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Friday, March 10, 2017

Extra Credit: Fun Home

I saw the musical Fun Home at the Ahmanson Theater downtown with my parents last night. It was an incredible musical, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone considering seeing it. The seats in the very back are relatively cheap and it is fun, engaging, visually beautiful, moving, and just so incredible.

Fun Home told the story of a woman (a self-identified lesbian cartoonist) reflecting on her father as she tries to draw his story as a comic, stepping between three stages of her life. Her father was also a gay man, but nonetheless stayed in his heterosexual marriage and remained closeted even after his series of affairs (mostly with high school students or ex-students) had already "come out" and eventually committed suicide while the narrator was in college. She begins the narrative sort of just reflecting on the kind of figure he was for her growing up, but as she fleshes out all her defining memories of him, the story transforms into this really powerful reflection on not just herself and her relationship with her father and her family but also on what it means to be queer and what it means to grow up queer and to seize agency as an "out" queer person. At one point, characters appear before a blank wall in lit "comic" boxes confining them in place and preventing them (and her) from reaching out to each other even as she, in college, tries to talk to her father about her identity and he says, "Well, I was never one to stand up for myself" as he tries to discourage her from coming out and living openly as a gay woman then suddenly changes the subject to the house he's restoring, fumbling over his words as he says something like, "Well I guess everything- it's all harder when you're older."

For the narrator, discovering that both she and her father are gay is this blossoming moment where she suddenly feels like she can connect with him, only to learn that he is actually a terrible role model because he treats and makes his queerness destructive to his family and life instead of embracing himself. Reflecting on her father makes her realize how she can "in a moment of perfect balance, sometimes soar above him." The contrast of her father as this deeply tragic figure (the more we learn about him, the more tragic he becomes) and the narrator as this powerful, self-aware, triumphant beacon is the most defining part of the performance.

There's a lot of times and places where being queer is hard and when you have to "stand up for yourself", but I think the musical addressed a really significant part of what makes queerness so hard (beyond general homophobia), which is that sometimes you have to rise above the history of what we have allowed queerness to be (closeted and tragic) and seize it as something of your own that doesn't have to be like that. I think I've been very fortunate in my life to have had so many wonderful queer role models who are successful and happy and "out" in queer relationships, but a lot of folks never had that and had to "soar above" and make it for themselves. At the same time, I really appreciated that the musical was never an outright denouncement of her father. He was a product, in large part, of his times and circumstances and for the most part, he was doing the best that he knew how to do.

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