Queer eye for the sci-fi (& fantasy): LGBTA writers & homophobia

[Crossposted at Celtic Diva's Blue Oasis.]

As a member of the Outer Alliance, I advocate for queer speculative fiction and those who create, publish and support it, whatever their sexual orientation and gender identity. I make sure this is reflected in my actions and my work.

I live in Anchorage.  Like most of LGBT folk in Anchorage, along with our allies, a lot of my emotional & political energy over the past few months has been taken up in our fight for protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. On August 11, we won that fight — temporarily — when the Anchorage Municipal Assembly, by a vote of 7 to 4, passed the Anchorage equal rights ordinance, AO 2009-64.  But a few days later, on August 17, Mayor Dan Sullivan vetoed it.  While the Assembly has a few more days to try to override the veto, it doesn’t seem likely.  And so, for the third time in 35 years, Anchorage first granted equality to at least some of its LGBT citizens, and for the third time the forces of intolerance, Christianist supremacy, and homophobia took it away again.

So you’ll pardon me if it wasn’t until today that I got the full skinny on why the Outer Alliance was started some days ago with the goal to “educate, support, and celebrate LGBT contributions in the science-fiction and fantasy genres.” [Ref #1] I knew it had something to do with some creepy comments made by a certain science fiction/fantasy writer, but I didn’t actually know what he said.

Now I know.  And let me tell you, it rates every bit as full of hatred and ignorance as the worst offal spewed in Anchorage this summer out of the mouths of Christianist hate-pastor Jerry Prevo, self-proclaimed homophobe and “rascist” Eddie Burke [see note 1 below], and the numerous red-shirted individuals who carried their “Truth is Not Hate” hate speech into the Assembly chambers or spilled it into the comments on the Anchorage Daily News website [note 2].

The SF/F fiction writer in question was John C. Wright, Nebula Award-nominated author of the fantasy novel Orphans of Chaos, along with other SF/F titles.  His Wikipedia entry provides a good summary (I’ve removed the links and internal footnoting for ease of reading):

On July 29, 2009, Wright posted an entry in his blog entitled More Diversity and More Perversity in the Future! where he criticized SyFy’s [formerly known as the SciFi Channel] promises of more diversity in programming, calling homosexuality an “abomination”, “an irrational lust”, “a malfunction of love”, “perverted” and not “normal and natural”, drawing comparison to racism and suggesting its depiction to be similar to that of “love affairs with corpses, small children, and farm animals”. This caused controversy within the science fiction community, drawing heavy criticism from fellow sci-fi writer such as Hal Duncan. Wright later deleted the original post, complaining of “slander” at having his views about lesbian and gay people identified as homophobic and bigoted, and sought to clarify that he shared the views of his church that homosexuality was against nature. He concluded, however, by saying “The love a homosexual feels toward his lover may be disordered — but it is still love, and love is still divine.” [Ref #2]

As wryly noted by Mari Kurisato a few days later,

John C Wright has decided to try to outdo Orson Scott Card and other misohomosexuals, primarily by being a stellar shit thrower  on the internet and then going “well, I didn’t mean it exactly like that. [Ref #3]

Links within the quote are hers, and worth checking out.  They are, in order, the full text of John C. Wright’s original LiveJournal entry, which someone retained after Wright took it down from his own blog; the portion of SF/F writer Orson Scott Card’s Wikipedia entry on his views about homosexuality; and an entry from Wright’s blog indicating a putative “apology.” [Refs 4, 5, 6] For her part, Mari Kurisato, a talented illustrator, went on to design Outer Alliance’s logo. [Ref #3]

But the actual post I ran across which first gave me a rundown, and some highly useful commentary, about the John C. Wright controversy was one by Kip Manley called “John C. Wright is recoiling in craven fear and trembling, and I don’t feel so good myself” [Ref #7], which takes Wright’s nonsense and makes it — well… nonsense.  Because that’s what it is.  And pretty atrocious nonsense too. Much as we became accustomed to hearing in Anchorage in the course of our Summer of Hate. [Note 3]

At one point, Manley quotes from an older post of his, when the topic of discussion was Orson Scott Card — a writer I used to call “my favorite Mormon science fiction writer,” up until the time Card started displaying his own antigay attitudes.  Manley wrote in 2004:

Science fiction is largely a fiction of setting: the bulk of the iceberg that’s unseen, underwater, is the act of world-building, and in that act, politics is paramount. (One is building a polis, after all.) —Therefore, it’s all-too-appropriate to keep in mind an author’s politics when considering their science fiction: an author who, say, considers homosexuality to be an aberration, is un- (or perhaps less) likely to build a world that would appeal to a reader who does not. There’s an assumption clash: one of his fundamental, foundational bedrocks is abhorrent to me, and vice-versa.

One can respond: well, yes, but there’s nothing about aberrant homosexuality in Ender’s Game, so how can it clash? Heck, there’s nothing in that book about homosexuality at all! And I will resist the urge to say oh, you think so? and I will even resist the urge to say precisely! —Instead, I’ll allow as how there’s frequently large gaps in the jerry-rigged polis left as exercises for the reader: one can hardly describe every kitchen sink, after all; one must make assumptions, and count on the reader doing likewise (which among other reasons is why fan fiction [and slash fiction] is so popular in science fiction). But that’s precisely why when those assumptions suddenly clash, it’s unsettling, even violently dissonant. [Ref #8]

I struggle with those issues myself — whether or how completely to divorce the art from the artist — even with people like Orson Scott Card, whose second “Ender” novel, Speaker for the Dead, has always struck me as deeply compassionate in its  acceptance of difference between people. But if the artist is not necessarily the same as his art, nor is Card the same as Ender Wiggin.  At least not when it comes to homosexuals. [Ref #9]

But deciding whether or not to purchase or read or boycott the work of writers who have publicly demonstrated their homophobia, or any other moral failing they may have, is not what the Outer Alliance is about.  Rather, it is, as previously stated, to to “educate, support, and celebrate LGBT contributions in the science-fiction and fantasy genres.” [Ref #1] And here’s one reason why:

This is a point that probably does not need to be reiterated too often among our group, but one that never quits being useful: when they (the members of the majority culture, or whatever you want to call them) know personally even one of us, then they tend to be more open-minded about who we are, more ready to give up those prejudices based on what we are not.  This fact, more than any other, is why we are winning what American right-wingers like to call “the culture war” in spite of our vast numerical disadvantage. Every single time a queer comes out or a straight ally speaks up in favor equality of human dignity, at least one, and usually more, of our opponents fall back and retrench or just give up. The John C. Right [sic] Affair is good example of it. [Ref #10]

As a writer — now hoping, frankly, to move on from the Summer of Hate and back to my writing — this is something I can wholeheartedly endorse and take part in.  As a lesbian citizen of Anchorage, for whom the Summer of Hate is a very recent and very lasting memory, it’s how I intend to conduct myself in my day-to-day life: to live openly, happily, and fully as who I am — knowing full well that eventually, even the likes of Jerry Prevo and Eddie Burke will fall away.

I hope that readers of this blog, most of whom (I think) are Alaskans, and some of whom (I hope) are readers of science fiction and fantasy, will consider joining the Outer Alliance and will take a look at some of the numerous posts posted today in honor of Outer Alliance Pride Day.  They’re all listed on the Outer Alliance’s website. [Ref #11]

Maybe even take a look at mine. [Ref #12] I’ve gotta say, as interesting as Palin getting punked might be, such that my post on it’s gotten 130 hits today as of this writing — it would sure be nice to have more than 11 hits on the excerpt posted early today of my novel-in-progress Mistress of WoodlandWho knows, you might even like Mielikki more than you like Sarah Palin.

Notes

  1. The red-t-shirt rightwing talk radio host Eddie Burke wore when he testified at the Assembly identified him as a “Homophobic Red Shirt Bible Thumping Nazi Gay Bashing Tea Bagging Rascist White Guy Bigot.” Speculation is that either (a) Burke doesn’t know how to spell or (b) he was purposely combining the words racist and fascist and identifying himself as both.
  2. “Truth is Not Hate” was, of course, the most frequently seen sign carried by anti-ordinance protesters over the course of the summer.  “Love the sinner, hate the sin” yada yada. I plan to examine the falsity of these claims of “not hating” in the near future.  The signs were printed by Alaska Family Council, which along with Prevo’s Anchorage Baptist Temple took the lead in the Christianist assault on equal rights in Anchorage over the summer.
  3. “Summer of Hate” is a term I’ve adopted from Brendan Joel Kelley’s account of the Anchorage equal rights ordinance battle in his August 28, 2009 post for Dan Savage’s blog, “Meanwhile in Alaska: Anchorage’s Summer of Hate” (The Stranger). Brendan Joel Kelley is associate editor of the Anchorage Press.

