Orson Scott Card and homosexuality

I was planning on including the news about this controversy in my Week in Review, but I got interested enough to spin it out into its own post. I’ll post the Week in Review tomorrow.

Orson Scott Card has two significant pop culture products coming out this year, and that has given activists who dislike his past statements about homosexuality and political stance against legalizing same-sex marriages a chance to publicize their anger, and call for boycotts of his work. This should climax in November, when the long-awaited film adaption of Ender’s Game will premiere.

Sparking the recent internet criticism of Card is the announcement from DC Comics that Card will be co-writing a chapter of a new Superman anthology, Adventures of Superman. A digital version of the chapter will appear on April 29, and the print edition will be released on May 29. Card’s chapter will be co-written by his frequent collaborator, Aaron Johnston, with art by Chris Sprouse and ink by Karl Story. The organization Allout.com organized an on-line petition asking DC Comics to drop Card as an author. Some comic book stores say they will not carry the anthology.

Noah Berlatsky at The Atlantic website wrote “The Real Problem With Superman’s New Writer Isn’t Bigotry, It’s Fascism.” Deseret News columnist Matthew Sanders replied to that article with “The Atlantic is super wrong for using fascist label in Superman story.” Sanders criticized Berlatsky for using the term “fascism” too broadly, and for labeling Card a fascist. Strictly speaking, Berlatsky did not call Card a fascist. First he discusses Card and Superman, and clearly empathizes with those critical of Card. In the second half of the essay he focuses on a supposed link of Superman with fascism. He uses an article by Chris Gavaler in the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics which argues that the Klu Klux Klan was one of the main historical sources for 1930s superheroes. Not having read the article, I wonder how the author deals with the fact that many of the early comic book authors, including the creator of Superman, were Jewish? He concludes that having a scary author like Card link up with a scary character like Superman is a terrible thing to contemplate.

Berlatsky: “The super-goodness that Saunders describes is a big part of why many fans are worried about DC’s decision to have Orson Scott Card write a story for Adventures of Superman. Card, the popular and critically acclaimed author of sci-fi novels such as Ender’s Game, is also an outspoken and active homophobe. He has argued in favor of sodomy laws, and is on the board of the National Organization of Marriage, which works against the legalization of gay marriage. In his fiction and non-fiction, he has often conflated homosexuality with rape and pedophilia, sometimes seeming to suggest that people become gay as the result of childhood sexual abuse. News of Card’s selection has sparked a backlash. All Out, an international campaign for LGBT equality, has started a petition to call for his removal from the title, and it has already reached more than 12,000 signatures . . . But there’s another, less-obvious reason why people might find the juxtaposition of Card and Superman so disturbing. An anti-gay Superman is upsetting not just because Superman is not a bigot, but because, in some ways, he is one.”

Jason Cranford Teague (Wired) wrote “Should Orson Scott Card Be Allowed to Write Superman?” Teague talks about how Card encouraged him as a writer when he was young, then he was disappointed to see his political stands were so much to the right of his own. “That’s the crux of my quandary with Card: what he says personally seems like a direct contradiction to the message of acceptance and inclusivity I found in his books. Card is doing more than holding an opinion I disagree with: he is an activist for that opinion against those people he feels are objectionable, showing no tolerance for their lifestyle or point of view. Despite the fact that these people’s life style and point of view do him no direct harm, he wants to deny them their basic freedoms. And by buying his works, are we supporting his goals? Will he take our money to fund organizations with goals we feel offended by? . . . Let him write the story, and let DC publish it. You can then choose to buy the comic or not. You can then choose to protest the message in the actual story if you are offended by it. But silencing a voice — even one with as intolerant a message as his — is not the answer. It’s better to hold that intolerance up to the light of day and show it for what it truly is: fear. Fear of the alien. Fear of the other and the strange. A fear that, ironically, it was Orson Scott Card who helped me confront and vanquish at an early age, whether he meant to or not.”

Glen Weldon, a freelancer at NPR who writes about books and comic books (and member of the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, which I enjoy) did an opinion piece on NPR criticizing DC Comics for hiring Card.

The next major moment in this debate will be the release of the Ender’s Game film in November. A February 20 Hollywood Reporter article “’Ender’s Game’ Author’s Anti-Gay Views Pose Risks for Film” quotes anonymous sources attached to the film saying that they would avoid using Card in their publicity.

“A controversy involving novelist Orson Scott Card and DC Comics could foreshadow problems for the big-budget adaptation of his classic 1985 sci-fi novel Ender’s Game, which is scheduled for release Nov. 1. Card’s long record of opposition to same-sex marriage and gay rights came into sharp focus when DC Comics announced Feb. 6 that it had hired him to write a chapter of a new Superman anthology series . . . Card’s appointment provoked a firestorm of controversy from LGBT activists and comic fans. Queerty called him a “rabid homophobe”; Allout.org, a social media-oriented LGBT activist group, drew more than 14,000 signatures to an online petition asking DC to fire Card; and at least one comics retailer said he would refuse to stock the comic when it was released May 29 . . . DC Comics issued a statement calling Card’s opinions “personal views” that were not “those of the company itself,” but noting that the company nonetheless “steadfastly support[s] freedom of expression.” The new scrutiny of Card’s views could be a problem for the $110 million Ender’s Game movie . . . Now Summit faces the tricky task of figuring out how to handle Card’s involvement. The first big challenge will be whether to include him in July’s San Diego Comic-Con program. Promoting Ender’s Game without Card would be like trying to promote the first Harry Potter movie without J.K. Rowling. But having Card appear in the main ballroom in front of 6,500 fans could prove a liability if he’s forced to tackle the issue head-on during the Q&A session. “I don’t think you take him to any fanboy event,” says one studio executive. “This will definitely take away from their creative and their property.”  Another executive sums up the general consensus: “Keep him out of the limelight as much as possible.” Ender’s insiders already are distancing themselves from the 61-year-old author. “Orson’s politics are not reflective of the moviemakers,” says one person involved in the film. “We’re adapting a work, not a person. The work will stand on its own.””

