Author and cartoonist Alison Bechdel was born in Beech Creek, Pennsylvania, to Helen and Bruce Bechdel. Bruce, her father, operated a funeral home part time, which Alison and her brothers, Bruce and John, called the Fun Home.
At the age of 19, she came out to her parents as a lesbian. A later conversation with her father revealed his intimate past with other men. This discovery brought more questions than answers when Bruce committed suicide shortly after, although Bechdel says “there’s no proof [just] some suggestive circumstances.”
Graduating high school a year early, she attended Simon’s Rock College before transferring to Oberlin College in Ohio. In 1981, she received her degree in studio arts and art history.
Bechdel first garnered success for her comics with the strip Dykes to Watch Out For, first published in 1983 in the feminist newspaper WomaNews. Her comic strip ran until 2008, becoming one of the first representations of lesbians in popular culture. The strip follows a group of diverse characters, most of them lesbians, as they experience life, love and politics. As Bechdel explains on her website, the comic “became a countercultural institution among lesbians and discerning non-lesbians all over the planet.”
Her closeted childhood was the basis for her autobiographical cartoon Fun Home, released in 2006. Fun Home chronicled Bechdel’s childhood, including her father’s obsession with restoring their Victorian Gothic Revival house and her journey to discovering her identity as a lesbian. Fun Home was then turned into a musical in 2013. Two years later, it won the Tony Award for Best Musical. Bechdel was also the recipient of the 2014 MacArthur “Genius” Award.
Bechdel is known for “the Bechdel test” for spotting gender bias in literature or film. To fulfill this test, the work must feature at list two girls/women who talk to each other about something that’s not a boy/man. Only about half of all films meet this requirement, calling attention to the gender inequality still present portrayals of women in literature and film.
Alison Bechdel become a voice for lesbians and the queer community, drawing attention to gender bias and the lives of LGBT people. Her autobiography provided the literary world with one of the first detailed coming out narratives, something that continues to help and inspire others.