Recently I wrote a post concerning my thoughts about Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. A masterful piece of science fiction, this work contains perhaps the best example of Card’s unique ways of weaving stories and characters together until the book becomes almost an experience for the reader. However, while I was writing and praising Card for his exemplary work done with Speaker, I did not realize that the author I had come to adore was not someone who I would like as a person. Rather, what Orson Scott Card has done with his influence goes against my beliefs and values, particularly in his outspoken and written homophobic views regarding the LGBTQ community.
Within his written books, there is only one instance which I have read where he has a gay character. In his Homecoming saga, Zdorab is a man who winds up joining the expedition back to Earth alongside the main characters. He weds Shedemei, and eventually she discovers that he is gay. His sexual orientation was hidden when they were on the planet Harmony due to violence/death that was usually given to gay men (and maybe women?) in the city. This doesn’t bother Shedemei at all, most likely because of her lack of interest in sex at all (asexuality perhaps?). They remain happily married, loving each other as deep friends/siblings.
The issue with Zdorab is mainly in his role within the series – his character is sort of developed, but a lot of it stems on his sexual orientation alone. Card has him marry Shedemei and even includes an awkward sex scene where Zdorab has to think and distract himself while having sex with Shedemei so that she could conceive and ultimately fit in with the other women by having a child. Zdorab is seen being sacrificial here, but to me it almost appears as Card suggests that a mixed-orientation union could maybe “cure” gay people. Or perhaps that by being married to Shedemei places Zdorab within right standing religiously/spiritually. Either way, Card uses Zdorab as essentially a token gay character, which is unsurprising sadly.
Card has other gay characters in his book Songmaster, but I have not read the book/series to give an accurate opinion. Nevertheless, he discusses how he wrote the story and the characters, portraying the two characters’ experiences with one another as ultimately leading to their destruction/downfall:
…it is hardly likely that Songmaster would be either ‘for’ or ‘against’ homosexuals. What the novel offers is a treatment of characters who share, between them, a forbidden act that took place because of hunger on one side, compassion on the other, and genuine love and friendship on both parts. I was not trying to show that homosexuality was ‘beautiful’ or ‘natural’ — in fact, sex of any kind is likely to be ‘beautiful’ only to the participants, and it is hard to make a case for the naturalness of such an obviously counter-evolutionary trend as same-sex mating. Those issues were irrelevant. The friendship between Ansset and Josef was the beautiful and natural thing, even if it eventually led them on a mutually self-destructive path.
The full essay, which this quote is from, is here; and although it is very outdated it still has some relevancy regarding Card’s writing and portrayal of gay characters. He claims to sympathize with gay characters when he writes them, which has led to LDS individuals thinking that he’s somehow “pro-gay.” However, his sympathy for his characters leads to an erasure of their identity or rather of their lives/bodies (in the case of Songmaster), which to me is the opposite of being pro-LGBTQ or even being sympathetic at all.
Card, although claiming to sympathize with the LGBTQ community, chooses not to portray his LGBTQ characters like the remainder of his cisgender, heterosexual ones. If his views were mainly contained within his novels, it would be an easier thing to deal with. However, Card has been very outspoken against the LGBTQ community, and specifically in regards to same-sex marriage. GLAAD has a comprehensive list of things he’s said against the LGBTQ community, perhaps the most notable being associating the community with sexual dysfunction or that same-sex marriage is somehow further deteriorating our society. Card also actively campaigned against same-sex marriage, being a member of the National Organization for Marriage. When Ender’s Game was to be released in theaters in 2013, many called for a boycott of the film due to Card’s homophobic views. Card, in response, suggested that the story was set in the future and had nothing to do with the current politics of the time. John Becker writes an excellent response to the situation here.
I think an issue that has not been mentioned enough is that Card’s views on the LGBTQ community essentially stems from his Mormon worldview. This does not excuse his views or what he has done to harm the LGBTQ community. But it does explain where they originate. I will be honest – I have known that Orson Scott Card is Mormon for years, and I cannot say that I have a positive view on Mormonism in general. In fact, I have a very strong bias against it. However, reading Card’s works made me hopeful to the fact that despite my theological differences with him, he could perhaps be someone I could admire. When I read his Homecoming saga, I merely thought that he was weaving a story with subtle Old Testament references within it. It is only until a few weeks ago that I learned that the series that I loved is nothing more than fictionalized retelling of the Book of Mormon. I find it difficult now to think fondly of those books without fearing on how it could have almost proselytized me in some way. I do not consider the Book of Mormon as a part of the Christian canon, and likewise I wonder how much of what I once thought were beautiful and subtle references to Christianity in his other works, are seeped with Mormon theology.
So what’s the real issue? When I was researching all the different opinions on Card’s homophobia in his works and interviews, I did not see many people reference his faith at all. I believe that we’ve neglected to discuss that Card is thoroughly Mormon and, like other conservative Christians, will adhere to a radically different worldview than our modern culture. In fact, it leaves no question that his mind is not and will probably never be open to the idea of LGBTQ individuals being able to be full members of society, or even Christians. He believes that the Church (specifically the LDS) should function as an instructor of righteousness to the world, which to him equates limiting the rights of others due to the conflicts they have with his religion.
The tension I have faced this past week is: How do I still love the works of an author when they actively go against the people I love? The fact that I’ve struggled with this shows the amount of privilege I have. I am not gay nor have I ever had to fully fear discrimination due to my sexual orientation. It is also difficult because, in the case of Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead, that Card deals with the issue of the outsider becoming accepted and recognized for their humanity – despite their differences with the characters. Yet Card will not recognize the LGBTQ community in such a way. How divorced is an author and his works? How much of the author still lives in his writings? Gavin Hood gives a good response to this tension when Ender’s Game was approaching theatrical release, stating ultimately that in the case of Ender’s Game, the message of tolerance still exists strongly even though Card does not publicly display the message he had penned. I have not decided whether or not I will continue reading Card’s work, but regardless I know now that I must call out such homophobia when I see it, no matter who is the source. I choose to embody the character of Ender and accept and fight for the other, rather than persecute and oppress.