How Orson Scott Card Broke My Heart

by sketchyfeminist

Simple graphic of a rainbow-colored "broken heart"

Pictured: Totally Orson Scott Card’s fault

Does anybody else remember Zdorab?

Zdorab was a character in Orson Scott Card’s Homecoming Saga. Here is a link to the Wikipedia article on the series.

Zdorab was my favorite character in that series.

Zdorab was gay.

This series (a loose, science fiction retelling of the Book of Mormon–no, not that Book of Mormon) follows a group of people who journey to and repopulate a long-abandoned Earth. It’s their chosen land, their mission is from God (or a super-powerful A.I., whatever) and the whole series is chock-full of fun stuff like spirituality, betrayal and redemption.

Come to think of it, most Scott Card series are chock-full of that stuff.

I have read a lot of Orson Scott Card. All of the original Ender books (by which I mean the first four, which actually star Ender). All of Homecoming. All but one of the books in The Tales of Alvin Maker. The first two of the Ender’s Shadow books. I have read Wyrms. (Who else do you know who’s read Wyrms?) I have read flipping Treason, Card’s 1988 rewrite of his 1979 novel A Planet Called Treason. (For my sins, I actually did attempt to read A Planet Called Treason first, and was greatly relieved when I found out Card had revised it.) I have read Pastwatch. I have read Songmaster. I have read Saints. I have read The Worthing Saga. I have read The Folk of the Fringe. I have read the short story collection Flux. I have read Lovelock, the first in the unfinished Mayflower trilogy that he started with Kathryn Kidd.

I have read a lot of Orson Scott Card, is what I’m saying.

And most of what I read of his work, I read between the ages of ten and seventeen. Which means that, not only was Orson Scott Card’s writing a big part of my life, it was a big part of my life during some of my most formative years.

Yes, that’s right. Orson Scott Card was one of the most influential writers of my puberty.

And I don’t think that this was a bad thing. There’s a lot of compassion in his books, especially for marginalized groups–both real and imaginary. His books offer good lessons about honor and integrity and owning up to your own mistakes. The characters in them grow and change and usually at least one person is offered a chance at redemption–though they don’t always take it–and I never could resist a good redemption arc. These books encourage goodness, and mercy, and using power (if you have power) in the right ways, for the right reasons.

These books are not perfect. For one, the heroes (when male), tend to be the specialest special chosen messiahs who ever specialed, and that can get tedious. There’s also a touch of gender essentialism at times that I could really do without, but it’s not really worse than you’d find in any random handful of SF books pulled from the shelf. (Or maybe it is. I just looked at my own bookcase for confirmation of this theory, only to find Lynn Flewelling, C. S. Friedman and Esther Friesner in the “F” section, with Ellen Kushner, Ursula K. LeGuin and R. A. MacAvoy on the next shelf down. Good showing, Bookcase!) And, in retrospect, I’m not sure how I feel about some of the representations of minorities. Nevertheless, these are, for the most part, books that mean well. Books that celebrate the good in their characters and encourage their readers to think about what they/we can do to make them/ourselves better.

I don’t buy Orson Scott Card’s books anymore. I have no plans to buy Orson Scott Card’s books ever again. When Ender’s Game comes out in theaters, I plan not to see it. Even though, years ago, I was once deliriously excited by the rumor of a possible, upcoming Ender’s Game movie.

Dragon Age: Origins is my favorite video game, but I did not buy its comic book tie-in, even though I wanted it. Because Orson Scott Card’s name was on it.

I do not buy Orson Scott Card’s books. I do not buy his products or support his projects financially. Yes, my reasons are entirely ideological.

And the rest of my rant is under the cut:

This is not a regular pattern of behavior for me. I grew up pretty proud of my ability to compartmentalize, to separate the artist from the art and the messenger from the message.

I avoided the consumption of media that I understood as bigoted, sure, but I did not particularly care about the opinions of their creators. After all, a lot of my favorite authors were old, white English men who died well before the nineteenth century–and they weren’t exactly known for being charitable in their views on people who were not white English men. So there’s that.

For whatever reason, I hold living writers to a higher standard.

It’s not like I go out looking for reasons to give up on authors. In most cases, I won’t even read the “author’s bio” until I have read something by that author, just on the off chance that learning more about them will skew my reading.

But . . . but Zdorab, really. Remember Zdorab?

So, the people in Homecoming have the divine mission to repopulate the earth. This means that a big part of their divine mission is marrying each other in the appropriate breeding pairs so that they can get with the baby-making. Zdorab, the group’s only homosexual, must get married to a woman and have heterosexual sex. For the sake of humanity. Literally. They’ve got a planet to repopulate here, and there are only, like, ten people in their group. And Zdorab keeps his sexual orientation pretty hush-hush anyway, because the future society they all live in at the beginning of the series is pretty bigoted.

Zdorab comes to love his wife, with a deep and almost spiritual devotion. Zdorab is enamored with the children they have together, in large part because, in the repressive society they all hail from, he never thought he would get to have children.

I always thought that Zdorab subsuming his own identity for the greater good was written as a kind of beautiful sacrifice. Something horrible, yet necessary for the group’s (and humanity’s) survival. Zdorab loved his family, but he never got to live as himself. I thought it was poignant. I thought it was profound.

And then I read this:

In the first place, no law in any state in the United States now or ever has forbidden homosexuals to marry. The law has never asked that a man prove his heterosexuality in order to marry a woman, or a woman hers in order to marry a man.

Any homosexual man who can persuade a woman to take him as her husband can avail himself of all the rights of husbandhood under the law. And, in fact, many homosexual men have done precisely that, without any legal prejudice at all.