I would like to see a serious study of Card’s views of homosexuality. While he certainly has strong views, is he a “homophobe”? How should one define that term? What has Card said in the past, and have his views changed over the years? That is, I would like someone else to do it. But maybe I can help get someone going by introducing a couple of key texts.

The Hypocrites of Homosexuality

The place to start when looking at Card’s views would be his 1990 Sunstone article “The Hypocrites of Homosexuality”. The link takes you to Card’s Nauvoo website, and contains a copy of the article, as well as Card’s commentary on the fallout, probably written for his 1993 anthology of essays A Storyteller in Zion.

Card, writing to other Mormons, essentially says that Mormons should not reject, hate, or be violent towards anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation. Yet social tolerance cannot be extended to “accepting” a homosexual lifestyle within the LDS Church. One cannot actively pursue a homosexual lifestyle, and still expect to be accepted as a member of the Church.

On passage in the essay seems to have raised particular ire. Writing about the anti-sodomy laws in some states, which were upheld by the Supreme Court in 1986 (but later struck down in  2003 when the Supreme Court reversed its decision with the Lawrence v. Texas ruling), Card wrote:

“Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society’s regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society. The goal of the polity is not to put homosexuals in jail. The goal is to discourage people from engaging in homosexual practices in the first place, and, when they nevertheless proceed in their homosexual behavior, to encourage them to do so discreetly, so as not to shake the confidence of the community in the polity’s ability to provide rules for safe, stable, dependable marriage and family relationships.”

Here is an excerpt from Card’s addendum commentary to “The Hypocrites of Homosexuality.”

“In all of this, I was not attempting any kind of brief either “for” or “against” homosexuality. In my own life, I live in a religious community whose entire raison d’etre is that we believe God makes his will known through prophets. Those prophets have taught us to regard homosexual behavior as a sin, along with many other desired acts, both “natural” and “un-”. Just as our natural desires for heterosexual contact outside of marriage are to be curbed, we are also taught to curb homosexual desires — along with many, many others. It is not easy for any of us to control those things we desire most (though of course we always do well at controlling those desires we barely have at all).

“It is quite possible for me to regard homosexuality as a temptation toward a difficult sin, much to be avoided by members of my religious community, and at the same time recognize that others feel differently about it — and that even those homosexuals within my religious community (which means most of those I have known in my life) are people of value, as they either struggle to control their desires or, despairing of that, leave the religious community that requires of them what they no longer desire to do. The only people I have contempt for are those who try to remain inside Mormonism while denying the validity of guidance from the prophets, and I oppose them, not because they live as homosexuals, but because of the hypocrisy of claiming to be Mormon while denying the only reason for the Mormon community to exist. If they prevailed, it would destroy our community. Homosexuals themselves pose no such threat, provided that those who are Mormon admit that a homosexual act is a sin as long as the prophet declares it to be so, while those who do not accept the prophet’s authority refrain from pretending to be Mormon.”

Homosexuality in Card’s fiction

There are two sympathetic portrayals of homosexuals in Card’s fiction. The first was in Songmaster (1980), where Josef, a bisexual man who survives in a homophobic society by entering into a mutually beneficial heterosexual marriage with a friend. He has a sexual encounter with the male teenage protagonist, Ansset, which leads to tragedy that neither of them foresaw.

The Homecoming saga (1992-1995) is set in a pre-modern (in some ways) society on another planet, based on Jewish culture as depicted in the Book of Mormon. The character of Zdorab (based on Zoram) is a homosexual who enters a happy heterosexual marriage, both because of affection for the woman, and the desire to have children. His sacrifice is presented as a heroic one. In both cases, the homosexual characters were depicted as being “born that way”, naturally inclined to homosexuality, and engaging in heterosexual relations as part of a social choice. The exception is Ansset, who agrees to participate in a homosexual act as a kindness to his friend, but is not otherwise homosexually orientated.

Eugene England wrote about Card’s Hypocrites of Homosexuality and Homecoming in 1994.

“Card is unpredictable (and certainly not “politically correct”) on this matter. He reprints in Storyteller his famous essay from Sunstone, “The Hypocrites of Homosexuality,” in which he condemns the “homosexual community,” including Mormon homosexuals who “instead of repenting of homosexuality, wish it to become an acceptable behavior in the society of the Saints” (p. 184); and he adds an addendum about the strong reaction of some to that essay, including accusations of “homophobia” and attempts to censor him. My own sense is that the essay is neither homophobic nor a candidate for censorship but that, despite Card’s effort in it to distinguish between same-sex orientation and sinful sexual acts outside of marriage, his strongly emotive language, unfortunate stereotypes, and imprecise language (see the quotation above, where “homosexuality,” elsewhere a condition, suddenly becomes a behavior to be “repented”) tend to encourage the current tendency, even among Mormons, to confuse the condition and the behavior and to bash gays, verbally and even physically.

“However, in Homecoming, Card gives us a very sympathetic homosexual person, one who is able to speak eloquently of his condition as exactly that, a condition rather than a choice, and describe the violent (even murderous) prejudice he and others like him (including one of his lovers) had experienced back in Basilica. He movingly reports the humiliation of having to cultivate a persona as “the most unnoticeable, despicable, spineless being” in order to survive in this male-dominant desert troop of near-baboons—which sometimes sounds much like our own society. Card also has Zdorab, chosen by the Oversoul to be the mate of the only remaining female, Shedemei, whose lack of traditional beauty and shyness makes her think no one will want her, gradually, over months, learn to open to her and show his strength and goodness and accept her—and they marry, at first simply for mutual protection and friendship.

