In 1976, Bruce took Alison and her brothers to New York City to see all the ships gathered for the bicentennial of the founding of the United States. Helen remained in Beech Creek to perform in a local run of the play You Can’t Take It With You. Bruce and the kids stayed at Helen’s friend Elly’s apartment in Greenwich Village. This time, at age 15, Alison saw the Village anew: as she observed what appeared to be homosexual men, she began to feel that homosexuality was not only harmless, but actually a positive force. She was as moved by her own open-minded tolerance as she was by the ever-present displays of male fashion and masculine beauty.
Helen prefers to stay in Beech Creek and perform a play rather than accompany her family to New York, a perfect example of her preference of fiction to her family’s reality. This trip to New York at age 15 seems to be one of the first times that Alison begins to believe that homosexuality might be not only something to not be ashamed about, but something natural and beautiful that could be celebrated. This is an important moment in her coming-of-age as well as her own internal acceptance.
Alison narrates that the weekend was gay all around, over an image of Baryshnikov at the ballet. Elly took Bruce and Alison to see her friends Richard and Tom, and though no one said so, Alison figured that they were a gay couple. Richard was illustrating a children’s filmstrip about Pinocchio—Alison admired his markers. The group somehow got tickets to see A Chorus Line, which had just swept the Tony Awards. Alison includes an illustration of herself and Bruce watching a kid on stage say, “One day I looked at myself in the mirror and said, “You’re fourteen years old and you’re a faggot. What are you going to do with your life?”
The question asked to himself by the boy on stage could also be posed to Alison, a 15-year-old girl struggling with her genderqueer identity. This character in the musical also does something that both Bruce and Alison, up to this point in their lives, are unwilling to do: be upfront and honest about their sexuality, and how it might impact their opportunities.
Alison narrates that she didn’t draw a conscious parallel between the musical and her own sexuality, much less to Bruce’s. However, the experience left Alison “supple and open to possibility.” The next morning, John wandered off, and Alison didn’t understand Bruce’s concern until Elly explained that there were guys out there who would “prey on young boys.” John soon returned on his own—he’d wandered down Christopher Street to look for ships when he noticed a man watching him, so he headed back toward Elly’s apartment. The man followed, asking if John liked boats, and instinctively John humored the man until they neared the apartment. When they got close John took off and ran as fast as he could into the building. Allison narrates that she didn’t know about the man until years later, or perhaps she had blocked it out.
Elly, unlike Bruce, is totally open and up front with Alison about the dangers John might have run into. Whether Alison repressed the memory of John nearly being picked up by a possible child molesting predator or Bruce and John simply never mentioned it to her, the fact that this incident wasn’t a formative, crucial moment of the trip is an example of Bruce’s inclination to repress or avoid the scary or complex truth rather than be open with his family about ideas that edge near to concepts he’s repressed.
After reprimanding John, Bruce was quick to forgive and took the family to more museums. Shortly after that, Elly left on her own vacation and Bruce and the kids stayed for a few more days. They had a disappointing view of the ships sailing by during the bicentennial, but a great view of the crowd. Similarly, they had a blocked view of the fireworks that night. As the kids got ready for bed, Bruce got ready to go out “for a drink.” He told the kids to sleep, which they did despite an extra loud New York City night.
Here Bruce lies to his kids about what he’s doing, and his behavior puts them in a potentially dangerous situation. Just a couple of days before, John was nearly picked up by a predator, but Bruce’s compulsive behavior causes him to take risks with his family that he otherwise might not take.
When Alison tries to imagine what Bruce’s life might have been like if he hadn’t died in 1980, she doesn’t get far. Alison imagines that if he’d lived during those early years of AIDS, Alison might have lost her father in a more painful, prolonged way. In that scenario, she may have even lost Helen, too. Alison says perhaps she’s trying to replace her actual grief about Bruce with imaginary trauma. But Alison wonders if this idea is really so far fetched. After all, the nonfiction AIDS book And The Band Played On opens at the bicentennial. Or, perhaps Alison is trying to render her “senseless personal loss meaningful” by connecting it to the common homophobia-driven narrative of injustice surrounding the AIDS crisis.
Alison’s speculation that she’s perhaps trying to subconsciously replace her actual grief with imaginary trauma seems right—even in her non-fiction graphic memoir, Alison’s tendency to prefer to deal with her real issues through fictional frameworks recurs. Alison attempting to connect Bruce’s death and repression to the great struggle of the homosexual community in the 80s and 90s seems plausible, but perhaps a bit forced—yes Bruce existed in a largely homophobic climate, but he had many opportunities to come clean to those close to him and never chose to.
Alison is tempted to say that the story of homophobia is her father’s story. She notes that there’s a certain emotional gratification to claiming Bruce as “a tragic victim of homophobia. But that’s a problematic line of thought” because, for one, it makes it difficult for Alison to blame Bruce for his own actions. For another, it leads Alison to a peculiar problem with her own identity. If Bruce had “come out” as a young man and never married Helen, where would that leave Alison? Alison consults the dictionary for its definition of a father, which reads “a man who has begotten a child.”
Is Bruce responsible for his sexual repression and then subsequent compulsive behaviors? Or is the homophobic climate of Beech Creek to blame? The truth lies somewhere in the middle—Bruce can’t be blamed for the unaccepting world he grew up in, but he also could have handled his situation much better. Complicating this, Alison notes that if Bruce had been more open, he would have been a better person, probably, but he would not have been her father—and thus Alison, and this memoir, wouldn’t exist.
In Alison’s earliest memories, Bruce’s return home from work always signaled the end of playtime for Helen, Christian and Alison. Bruce didn’t have much affection for small kids, but as Alison grew older, Bruce sensed her “potential as an intellectual companion.” Bruce attempted to recommend to Alison books like The Catcher in the Rye, but Bruce’s many years of distance left Alison wary, so she ignored his recommendations. But when Alison ended up in one of Bruce’s high school English courses, she found she liked the books Bruce wanted her to read, including The Catcher in the Rye. She excelled as a student in his class, making her sometimes feel like only she and Bruce were in the room together.
Bruce never attempts to connect with his daughter on a real, human level, so when, later in her childhood, he tries to connect with her intellectually through literature, Alison senses the artificiality of his attempt at connection and rebuffs him. However, when Alison takes Bruce’s English class, for the first time she and her father share a connection through a passion for the same kinds of literature, and the world of fiction ironically brings them closer together than any real-life interest ever did.
This feeling of closeness with her father was novel for Alison. Alison believes that both she and Bruce were starved for attention. They grew even closer when Alison went away to college—the books Alison was assigned for her English class continued to serve as their connective currency. At first, Alison was glad to have Bruce’s help with her freshman English class, which often confounded her. She didn’t understand why they “couldn’t just read books without forcing contorted interpretations on them.” Alison wasn’t the only student who failed “to grasp the symbolic function of literature,” and their teacher often grew frustrated with the class. Their papers came back marked up with red pen, most often with the phrase “WW” for “wrong word.”
Alison and Bruce grow closer when she physically moves away from him, another example of how they didn’t connect in real life but managed to do so ideologically through fictional literature. However, Alison dislikes the process of analyzing literature through symbolic “contorted interpretations,” whereas this kind of fictional interpretation was Bruce’s bread-and-butter.
Alison kept trying to please her teacher with essays influenced by coaching from her father. However, now that Alison thinks back on it, she’s unsure whether Bruce served as “the vicarious teacher or the vicarious student” in his rants to her. Eventually, Bruce’s excitement began to leave no room for Alison’s own, and by the end of the year Alison felt suffocated. When she was assigned to read A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man, Bruce tells Alison she had better identify with “every page.”
Similarly to how Alison often feels like she has to parent herself growing up, in regard to this English class Alison almost begins to feel that Bruce is enrolled in the course and she is simply an advisor. Bruce’s order to Alison to identify with “every page” of the Joyce novel, yet failing to identify or connect with his daughter in real life, is another example of how fiction is often more real to members of the Bechdel family than real life.
The next semester Alison didn’t enroll in any English classes, and swore to never take one again. But a year and a half later she was forced to, and settled on a course solely devoted to reading James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, which was also Bruce’s favorite book. Alison’s interview to get into the class with Professor Avery also occurred on the same afternoon that she realized in the campus book store that she was a lesbian. Indeed, Alison writes that on that day she embarked “on an odyssey which, consisting as it did in gradual, episodic, and inevitable convergence with” Bruce, was nearly as epic as the odyssey depicted in Ulysses.
Here, Alison begins to use The Odyssey and Ulysses as a framework by which to understand her sexual awakening juxtaposed with her father’s last months of life. Whether Alison does this for the audience’s benefit or for her own is open to interpretation, but the comparison certainly lends itself to certain landmarks, and Alison enrolling in Professor Avery’s class could be compared to Telemachus (or Stephen Dedalus) embarking on a journey to search for his father.
When she was home for Christmas, Alison found Bruce’s delight about Ulysses a bit off-putting. Bruce gave her the copy he read in college, and told her to read Dubliners and especially one of the stories in it: “The Dead”. Even so, in a moment of tenderness, Alison asked Bruce’s advice about which Joyce work she should read first. He was elated.
Though she’s a bit put off initially, Bruce’s passion about Joyce endears him somewhat to his daughter, and again serves to connect them, as their interest in reality couldn’t.
Ulysses is itself based on The Odyssey. Alison notes that the Trojan War, which comprises the elaborate backstory to The Odyssey, is often blamed on Helen of Troy, but Paris was equally culpable. Paris—the city—plays a similarly inciting role in Alison’s own odyssey when Bruce gave Alison the book Earthly Paradise, the autobiography by Colette detailing the lesbian scene of Paris in the 1920s.
Here is another example of an imperfect, yet somewhat fitting, translation—Paris of Troy started the Trojan war, while Paris of France, and especially Colette’s book about it, serves as Alison’s entryway to accepting her lesbian gender identity.
Alison and Bruce did not discuss Earthly Paradise, and Alison added it to her growing stack of lesbian literature. At the same time, 768 pages of Ulysses lay there waiting to be read. The class met in Professor Avery’s living room. Mr. Avery, who had hurt his back, reclined on the couch and asked the class: “if one of Joyce’s themes is paternity, then why is the story about Stephen and Bloom, who are virtual strangers, and not about Stephen’s actual, physical father?” One students answered that it is because Bloom is Stephen’s “spiritual father.” Alison still found literary criticism a suspect activity, and she wonders whether it’s necessary to point out every last point of correspondence between The Odyssey and Ulysses—though without them, she finds the book nearly impossible to understand.
Here, Alison gives one of the starkest indications in the book of how she truly feels about her father: deeply distanced from him. By comparing their relationship to that of Stephen Dedalus and Harold Bloom, Alison implies that Bruce is really more like her spiritual father than actual father, more like the character of a father who never meaningfully crosses paths with her than a flesh-and-blood, true father figure.
But then, Alison also had little patience for Joyce because her “own odyssey was calling.” Alison refers to her growing pile of lesbian literature as “sirens” that she couldn’t resist while she fell further and further behind in reading Ulysses, though she attended class consistently. In class, Alison doodled on her pages while not really paying attention to her teacher and classmates, having no clue what many ideas they discussed were referring to. By the time the term ended, Alison still had two hundred pages of Ulysses to read, and, still wrapped up in her lesbian exploration, felt no need to finish it.
Here, Alison’s exploration into her gender identity takes precedence over doing a good job in her classes and, by extension, her internal “odyssey” becomes more important to her than the odyssey to connect with her father through their shared love of literature and Joyce (which itself centers around the original Odyssey).
At the beginning of the next semester, Alison still hadn’t met with Professor Avery for her Ulysses oral exam, but she had a more daunting test to face first, a “descent into the underworld” in the form of joining the Gay Union. Alison narrates that Odysseus sailing into Hades couldn’t have felt more trepidation than she did entering that room. After a week there, Alison’s quest became external, and she began to tell people she was gay. Alison’s parents received her coming out letter the same day Alison faked her way through the Ulysses exam. Bruce called to talk to Alison but failed to mention his own homosexuality. “Like Stephen and Bloom at the national library,” Alison and Bruce’s paths crossed, but they did not truly meet.
Alison’s personal quest to explore her gender identity finally leaves the realm of the fictional (or two-dimensional) and enters the real world when she attends a Gay Union meeting. This is the first outward step of Alison coming of age and expressing who she truly is inside. She takes the first step of unburdening herself of her repressions by coming out of the closet as a lesbian both to her parents and to her friends—and though this admission doesn’t initially bring her closer to her parents, it is the first step to living her life openly.
Three weeks later, Helen told Alison about Bruce’s big secret. Though Alison was still striving to understand her own sexuality, this news about her father’s sexuality and hidden affairs swamped her own internal struggles. The next day she received a letter from Bruce that left her even more confused. Rather than at last confiding in Alison, Bruce took the approach of assuming that Alison already knew he was gay, though he wrote the letter before Alison had spoken to Helen, so in fact she did not. Alison narrates that Bruce believed she thought he was “queer,” and that she believed that he knew Alison was queer, too. Alison read the letter as lesbian friends invited her to a concert. Alison chose not to go, and though Alison felt she was “adrift,” her course was clear: it lay between the “Scylla” of her peers and the “sucking Charybdis” of her family.
Bruce’s letter to Alison is a prime example of his unwillingness – or perhaps inability – to be open and honest with anyone, including his family. He could easily have been totally upfront with his daughter, but instead he skirts around the issue and makes it seem like Alison is the one repressing something—not Bruce. Scylla and Charybdis are two sea monsters Odysseus encounters in The Odyssey, a fitting metaphor as Alison felt “adrift” in waters she had never before encountered—she doesn’t know whether to focus on this news about her father, or her own internal sexual awakening.
Over an image of Alison’s face near Joan’s pelvis, Alison narrates that going toward her peers felt like the safer route. Like Odysseus on the island of the Cyclops, Alison found in Joan a “being of colossal strength and ferocity, to whom the law of man and God meant nothing.” Over two illustrations of Alison performing oral sex on Joan, she says she went toward what she feared, yet while Odysseus schemed to escape the Cyclops’s cave, Alison found she was content to stay in the cave forever. Joan was a poet, activist, and the closest a human can be to a Cyclops, because a boy with a toy arrow had shot one of her eyes out during Joan’s childhood.
Whether or not Alison was totally open about her sexuality throughout her life, the way she illustrates and narrates this section is as confessional as it gets. This is the moment Alison fully pushed away her internal hang-ups and repressions and decided to fully embrace, or at least explore, what she was attracted to. Yet still she uses the framework of The Odyssey to contextualize the event, though it’s unclear whether it is for her benefit or the reader’s (or both).
Alison’s first trip home after coming out of the closet to her parents was not a happy time. Alison felt that the home she had known as a child had disappeared. Some integral aspect of the family structure seemed to be missing. The Bechdels ate in silence, and then John, Christian, and Bruce all left for various solitary activities. When they were alone, Helen took Alison into her confidence, telling Alison tales of Bruce’s misdeeds, including how he often cheated on her in New York, got speeding tickets, lied, and shoplifted. “Like Odysseus’s faithful Penelope,” Helen had kept the Bechdel household going for twenty years with an effectively absent husband. Shocking as this was for Alison to hear, it was the first time Helen spoke to her as an adult, and Alison advised her mother to leave Bruce because she’d done enough.
Though Alison is more open and in touch with herself in college than at any other time throughout her young life, the Bechdel family seems more disconnected than ever. In Alison’s coming-of-age and sexual awakening, her awareness of her family’s lack of connection is even more acute. Helen takes this opportunity to finally unburden herself to Alison and bring Alison into her confidence, and the two have their first frank in-person discussion about Bruce and his impact on the family as a whole. Alison’s coming out of the closet wasn’t received as well as she’d hoped, but it did still yield her openness from Helen for the first time.
Each day of vacation, Alison went to the local college library, and though she had a paper to write for a Philosophy of Art class, the “sirens” called once more and she began reading Flying by Kate Millett. Alison checked the book out and was “riveted.” Alison had been waiting for alone time with her dad, and when she got some she mentioned that the gay group at her college was planning on picketing the movie Cruising. When Bruce asked her why, Alison was unprepared to follow it up. Alison dropped the subject, “Partly because of his derision, but mostly because of the fear in his eyes.”
Again Alison becomes entranced by literature about her gender identity rather than focusing on the responsibilities of her classes. Then Alison’s discussion of the movie Cruising, meant to bring her closer to her father and perhaps lead to a frank discussion about gender identity or gender politics, leads to silence and a moment of awkwardness between father and daughter. Fiction can only connect people, it seems, if both parties are willing to be honest about their feelings.
At the end of the week, Bruce and Alison went to go see the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter. On the way, Alison was determined to try again, and she asked Bruce if he knew what he was doing when he gave her the Colette book. Bruce said it was just a hunch. Bruce then recounted to Alison how he had his first gay experience when he was fourteen, with a farmhand named Norris Johnson, and it was nice. Then, Bruce added there was another boy his senior year of college. Bruce then told Alison that when he was little, he wanted to be a girl and he’d dress up in girls’ clothes. Alison, excited, exclaimed that she wanted to be a boy and dressed in boys’ clothes. Alison narrates that this exchange wasn’t the “sobbing, joyous reunion of Odysseus and Telemachus,” but rather it was more like Stephen Dedalus and the sonless Bloom having their late-night cocoa near the end of Ulysses.