Ditto with lesbian women. Many have married men and borne children. And while a fair number of such marriages in recent years have ended in divorce, there are many that have not.

So it is a flat lie to say that homosexuals are deprived of any civil right pertaining to marriage. To get those civil rights, all homosexuals have to do is find someone of the opposite sex willing to join them in marriage.

–Orson Scott Card, “Homosexual ‘Marriage’ and Civilization

It’s kind of like discovering your beloved teddy bear is full of spiders, isn’t it? (I like spiders well enough at a distance, but I do not fancy cuddling them en masse.)

So, what to me was the bittersweet tale of a man being asked to go above and beyond when it came to personal sacrifice is apparently, for Card, just what good homosexuals are supposed to do if they want to get married, ever.


Just: no.

There are quite a few things wrong with the essay from which the above excerpt was taken. It’s hateful, condescending, and full of the slipperiest of slippery-slope arguments. In spite of all that, it’s also engaging and eloquently written. Which just makes it worse, really. Because it hurts to see one of my childhood heroes use his powers for ill instead of good.

But one of the things that’s so troubling about the above excerpt itself is that it’s, technically speaking, correct. Technically speaking, homosexual men have the same right to marry that heterosexual men do in that they have the right to marry women. And technically speaking, homosexual women have the same right to marry that heterosexual women do in that they have the right to marry men. What’s missing from this equation is an acknowledgment that homosexual people did not have and still do not have the same legal, nationwide right to marry that heterosexual people have in that homosexual people do not have the right (in most states) to marry the people they are most likely to want to marry. (Yeah, that last sentence was convoluted; sorry. I’m too upset to be more coherent.)

Card’s argument here is basically that gay and straight people are treated “equally” when it comes to marriage law, because they are treated the same. This overlooks–in a way that smacks of deliberate, aggressive ignorance–the systematic denial of their difference, and the erasure of their distinct needs and desires. Card’s argument is crap. Gay people already know they have the “right” to marry other people of the opposite sex. They have been fighting and continue to fight for the right to marry their same-sex partners. You know, the people they fell in love with.

Love is something else missing from Card’s discussion of homosexual “marriage” (as he puts it: in scare quotes).

Card’s essay is argued from a position of examining how marriage and reproduction relate to this thing we call “civilization.” It’s all very tied to the naturalness of conservative ideals and so on. As such, it elides the issue of love.

As a thought experiment, let’s look at how many times the word “love” is used in Card’s essay, “Homosexual ‘Marriage’ and Civilization.” Twice, counting for variants and derivatives.

The second time, Card is referring to the importance of children “knowing they are loved” by their parents. Preferably two, non-divorced parents, male and female.

The first time, Card is referring to “homosexual lovers.” Here’s the whole paragraph:

However emotionally bonded a pair of homosexual lovers may feel themselves to be, what they are doing is not marriage. Nor does society benefit in any way from treating it as if it were.

Not “however in love a pair of homosexual lovers are,” but “however emotionally bonded a pair of homosexual lovers may feel themselves to be.”

Now, maybe the use of the phrase “emotionally bonded” was not meant as a slight. Maybe Card was just trying to avoid the repetition inherent in saying that a pair of “lovers” are “in love.” After all, “emotionally bonded” is a perfectly natural and respectful way of referring to a couple.

Of penguins.

(Aw, that reminds me: remember And Tango Makes Three? Hey, look, someone made a youtube video.)

And maybe “feel themselves to be” wasn’t supposed to imply that homosexual love has to be subject to doubt, on the off chance that the parties in the homosexual pair-bond are loving each other in error. Maybe all couples run the risk of only “feeling” that they are “emotionally bonded.”

Yeah, maybe.

But it’s a choice to write “emotionally bonded” instead of “in love” and a choice to write “feel themselves to be” instead of “be.”

And words matter. Especially to Orson Scott Card, for whom words like “marriage” have a great and unyielding significance. And some of the words Orson Scott Card has written hurt.

There’s a lot in “Homosexual ‘Marriage’ and Civilization” that’s a lot worse than what I’ve recounted here. I recommend reading it in full on a day when you can’t quite manage a good cry on your own, and need something to tip the scales into full-on weep mode.

I know it’s late to be responding to an essay published in 2004. But with the Ender’s Game movie coming out soon and Orson Scott Card’s anti-gay stance once more a hot topic, I just wanted to weigh in a little on the “To boycott or not to boycott” debate. And I am choosing to do so by sharing my reaction to Card’s 2004 essay simply because that was the essay that ruined Card for me. In 2004.

Orson Scott Card, I never set out to boycott you. But I cannot, in good conscience, give you money. And that has been true, of me, since 2004.

So I will be skipping Ender’s Game.

It’s not out of spite, or resentment. I am not trying to punish you for things you’ve said in the past. In fact, I’m not trying to punish you at all. If you want to curl up like a dragon on all the scads and scads of money you will make from this project, then hey, that’s cool.

This is about me.

And maybe a little bit about Zdorab, who deserved better. Zdorab’s character embodies why I cannot separate the artist from the art (as some have recommended) when it comes to your work, because your hurtful words influence how I read Zdorab. They have forever changed how I read all of your work. Because now, when your characters practice tolerance and understanding, I will know in the back of my mind that that tolerance and understanding is not for everybody. That’s not something I can just forget.

I think I would enjoy seeing Ender’s Game, when it comes out on November 1st. That story was once a dear friend of mine, and I think we could have a great night together.

But I know I wouldn’t respect myself in the morning.

* * *

Here are some of Orson Scott Card’s writings on the subject of homosexuality:

And here are some links that discuss or respond to OSC’s controversial anti-gay rhetoric and/or the “Skip Ender’s Game” campaign: