by MILEN MEHARI
Gender, a socially constructed concept, is heavily dependent on social policing in the production of gender norms. While social policing is typically observed as an activity that the general public inflicts onto apparent deviants of this norm, everyone takes part in the policing of gender. Even those who stray from gender norms participate in critiquing the gender performance of others.
Take for instance Alison Bechdel, the protagonist of Fun Home: A Family Tragic,who problematics the typical ideas of gender censorship. In chapter 4, “In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower,” young Alison’s perceptions of gender, her expectations of her father, and the complexity and often conflation of gender and sexuality are explored. Young Alison reprimands her father and his apparent feminine disposition, declaring, “what kind of a man but a sissy could possibly love flowers this ardently”(90). Young Alison’s sentiments about her father’s gender deviation is quite unexpected because she herself does not follow gender norms. She goes on to declare in the chapter, “… I had become a connoisseur of masculinity at an early age. I sensed a chink in my family’s armor, undefended gap in the circle of our wagons which cried out, it seemed to me, for some plain, two-fisted sinew”(95). Alison’s dissonance between her father’s deviation and her own suggest that she was not so much interested in maintaining gender roles but rather in masculinity itself.
Bechdal is blunt in her retelling of her past problematic thoughts of her father, quite simply because, she was socialized by her father and society at large to think in this way. Consider for instance the infographic of The Genderbread Person, a modern configuration of the complexity of gender identity, expression, biology, sexuality, and attraction. This type of complex self-identification is unique to our generation. While the existence of complex people who lie on the spectrum on many of these categories is not new, the social consciousness to these realities and relative acceptance is new. When Alison asks her brother to call her by a boy’s name when they are in the mining plant, when she can’t pull the trigger of the gun, and when her brothers teas her about developing breasts, Alison’s desired gender presentation conflicts with how the world perceives her.
Alison’s conflict of desire and policing are best illustrated when she sees a masculine presenting woman, is filled with joy, but quickly reprimanded by her father who questions, “is THAT what you want to look like?,” and what is the four year old to say but, “no” (118,119).
Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home : a Family Tragicomic. Houghton Mifflin, 2006.