The research for this essay continues to surprise me…in the way that I think there might not be an exact “answer” to my question, “can you write about yourself and others ethically, ‘respectfully?” Because… I don’t think you can. My parents, upon discovering my art, reacted with anger and pain, asking my why I wanted to make malicious art, why I wanted to make art that hurt others. I was so shocked and guilt-ridden by their reaction, that I think I wanted this research, and this essay, to show me a way to still use writing and art to process my experiences, while also paying attention to my parents’ feelings. Reading an article about Alison Bechdel and her graphic novel Fun Home, the last passage of her interview stuck out to me:
I do feel that I robbed my mother in writing this book. I thought I had her tacit permission to tell the story, but in fact I never asked for it, and she never gave it to me. Now I know that no matter how responsible you try to be in writing about another person, there’s something inherently hostile in the act. You’re violating their subjectivity. I thought I could write about my family without hurting anyone, but I was wrong. I probably will do it again. And that’s just an uncomfortable fact about myself that I have to live with.
While learning that Bechdel also is confronting these same issues of privacy and respect in her work that I am was comforting, it was also slightly unsettling to learn that she has just sort of accepted the fact that she can’t make work about her family without hurting anyone. Of course, this isn’t the final conclusion I’ve come to. I’ve got to dig deeper, and find more writers/artists experiences, to develop this “answer” even further.