This exchange is the closest Alison and Bruce ever come to having an open, honest discussion about their respective sexualities. When the father and daughter bond over dressing in the opposite gender’s clothing, it is the closest to a give-and-take exchange that the conversation gets. However, Alison also compares their conversation to Bloom and Stephen’s late-night chat because, rather than a moment of exchanging acceptance, this is more about Bruce unburdening himself of his guilt, almost like a Christian would to a priest. Alison is hardly able to tell Bruce about her own gender identity and struggle to accept it, just as Bruce doesn’t tell Alison why he’s repressed his and hidden it all these years.
But, Alison asks: which of Alison and Bruce was the father? Alison notes that she felt “distinctly parent” while listening to Bruce, who spoke as if filled with shame. All too soon they arrived at the theater. In the movie, a character played by Loretta Lynn tells her father that she will see him again, but that he dies before she actually can. Alison then says that she saw Bruce one more time before his death, but they never discussed their sexuality again. They had their “Ithaca moment.” After the movie, Bruce took Alison to a notorious local nightspot: the front was a topless club, and the back a gay bar. This could have been Bruce and Alison’s “Circe chapter, like when Stephen and Bloom drink at the brothel in nighttown,” but Alison was denied entry at the door and she and Bruce drove home in mortified silence.
Alison highlights this Loretta Lynn line for a reason: just as Loretta never gets the chance to reconnect with her father, Alison will never get the chance to explain her gender identity to her father, and thus she’ll never get his approval— like Loretta Lynn’s coalminer father will never know his daughter’s success. They nearly get their moment to connect after the movie, but when Bruce and Alison are rejected from the gay bar, their moment of openness ends and they recede to silence. Fiction can be more fulfilling and cathartic than real life.
Alison returned to school and her relationship with Joan. A letter from Bruce followed expressing his excitement at reading the Kate Millett book. In an “unconscious” gesture, Alison had left Flying for Bruce just as he had given her the “Trojan horse gift of Colette.” At the end of the semester, Joan came home to visit Alison’s family. Alison didn’t introduce Joan as her girlfriend. Over an image of Alison and Bruce playing “Heart and Soul” together on the piano, Alison narrates that it was the last time she saw her father. On that final evening, a family friend remarked to Joan that Alison and Bruce’s close relationship was “really unnatural. Er… I mean, unusual.” Alison then narrates that it was unusual, and they “were close. But not close enough.”
Here Kate Millett’s book serves as a connective force between Bruce and Alison, and once more fiction bridges a gap between them that they couldn’t in person. Still, they never overtly discuss their sexuality. Though Alison and Bruce appear to be close, and perhaps they were in a way, here Alison notes that despite their similar interests, they weren’t close enough in real life to prevent Bruce from (probably) ending his own life. Here Bruce’s death is treated as purely tragic: he could have been close to his daughter, and his whole family, but instead he walled himself off to the point that no connection could stop him from ending his life.
In Ulysses, there is a scene where Bloom rides with other men, including Stephen’s father, to a friend’s funeral. One of the men remarks that worst of all is the man who takes his own life, which reminds Bloom of his own father’s death. Rudolph Bloom had committed suicide by purposely overdosing, but he left a letter for his son. Bruce left no such note. After Bruce’s funeral, Alison’s life resumed its course. Grief takes many forms, she says, including the absence of grief, and when Alison told a casual acquaintance of her father’s death, she laughed so much that he didn’t believe that Bruce had really died. Alison found the fact that her vital, passionate father was decomposing in a grave “ridiculous.”
Here, Alison embodies both the tragic and comic aspects of death presented in Fun Home. On the one hand, Alison finds Bruce’s death so absurd it makes her crack up laughing, but on the other hand, Alison yearns for an explanation from her father in the form of a note that she’ll never receive. Alison desires the answers that are sometimes available in fiction, as Harold Bloom’s father grants him in the form of a suicide note. But reality is often less decipherable than fiction.