“Later Zdorab discovers in the Index evidence that homosexuality is not genetic but “just the level of male hormones in the mother’s blood stream at the time the hypothalamus goes through its active differentiation and growth” (3:170), which is pretty much in line with our present science and shows that Card, contrary to many Mormons, believes homosexuality can’t simply be “repented of” or removed with some kind of therapy. Zdorab decides he wants to be part of the biologic chain, part of the tree of life Wetchik has seen in vision; then, in wonderful scenes of difficult tenderness and pain and exploration, he and Shedemei decide to bear children and succeed—Zdorab even stating quite persuasively that he has been caught in “the great net of life” because, despite being pointed away from it at birth he had “chosen to be caught, who is to say that mine is not the better fatherhood, because I acted out of pure love, and not out of some inborn instinct that captured me. Indeed, I acted against my instinct. . . . Anybody can pilot his boat to shore in a fair wind; I have come to shore by tacking in contrary winds, by rowing against an ebbing tide” (3:252).

“Card is not suggesting, and I certainly am not, that this is the only or best “solution” for homosexuals—the tragedies in Mormon culture of homosexuals who married, out of guilt or ignorance or hope, and damaged not only their own lives but those of many others are well known; what Card has done is give us a deeply sympathetic homosexual person, whose story can help us learn understanding and mercy through the imagination.”

2004 and 2008 columns

Card has been writing political and social criticism on the internet since the mid-90s or so. In his February 15, 2004 “Homosexual “Marriage” and Civilization”column at the conservative Rhinoceros Times, Card claimed that heterosexual marriage was a bedrock principle of civilization, and criticized in strong language the political and legal tactics of his opponents (“Jacobian”).

“What happens now if children grow up in a society that overtly teaches that homosexual partnering is not “just as good as” but actually is marriage? Once this is regarded as settled law, anyone who tries to teach children to aspire to create a child-centered family with a father and a mother will be labeled as a bigot and accused of hate speech. Can you doubt that the textbooks will be far behind? Any depictions of “families” in schoolbooks will have to include a certain proportion of homosexual “marriages” as positive role models. Television programs will start to show homosexual “marriages” as wonderful and happy (even as they continue to show heterosexual marriages as oppressive and conflict-ridden). The propaganda mill will pound our children with homosexual marriage as a role model. We know this will happen because we have seen the fanatical Left do it many times before. So when our children go through the normal adolescent period of sexual confusion and perplexity, which is precisely the time when parents have the least influence over their children and most depend on the rest of society to help their children grow through the last steps before adulthood, what will happen? Already any child with any kind of sexual attraction to the same sex is told that this is an irresistible destiny, despite the large number of heterosexuals who move through this adolescent phase and never look back . . . Now, there is a myth that homosexuals are “born that way,” and we are pounded with this idea so thoroughly that many people think that somebody, somewhere, must have proved it. In fact what evidence there is suggests that if there is a genetic component to homosexuality, an entire range of environmental influences are also involved. While there is no scientific research whatsoever that indicates that there is no such thing as a borderline child who could go either way. Those who claim that there is “no danger” and that homosexuals are born, not made, are simply stating their faith. The dark secret of homosexual society — the one that dares not speak its name — is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally.”

He wrote a weekly column for the Deseret News’ Mormon Times site from December 2007 to December 2011. The piece that Card’s opponents quote the most often is “State job is not to redefine marriage” Mormon Times (July 24, 2008). None of his columns from before 2011 are available at the Deseret News or Nauvoo, but I found a copy at the Conservative website Free Republic. Written during the months leading up to the vote on Proposition 8 in California, he claimed that heterosexual marriage was a bedrock principle of civilization, and criticized some of the political and legal tactics of his opponents. In the incendiary (and often-quoted) final section, he wrote, “When government is the enemy of marriage, then the people who are actually creating successful marriages have no choice but to change governments, by whatever means is made possible or necessary . . . If America becomes a place where our children are taken from us by law and forced to attend schools where they are taught that cohabitation is as good as marriage, that motherhood doesn’t require a husband or father, and that homosexuality is as valid a choice as heterosexuality for their future lives, then why in the world should married people continue to accept the authority of such a government? . . . Marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down.”

As mentioned above, in April 2009 Card became a board member of the National Organization for Marriage. The organization was founded in 2007, and works against the legalization of same-sex marriages, civil union legislation, and adoption of children by same-sex couples. NOM is a private non-profit, often accused of being a political front for the LDS Church. The Church has denied that allegation. Card is the only Mormon on the 8-member board. He replaced founding board member Matthew Holland, who resigned when he became President of Utah Valley University.

Hamlet’s Father controversy

Card’s novella Hamlet’s Father first appeared in a 2008 anthology entitled The Ghost Quartet. The re-imagining of Shakespeare’s Hamlet was released as a stand-alone limited edition book by the specialty publisher Subterranean Press in April 2011. Card imagines Hamlet’s father to be a pedophile, who molested Horatio, Laertes, Rosencrantz, and Guildestern, severely damaging each boy emotionally. The ghost of the murdered father is a demon, who misleads Hamlet into killing the innocent Claudius. In February 2011 Publisher’s Weekly ran a negative review of the book, which said Card linked “homosexuality with the life-destroying horrors of pedophilia”. In August a blog named RainTaxi reviewed the book, and called it out as a homophobic work.  The author pointed out that Card had written on his blog in 2004 “the dark secret of homosexual society – the one that dares not speak its name – is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally”. RainTaxi and others, putting that quote together with the description of the novella accused Card of equating homosexuality with pedophilia.

The publisher of Subterranean Press put out a statement, saying, “We did not anticipate controversy for republishing a work which had received no controversy prior to our publication, and which remains in print elsewhere. Nevertheless, as publisher of Subterranean Press, I am responsible for everything we publish, and that means being ready to hear any complaints and criticisms about what we publish.”

Card replied to his critics at his own website. He called the Publishers Weekly review “dishonest”. “The lie is this, that “the focus is primarily on linking homosexuality with … pedophilia.” The focus isn’t primarily on this because there is no link whatsoever between homosexuality and pedophilia in this book. Hamlet’s father, in the book, is a pedophile, period. I don’t show him being even slightly attracted to adults of either sex. It is the reviewer, not me, who has asserted this link, which I would not and did not make.

“Because I took a public position in 2008 opposing any attempt by government to redefine marriage, especially by anti-democratic and unconstitutional means, I have been targeted as a “homophobe” by the Inquisition of Political Correctness. If such a charge were really true, they would have had no trouble finding evidence of it in my life and work. But because the opposite is true — I think no ill of and wish no harm to homosexuals, individually or as a group — they have to manufacture evidence by simply lying about what my fiction contains.

“The truth is that back in the 1970s and 1980s, when it was definitely not fashionable to write sympathetic gay characters in fiction aimed at the mainstream audience, I created several sympathetic homosexual characters. I did not exploit them for titillation; instead I showed them threading their lives through a world that was far from friendly to them. At the time, I was criticized by some for being “pro-gay,” while I also received appreciative comments from homosexual readers. Yet both responses were beside the point. I was not writing about homosexuality, I was writing about human beings.

“My goal then and today remains the same: To create believable characters and help readers understand them as people. Ordinarily I would have included gay characters in their normal proportions among the characters in my stories. However, since I have become a target of vilification by the hate groups of the Left, I am increasingly reluctant to have any gay characters in my fiction, because I know that no matter how I depict them, I will be accused of homophobia. The result is that my work is distorted by not having gay characters where I would normally have had them — for which I will also, no doubt, be accused of homophobia.

“But Hamlet’s Father, since it contained no homosexual characters, did not seem to me to fall into that category. I underestimated the willingness of the haters to manufacture evidence to convict their supposed enemies.”

Okay, that is what I have so far. Are there any other key texts of which we should be aware? Looking at these texts, should Card be labeled a “homophobe”? Is opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage in-and-of itself enough to get one labeled with that term? Will this impact the ability of other mainstream/conservative Mormons (and Catholics, Muslims, and other conservative religious people) to get national recognition for their art? One could argue that Card, despite his pleas, is not as tolerant of homosexuality as he claims. What about recent liberal Mormons artists who have been writing plays and novels which sympathetically portray gay characters? If such a person was completely “tolerant” of homosexuality socially, but still held onto a religious belief that homosexual acts are sinful, or held that complete marriage equality was not desirable, will their works ultimately face the same rejection?

If the author keeps their mouth shut about political issues, they will probably avoid controversy. Stephenie Meyer is a test case. A quick internet search shows that Meyer has not said anything one way or another about homosexuality. While there is some minor blog grumbling about the possibility she has ever donated to anti-gay marriage causes, or her tithing money going to such causes, it does not seem to have gone anywhere. But what if you are conservative and want to talk about your views? Are you concerned?

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50 Responses to Orson Scott Card and homosexuality

  1. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    I think he’s going to have a really difficult time backing away from the use of “mortal enemy” to describe those who would alter the government to allow gay marriage, considering this group of activists and/or voters are largely, though certainly not exclusively, gay. Is it homophobic to suggest a fight to the death with advocates of gay marriage? Well, yeah. How often do humans (willingly) fight to the death with people we aren’t afraid of? A writer can write an empathetic representation of a character and still believe what that character becomes, what s/he represents–and *who* s/he represents– is evil. If Card was using hyperbolic language to emphasize his commitment, he did so foolishly. And he should back away from that. I don’t doubt that Card is kind man. But he did insert himself into this political controversy and, like it or not, there will be fall-out for him. I’m sure he’s always known that. He’s a big boy. He can deal. Money will still be made. He’ll be a hero to some and the anti-Christ to others.

    And as to how this effects other Mormon writers and their literature, well, its nothing new. I’ve known Christians who won’t read Card because he is a Mormon. And still his work survives. All publicity is good publicity, as they say. The Mormon Moment isn’t over just because the publicity is less favorable. This is part of it. Other LDS writers will rise or fall on the merits of their work and its place of value in the construct of American society.

    Great post, Andrew. Thoughtfully constructed and researched. I’m pleased to learn of this here and not somewhere else.

    • Wm says:

      “If Card was using hyperbolic language to emphasize his commitment, he did so foolishly.”

      The issue the former OSC fans I know have is that it isn’t just one use of hyperbolic language — it’s more than a decade of consistent use of it.

  2. As a political moderate who has very complex views on homosexuality which I’m not even sure about (and I have a good many gay friends that I love dearly and who I want to fight for), I sometimes have been misinterpreted in my own intents on the issue by both sides (people used to say I leaned right, but now they say I lean left)… so I can empathize a bit with Card. However, those comments about destroying the government? Whoa. I certainly don’t agree with the extreme rhetoric that Card uses sometimes concerning the issue and think it is a misstep, despite understanding it is probably coming from a deep place of belief.

    Irregardless, the contributions Card has made to Science Fiction are immense and I refuse to stop loving his work because of his personal politics. I dislike the effort to shut down free speech on either side. Demonizing folks of either political persuasion just seems like a bit of bullying in my mind. These are complex issues that involve a lot of deep feelings and personal stories on both sides. A little more love, forgiveness and understanding towards both sides would be helpful in having dialogues about the issue that are less politically charged. There’s a number of problematic (or simply “different than mine”) beliefs any author has, due to their culture, time, place, and personal convictions. When a one reader bans a book, it’s often called censorship. When a another reader bans a book, it’s often called political activism.

    I think there’s a place for boycotting, but I think it’s better reserved for a specific work or product that is offensive to a person. But when it’s targeted towards a specific person, or their entire list of works (even if they have nothing to do with the subject at hand) it becomes problematic to me. Ender’s Game has no homophobic overtones. Nobody knows what his Superman story is even about, so calling it “fascist” is premature. The sum total of Card’s thought and philosophy does not center on homosexuality. It’s a minor character compared to the more predominant themes, plots and characters he is known for.

    As a personal side note, Card’s Homecoming series may have been one of the first stories I read (in early high school) that had such a sympathetic gay character. I pondered a lot on his characterization at the time and it softened my heart towards the gay community considerably. He made me more tolerant of the LGBTQ community, not less. His later comments outside of the work did not change that fact.

    • Ignore the additional a’s in “When a one reader bans a book, it’s often called censorship. When a another reader bans a book, it’s often called political activism”… I had decided to take out the political specifics of the original words in that sentence, but then forgot to take out the preceding “a”… how embarassing. ;)

    • Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

      Well said, Mahonri. I agree.

    • Wm says:

      “A little more love, forgiveness and understanding towards both sides would be helpful in having dialogues about the issue that are less politically charged.”

      Have you read OSC’s political writings? It doesn’t seem like he is all that interested in understanding and dialogue. I also think that it’s easy to call for peace, love and understanding when you are cisgendered, straight, white male who isn’t directly affected by the policies Card is endorsing and the languages he uses.

      I’m not taking any specific stance on same sex marriage here — which as you note is a difficult, complex issue — but I’m trying to speak to the tone of discourse from his detractors. I may not agree with everything that they say, but I think what they are saying and how they are saying it is eminently understandable. I especially think that Glen Weldon’s essay on the meaning of Superman is useful in helping us Mormons understand why he finds the notion of OSC writing the comic offensive.

      • Th. says:

        .

        This may be the real issue: not what OSC and his detractors say, but how they say it. They’re reacting against each others’ tone more than anything else, methinks.

      • “I also think that it’s easy to call for peace, love and understanding when you are cisgendered, straight, white male who isn’t directly affected by the policies Card is endorsing and the languages he uses. ”

        Definitely true. I definitely agree, however, that Card’s hyperbolic language is troublesome and incendiary. My play _A Roof Overhead_ is about how we need to be responsible for the language we use and how it can be damaging to communities, and this would definitely apply to my belief system on that subject.

      • Also, Wm, you’re making some huge assumptions about me in the above statement.

        • Wm says:

          That’s a good point. I shouldn’t have directed that specifically at you. Speaking broadly, though, many who are commenting present as the categories I used.

  3. David Farland says:

    An interesting and well-balanced article. Thank you.

    If you look closely at Orson Scott Card’s writing, and at his life, you’ll find that there are few writers who are more concerned with morality than he is. He has served as a missionary, gives money to charity, and I know of dozens of people that he has helped personally.

    Yet people with opposing views are claiming that he’s a “monster,” “hate-monger,” and so on. So they’re demonizing him, and too often the demonization comes from people who refuse to read anything that he has ever written or listen to anything that he has ever said.

    I’d love to spend the next four hours writing commentary on it, but deadlines approach.

    • Lee Allred says:

      (Nods in agreement with Dave.)

      I, too, have an approaching deadline, so I’ll limit myself to linking to the following Salon interview by Donna Minkowitz on OSC. It sheds some light (if perhaps not in the way the author intended) on the topic:

      http://www.salon.com/2000/02/03/card/

      At least _I_ found it highly instructive…

      • Wm says:

        Yes, that’s quite the gem. However, I would suggest that the process of disillusionment that she experiences, the cognitive dissonance, is not uncommon in the SF&F community. Whether it’s merited or not, it’s a real thing.

        Some of it might be chalked up to liberal smugness and insularity: how could someone who believes *that* writes something that shows such insight into the human condition?

        That can rightly be pointed out as absurdity.

        But some of it is thoughtful, considered disengagement from OSC’s work because of his political writing as well as some of his (especially post-1998-2001 or so) fiction.

      • Wow. Words fail me after reading that interview.

      • Yowsers. I’ve read some pretty strong language from Card before, but… yowsers.

      • C. M. Malm says:

        Frankly, I think that article demonstrated more negative things about its author than about Card.

        • Actually, I agree with that too. The rhetoric she was throwing out was no less inflammatory (destroying him in her mind? Really?). It became more of a soapbox than an interview… a inadvertent “gotcha” moment.

  4. Th. says:

    .

    Scott certainly hasn’t made things easier on himself, but it’s unquestionably true at this point that he can’t do anything without plenty of people viewing it through a lens of homophobia.

    • I do agree with this, but I even if you discount all the silly things taken out of context, he’s still a board member at NOM, and people are reacting against his actions as much as, or more than, his words.

  5. Wm says:

    “There are two sympathetic portrayals of homosexuals in Card’s fiction.”

    There are quite a few members of the SF&F community who would disagree with the use of the term “sympathetic” in relation to those two characters. I read Songmaster so long ago that I barely remember it and haven’t read the Homecoming series (and am not likely to read any more works by OSC that I haven’t already read) so I can’t speak to the details of those depictions –I’m just saying that that statement is not without controversy. And from what I’ve read, I don’t find that controversy to be manufactured or something that can be reduced simply the work of “haters”.

  6. People seem to want to draw more attention to Card’s rhetoric than his actions. This is a person who backs up his beliefs by working with NOM. He is an active member of an organization that seeks to prevent gay people from marrying legally. He is not simply a font of opinions.

    I read about Zdorab, too, and this post leaves out the moment later on in the series where he has “only a memory of youthful desire” for men. Zdorab was always portrayed as someone who was cured. I thought he was an incredibly sympathetic character, but that part of the portrayal rang extremely false. How many marriages are breaking up late in life because a homosexual person though they could be “cured?” In fact, when I read that passage years ago, it undid all the sympathy I had for Zdorab.

    This has little to do with Superman. But we cannot soft-pedal his words. Do not give him a break because he seems otherwise like a decent guy. He is actively fighting against gay rights. Homophobia is a poor word but for many people, it means the same thing as anti-gay-rights-activist.

  7. Jonathan Langford says:

    Another key Card fictional text with a homosexual character is Shadow Puppets, in which a geneticist who is homosexual in orientation has nonetheless chosen to marry heterosexually in order to be more connected within his community.

    I have to agree with Wm that whether or not Card’s depictions of homosexuality and homosexuals are “sympathetic” depends largely on your definition. In short, while the characters are sympathetic, being happy rests on them acting against that part of their nature. This is depicted in a positive way in the case of Zdorab and the character from Shadow Puppets (who connect heterosexually in order to be happy), and negatively in the case of Josef and Ansset, who both suffer immediate, drastic, and permanent negative consequences as a result of their liaison (castration and suicide for Josef, immense pain and permanent inability to respond sexually for Ansset).

    Card does *not* show Josef and Ansset as in any way “deserving” these outcomes. However, you could argue (I think reasonably) that there’s an underlying message that homosexual acts bring negative consequences. While consistent with orthodox Mormon teaching, that’s a far cry from the message of self-acceptance that is currently considered by many to be the only really acceptable message for gay youth.

    • Jonathan Langford says:

      I should add (since I don’t think it was clear before) that while I think Card’s rhetoric has done him no favors at times, I also think that ultimately, the conflict is one about worldviews. So long as Card believes — and his fiction depicts — that living a homosexual lifestyle will lead to unhappiness, his works will cause problems for those who believe that depictions of homosexuality as negative are themselves harmful.

    • Andrew Hall says:

      Good points all. I agree with what several have said, that it is the tone of Card’s speech as much as the content of what he said that has drawn criticism. And I would prefer giving him the benefit of the doubt. And sorry if I downplayed the “sympathetic” nature of the characters, I was going on about a 20 year memory of reading those books.

      I added a 2004 quote that I found to the post.

  8. The issue bears more careful research. Thanks for a good beginning, Andrew.

  9. For starters, I think it’s really important that all involved openly cop to the inability to see any of the facets of this complex issue without the lenses we wear. Lenses made of experience, belief, and much more.

    With my mostly libertarian lenses, I support any movement to reduce the involvement of government in the lives of everyone– and I also realize that this is a massive undertaking that will never be complete. Card has used some pretty strong language to describe his stances– which might not really help in the understanding of his positions, but which serves to illustrate just how deeply held his beliefs are.

    On one hand, why shouldn’t he use such language? Plenty of people on all sides of this issue use all kinds of strong, provocative language. On the other hand, it would be handy if he– and all of us– could stop, think, and speak and write with restraint.

    That said, is there a time at which restraint has played out its usefulness?

  10. Jeanna says:

    To address some of the questions you pose at the end of the piece:

    *Looking at these texts, should Card be labeled a “homophobe”?
    Honestly, I don’t think so. Yes, obviously his stance is strongly against homosexual behavior–particularly the legislation that equates homosexual relationships with marriage. But objecting to a behavior does not make you afraid of it; it makes you in disagreement. Card is outspoken and tends to make incendiary statements. That is who he is. Do I sometimes cringe and wish he’d say it a little more politely or carefully? Yes. But I think that critique applies to the majority of public figures these days (and hey, all the private figures too–ever read Facebook?). He’s getting the backlash because of the subject he’s being outspoken about, not just because he has opinions.

    *Is opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage in-and-of itself enough to get one labeled with that term?
    Yep. That’s the short answer. Do I think that is correct? No. But I do think it’s the prevailing situation.

    *Will this impact the ability of other mainstream/conservative Mormons (and Catholics, Muslims, and other conservative religious people) to get national recognition for their art?
    I don’t think Card’s particular problems will impact the rest of the artists, but I do think the backlash he’s getting is part of a trend that way. You use Stephenie Meyer as an example of staying out of the political field, and I think that increasingly in the future those of us with strong political views will have to decide whether to speak up and accept the anger/boycotting/etc. or not talk about it at all publicly. In my opinion, both are valid options for different personalities. Card is political; Meyer isn’t. End of story.

    Card has a personality that rubs people badly sometimes, even when he’s not speaking about politics and/or homosexuality. (If you read his Uncle Orson Reviews Everything, you’ll quickly get a sense that he’s very happy expressing his views strongly and doesn’t mind stepping on toes.) I disagree with him often. He annoys me often. I kind of want to slap him upside the head often (unfortunately, that would be difficult since he lives too far away). But I think he’s brilliant often, and his novels have far more understanding of human nature than those of most writers I have read. And I think that fundamentally he’s a decent person muddling through. I guess it probably helps that I agree with him on the basics of his views: I think homosexual behavior is a sin, but I don’t believe the condition is. I do not favor equating same-sex relationships with marriage, but I do believe in better legal treatment in the areas like hospital visitation, wills, etc. (I’m not positive our views coincide on that last point, but I suspect they do). In the eyes of some, I’m sure this labels me as a homophobe, and while I think this is sad, I can really only say “oh well.”

  11. Mark Penny says:

    Here’s a good book on the subject of homosexuality: Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why. The author is gay and obviously invested in garnering support for homosexual lifestyle choices, but his account of the research and findings seems quite balanced.

  12. Jonathan Langford says:

    Folks,

    Just a reminder that while it’s fine to talk about homosexuality and Mormonism as a literary topic and cultural intersection — including how that impacts on the reception of authors such as O.S. Card — we need to make sure the conversation doesn’t go down the road of exchanging opinions about homosexuality itself, since that takes it outside the scope of this blog.

    • Mark Penny says:

      Check.

      I should have offered my link in context. The context is differing understandings of homosexuality as a trait and an activity. You and I have both written stories involving gay characters and dealing with the issue of homosexuality and Mormonism. In preparation for expanding my short story to a novel (and probably including alternative sexuality in other stories), I’ve begun reading authoritative work on sexuality. The book I linked to appears to be an excellent reference, because it sticks to facts and presents ideas apolitically.

  13. Is Orson Scott Card a witch? Let’s consider four characteristics of witches, based on America’s 1950s experience with domestic communists.

