resultant inability to act as his true self.
Though my observations might seem very basic and perhaps obvious, it is the subtle way in which Bechdel presents this idea that gives her work so much power. A graphic novel obviously has far fewer words than a novel – and thus, must be much more calculated in how many words it uses to present an idea, and it seems that a result of this, there is the need for more nuance in the work. The combined mention of Alison’s father’s death with the end of her lie draws a comparison between the two without an explicit mention that it is perhaps the same pressure that motivated Alison to lie as perhaps motivated her father to kill himself, if that is indeed what happened. Even if her father didn’t kill himself, this proximity on the page of the mention of the two implies a level of equation between them that should not be ignored. Furthermore, since Alison compares ‘his lie’ to ‘my truth,’ the similarity between the two is eerie. If Alison had not revealed her truth, would she have met the same fate as her father? Furthermore, the question that remains for me is if coming out, or truth, is presented as an optimistic act or as a painful act in this graphic novel.