In one of Bruce’s courtship letters to Helen, he praised her by comparing her writing to Joyce’s, saying it was even better than Joyce’s writing aside form Joyce’s line “and he asked me with his eyes.” Alison narrates that “In a telling mistake,” Bruce had credited “the beseeching eyes to Bloom instead of to his wife, Molly.” Alison asks how Bruce could have admired Joyce saying “yes” to his own passions and pursuits by writing Ulysses, yet said “no” to his own internal life and passions. Alison says a lifetime spent hiding his “erotic truth” might have impacted that. Sexual shame is its own sort of death, and Ulysses, too, “was banned” for a long time because people believed it to be obscene.
In Bruce’s telling mistake of crediting “beseeching eyes” to a male character rather than a female one, Bruce accidentally admits his own proclivities towards male physical descriptiveness. Here, Alison’s question points out that it is far easier to be bold and open in fiction than in real life—just as perhaps it’s easier for Alison to write/draw this memoir and publish it rather than talk about her family history with her family itself. Also, Alison notes that repressing his “erotic truth” led to Bruce’s death, but it also caused a premature kind of death in life, in that Bruce couldn’t express who he was, so it slowly ate away at him on the inside.
The front of Alison’s Modern Library Edition of Ulysses includes the decision by the judge who lifted the ban in 1933, as well as a letter from Joyce detailing Ulysses’ publication history, in which he mentions that Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap were “prosecuted for running episodes in their magazine, the Little Review.” He also acknowledges the risk Sylvia Beach took in publishing a manuscript no one else wanted to put out. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that all these women were lesbians, but Alison likes to think, “they went to the mat for this book because they were lesbians, because they knew a thing or two about erotic truths.”
Alison highlights how multiple lesbian women who “knew a thing or two about erotic truths” were largely responsible for Ulysses’ publication. Here, Alison implies that these women’s socially repressed gender identities partially caused their passion for the book, and the publication of the book itself was a major turning point in allowing all types of literature to be published and openly explored, which in turn allowed future readers to be more open with themselves.
Alison narrates that “erotic truth” is a sweeping concept and she shouldn’t pretend to know what Bruce’s was. Perhaps her eagerness to claim Bruce as gay in the way that she’s gay as opposed to bisexual or any other category is just a way for Alison to keep Bruce to herself, as “a sort of inverted oedipal complex.” Alison thinks back to Bruce’s letter in which he did and didn’t come out to her. In it, he disavows himself as “not a hero,” the exact same “disavowal Stephen Dedalus makes at the beginning of Ulysses.” In the end, James Joyce broke his contract with Beach and sold Ulysses to Random House for a nice payday, and he didn’t offer to repay her for the financial sacrifices she made for the book.
Alison’s statement that she cannot know her father’s “erotic truth” is true, partially because he was never fully open with her, which is epitomized in his letter to her. Rather than being real and fully upfront with her, Bruce hides behind his allusion to Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses, somewhat shirking his responsibility to tell the truth in the same way Joyce shirks his commitment to Beach.
Beach put on a good face, writing, “A baby belongs to its mother, not to the midwife, doesn’t it?” And as long as the book is being compared to children, Alison notes that it fared far better than Joyce’s actual children, one of whom went mad, while the other became an alcoholic. Alison supposes that this is consistent with Ulysses’ “theme that spiritual, not consubstantial, paternity is the important thing.” Then Alison wonders what might have happened if Icarus hadn’t fallen into the sea—what might he have created if he’d inherited Daedalus’s inventive capabilities?
Joyce was brilliant as a “parent” in the realm of fiction, but in reality he was much less successful, which was probably in part due to his obsession with his work and his absence as a father. This mirrors Bruce’s absences throughout Alison’s childhood, but Alison also complicates this with her question about Daedalus and Icarus, implying that she was perhaps able to not sink into a repressive state in part because of witnessing Bruce’s (bad) example.
Over an image of an oncoming truck approaching, Alison notes that Icarus “did hurtle into the sea, of course.” But then, over an image of Alison as a girl jumping off the diving board into the water with Bruce waiting to catch her, Alison narrates that “in the tricky reverse narration” that drives the intertwined stories of she and her father, Bruce “was there to catch” Alison when she leapt.
Again Alison seems to imply that part of the reason she is so accepting of her own gender identity is because of Bruce’s presence in her life. In a way, because Alison watched Bruce “plummet,” i.e. give in to his internal demons, perhaps she didn’t have to directly follow his example and instead was able to ascend (like Daedalus) where Bruce fell.