    1) In the 1950s, communists were teaching that America’s bourgeois government had violated the social contract and needed fundamental change.
    A witch stands against the basic assumptions of the virtuous group’s social vision.

    2) Many individual American communists may not have actually held the doctrinaire position that this change would come through violent revolution, but the rhetoric of communism was certainly confrontational. And in many other countries, it had led to significant levels of violence and oppression against capitalists. Probably including people American leaders had personally known and associated with.
    A witch evokes very real memories of persecution and fear.

    3) McCarthyists were not known for seeking out nuance in degrees of communist affiliation and participation or to detail an individual’s specific ideological vision. Their project was to assemble a small critical mass of evidence/testimony to show communist infection, not to weigh a person’s whole life and work.
    Even a drop of Satan’s blood is enough to make someone a witch.

    4) In McCarthyism, the fight against evil is external rather than internal. Which means that the greatest moral act is not searching for the evil in one’s self, but rather identifying and opposing the creeping evil in one’s society.
    It is an act of virtue to expose and isolate a witch.

    With these four principles in mind, let’s return to the case of Mr. Card.

    1) A witch stands against the basic assumptions of the virtuous group’s social vision.
    Card is definitely guilty here. He’s on record as saying that traditional marriage is fundamental to his understanding of the social contract, which puts him at odds with American values of progress, liberty, and equality.

    2) A witch evokes very real memories of persecution and fear.
    It is a matter of historical record that gay people have been severely persecuted. In many countries, severe persecution is a matter of policy today. The fact that Card reminds one writer of fascism is proof enough that he qualifies as a witch under condition #2.

    3) Even a drop of Satan’s blood is enough to make someone a witch.
    David Farland’s comment is utterly irrelevant to the witch question. It doesn’t matter if Card is a nice man. It doesn’t matter if he’s helped his neighbors. It doesn’t matter if he wrote a book you loved.
    Jeanna’s discussion of what makes a homophobe is also irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether you call it homophobia or Prop-8-ism, Card is clearly tainted by an unashamed opposition to equality/goodness/love/etc.
    We’ve got at least a drop of Satan’s blood here, possibly several pints. The man is a witch.

    4) It is an act of virtue to expose and isolate a witch.
    The Minkowitz article makes entirely clear that it would have been more righteous to spit in Card’s face or shout curses at him than to feign a denial of the evil in his heart. And the 12,000 signatures on the petition to DC are probably not all from die-hard Superman fans who are genuinely concerned about the next book: they are most likely drawn from people who feel they are doing a noble and righteous act by witnessing against the evils of witchcraft and their infiltration into the very fabric of our most important industries.
    If so many people are able to feel such virtue in condemning Card and such weakness when they give him a pass, the man is definitely a witch.

    Whether we’re talking about communism in the 1950s or Prop 8-ism now, a witch is basically someone w

    • Oops. The final incomplete sentence is a remnant from the drafting process.

      My comment should end, climactically, on “the man is definitely a witch.”

    • It rather cheapens the experience of people whose lives were in real danger to say that media backlash is the same thing as persecution from a government.

      Orson Scott Card is an activist against gay marriage And people react against his work with NOM, not just his words, not just his characters. He’s going to lose some money by not writing a Superman story that he could make up for by writing another Ender story. He is not (at least any more than the rest of us) in danger of losing his life and his property to a corrupt government over his political views.

      • Sure.

        Though I don’t know that McCarthy was threatening writers’ lives so much as their livelihoods. And if you restrict the scope to industry-generated blacklists, there’s a greater overlap between the cases.

        I also don’t think lower stakes redeem similar behavior. The anti-Card petition strikes me as sufficiently similar in spirit to an anti-communist blacklist to warrant a different discussion than “is Card a homophobe?”

        • Wm says:

          An internet petition is a far cry from an investigation by a Senate Subcommittee. I think the petition is misdirected and kinda silly (as most internet petitions are), but I also would note that not everyone expressing discomfort with him writing Superman is calling for him to be fired. They’re simply expressing why they don’t support his work.

          • C. M. Malm says:

            Not, as James Goldberg said, when it comes to the effect on one’s livelihood. As someone whose livelihood has been negatively impacted by the domination of my profession by a single political viewpoint, I am all too aware that it doesn’t require Senate Subcommittees to harm someone’s future in very substantial ways if that person is “tainted” in some way that the establishment finds offensive. I don’t think it’s a mistake to view that as a form of McCarthy-ish institutionalized suppression.

            I also think it’s helpful to remember that McCarthy’s anti-communist campaign didn’t BEGIN with Senate Subcommittees. While I find Card’s rhetoric inflammatory, and I disagree with much of it, I do have some of the same concerns about the social impact of the widespread promotion of homosexual marriage. As a libertarian, I’m deeply committed to free agency, so I’m not interested in placing legal limits on which adults other adults can choose to sleep with, regardless of my own opinion about how certain choices are likely to work out for people. But I am concerned that, while my Mormon views about smoking, drinking, and extramarital sex are seen as merely “weird,” as a consequence of the institutional promotion of homosexuality, my similar Mormon views about homosexual sex are likely to be viewed as “evil.” I’ve been attacked as an homophobe for merely expressing some concern about whether legalizing homosexual marriage might not ultimately become a weapon to break down the barriers that protect church from state (something that concerns me FAR more than the concept of who people sleep with).

          • If you look at the OSC controversy in a wider context, I think it’s difficult to accept that All Out and 15,000+ signatories are “simply expressing why they don’t support his work.” This specific effort is part of a larger effort to make opposition to gay marriage taboo. From the Chick-fil-A controversy to the pressure on Scott Eckern in the immediate wake of Prop 8, I see an early pattern of people trying to stigmatize traditional-marriage-ism as a dangerous and antisocial position by attempting to socially and economically isolate advocates.

            In weighing such efforts, I think we need to look beyond their impact on an established writer like Mr. Card. The All Out Petition is also designed to show that there will be consequences for others who take the increasingly taboo (in literary circles) position of opposing marriage redefinition. The persuasion/intimidation effect is definitely there for younger artists who can’t afford to lose a contract casually.

          • Just realized I didn’t thoroughly read Wm’s comment.

            I totally accept someone saying, as Noah Berlatsky does, that Card’s Superman may turn out to be frightening in his use of power. That’s fine.

            But I think we need to draw a bright line between criticizing artistic work for its politics and pressuring companies to pre-screen their artists for politics. And while it is important to understand why both Card’s position and tone offend others, I think it’s also important to say loud and clear that offense does not justify certain courses of action.

  14. Jonathan Langford says:

    I remember back when I was growing up, my mother didn’t feel that she should watch movies starring Jane Fonda because she thought Fonda’s actions during the Vietnam War were a betrayal of America.

    To some extent, I think most of us do separate the artist from the person. But if we feel strongly enough about something, we tend to identify exceptions.

    There are at least two interesting discourses here, one centering on Card’s statements about homosexuality outside of his art and how and whether that should/does influence how people view his work as an artist, and another centering on the question of just what his depictions of homosexuality within art mean on a thematic level.

    I’m not a great believer in an inherent separation between didactic art and “pure” storytelling, at least partly because — as I think the case of Card’s depiction of homosexuality demonstrates — our beliefs about what is true about the universe around us will inevitably inform our work. Inevitably, that’s also one of the axes along which we as readers judge works: whether they adhere to the universe as we believe it to be, *and* whether they contribute to creating the kind of universe we want to live in.

  15. I’ve been outspoken against gay marriage and the gay movement, and it has affected me negatively as a would-be author. A couple years ago, a journalist at a national magazine read a memoir proposal I’d written and liked it enough to pass it to his agent. The agent then sat on it for four months before rejecting it. No one would go on record in an email or anything, but I received a very cautious, hesitant call in which I was told in so many words that the rejection came because an agency staff member found something I’d written online against the gay movement. So yeah, if you speak out against the gay identity in today’s world, you’ll be blocked in your progress, at least in some avenues. I don’t regret it, though, in terms of personal integrity. Oh, and I agree with Card.

    • Mark Penny says:

      Yeah. The fact is that there are plenty out there (and maybe in here: hypothetical, not saying there are any at all, but it could happen) who do not understand freedom of speech to mean the right to express conflicting views without reprisal. Freedom of speech, like freedom in general, means different things to different people–and the meaning becomes increasingly self-serving with age.

      By my definition, freedom of speech includes freedom of objection and protest. If Mormons can petition and boycott over offensive material wherever they stumble on it, alternative sexuals can, too.

      The trick is exercising your own freedom without suppressing someone else’s.

      It would be nice if we could protest people’s views in context without pursuing the offenders through every door, but the fact is that speaking out against alternative sexuality is fast becoming a hate crime, like denying the Holocaust, and while we wait for the notion to become code, those who respond to offense with prosecution are going to throw the rope over the branch and give it a pull.

  16. Posted this on my Facebook wall from the Salon article quoted above:

    “Well, let’s put it this way. Most of the program of both the left and the right is so unbelievably stupid it’s hard to wish to identify myself with either. But on economic matters, I’m a committed communitarian. I regard the Soviet Union as simply state monopoly capitalism. It was run the way the United States would be if Microsoft owned everything. Real communism has never been tried! I would like to see government controls expanded, laws that allow capitalism to not reward the most rapacious, exploitative behavior. I believe government has a strong role to protect us from capitalism. I’m ashamed of our society for how it treats the poor. One of the deep problems in Mormon society is that really for the last 75 years Mormons have embraced capitalism to a shocking degree.”
    –Orson Scott Card

    The reaction I got from both sides was pretty intense. Why do people zero in on one line of Card’s thought, when there are these other fascinating avenues to explore as well? He’s more than a one trick pony.

    • Th. says:

      .

      I think it’s telling that the gay question looms so hugely that we can’t see this quotation unless it’s removed from the article. A few decades ago, this is what would have had people in arms.

  17. Th. says:

    .

    Too long to add as comments, but if anyone cares, I’ve written the following, mostly in response to this post and our comments:

    The Orson Scott Card Stigma (Part one: Fighting the Man)

    The Orson Scott Card Stigma (Part two: Painted with the Same Brush)

  18. Andrew Hall says:

    Artist Christ Sprouse leaves Orson Scott Card’s Superman comic (USA Today)
    “It took a lot of thought to come to this conclusion, but I’ve decided to step back as the artist on this story,” Sprouse said in a statement released Tuesday. “The media surrounding this story reached the point where it took away from the actual work, and that’s something I wasn’t comfortable with. My relationship with DC Comics remains as strong as ever and I look forward to my next project with them.”
    Due to the creative change, the Card story will not appear in the first collected issue out May 29. Instead, it will feature a story by writer Jeff Parker and artist Chris Samnee, as well as a tale by Jeff Lemire and one by writer Justin Jordan and artist Riley Rossmo.
    DC is also looking for a replacement illustrator for Card’s story.
    “We fully support, understand and respect Chris’s decision to step back from his Adventures of Superman assignment,” the company said in a statement. “Chris is a hugely talented artist, and we’re excited to work with him on his next DC Comics project. In the meantime, we will re-solicit the story at a later date when a new artist is hired.”
    http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/2013/03/05/chris-sprouse-orson-scott-card-superman-comic/1964845/

    A Wired story speculates that this might give DC Comics the chance to back out of their commitment to Card.
    “The news has inspired speculation about whether or not this could mean that DC will quietly kill off the controversial Card story entirely, with some suggesting that the story remaining un-illustrated gives the publisher an “out” to avoid any potential breach-of-contract legal response. (As a freelancer, Card wouldn’t have the option of a wrongful termination suit.)”
    http://www.wired.com/underwire/2013/03/orson-scott-card-superman-comic/

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