References

  1. 8/09. “About Us” (The Outer Alliance).
  2. “John C. Wright.” Wikipedia entry.
  3. 8/19/09. “Perversion versus Obscurity” by Mari Kurisato (Mari’s MetaMusings).
  4. 7/29/09. “More Diversity and More Perversity in the Future!” by John C. Wright (John C. Wright’s Journal, reposted on the PaBlog). Wright’s statement is also reposted as comment 42 to the August 13, 2009 post “Justifying homosexuality without justifying incest” by Amerpersand (Alas! a blog).
  5. “Orson Scott Card.” Wikipedia entry, section on “Homosexuality” (Card’s views about it).
  6. 8/18/09. “APOLOGIA PRO OPERE SUI part I” by John C. Wright (John C. Wright’s Journal, LiveJournal).
  7. 8/15/09. “John C. Wright is recoiling in craven fear and trembling, and I don’t feel so good myself” by Kip Manley (Long Story Short Pier).
  8. 4/24/04. “Negative space, or, Why I don’t trust æsthetes” by Kip Manley (Long Story Short Pier).
  9. 7/28/08. “Editorial: It’s Time to Call Out Anti-Gay Author of ‘Ender’s Game'” (AfterElton.com).
  10. 8/25/09. “Outer Alliance Pride Day 9/1/09″ (The Outer Alliance).
  11. 9/1/09. “Outer Alliance Pride Day Posts Begin!” (The Outer Alliance).
  12. 9/1/09. “Outer Alliance Pride Day 2009: An excerpt from Mistress of Woodland” by Melissa S. Green (Henkimaa.com).
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14 Responses to Queer eye for the sci-fi (& fantasy): LGBTA writers & homophobia

  1. Heather says:

    That surprises me about Wright. He doesn’t seem to shy away from faux/lesbian innuendo in his novels. I’ve always found it a pleasant surprise when a science fiction or fantasy author is willing to break the mold a bit and create a new and interesting relationship. Jacqueline Carey is one of my favorite examples, as the same sex and heterosexual relationships are both given due depth and complexity in her stories.

    Another great piece, Mel. I’m disappointed in Wright. I will be reconsidering whether I will finish his Orphans of Chaos series.

  2. Joe Qualls says:

    Great post, tons of insight.

  3. Therese Arkenberg says:

    I never really heard of Wright before this fiasco, so I can’t say my good opinion of him has been ruined. Card, however, is another matter. When he does tackle the issue of homosexuality (most explicitly in the Homecoming Saga), he did so in a way that made me think he might be sympathetic. Sadly, that does not appear to be the case, which makes me wonder why he wrote his fiction the way he did. A bit of dissonance there, and his real beliefs seem to fall on the wrong side.

  4. There’s aren’t many stories and movies that explore homosexuality, or even dabble in it actually.

    There was an old sci novel I read ages ago but I can’t remember the name, something like Barge of a Thousand Years (?), where the story is about immortality. The human race eventually find a cure for getting old and dying and everyone lives for hundreds of thousands of years so a lot of them experiment with their sexuality, changing their sex back and forth and trying same sex relationships for a few hundred years at a time. It’s not a big part of the story really, but it is a feature.

    The only modern day thing I can think of is Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who and Torchwood where he is renowned for his portrayal of bisexual relationships… but the fact that he singularly famous for it also highlights the lack of such depictions in sci fi.

  5. Mel says:

    Discworld Mal: Actually there’s quite a lot of SF & fantasy with lesbian, gay, bi, trans characters & themes. See the Wikipedia article on LGBT themes in speculative fiction; Wikipedia also has a (hardly exhaustive) List of LGBT-themed speculative fiction. See also GLBTQ.com’s article on Science Fiction and Fantasy

    Therese: I’ve read only one book of Card’s Homecoming Saga — I found it interesting because it its a science-fictional retelling of the Book of Mormon (at least, as far as I read). I don’t remember too much about it beyond that. I find recasting of familiar myths (as familiar as the Book of Mormon is to me… which is only partial) fascinating, besides which I’m always fascinated by how religion affects people’s thinking… so I always intended to read the whole series through — but if I do, it’ll only be in used paperbacks, where the $ is going to Title Wave (used bookstore) not to him. I’m very familiar with his Ender Wiggin novels & most of the related Shadow series. I like the second of his Ender novels, Speaker for the Dead, the best. The office of Speaker for the Dead is a sort of religious office: a Speaker delves into the life history of the deceased and tells it all at their death, good & bad & all in-between, unvarnished except that in the telling there’s just a plain acceptance of all that a person was, which can be pretty darn difficult but also potentially profoundly healing for the deceased person’s survivors. The first Speaker for the Dead — who was in fact Ender himself — spoke (or rather, wrote) the stories of the alien Bugger species that he had destroyed in the first novel Ender’s Game, as well as that of his seemingly sociopathic brother — so there’s some deep delving into the alien & even hateful, with compassion. And yet… Card, after writing that book, that character, can’t find it within himself to learn anything other than official Mormon doctrine about LGBT people? How can you understand anyone if you begin with judgment? But that’s what he does. So something’s deeply off there.

    Hey, Joe, thanks for reading. I’ll be giving you a call in the next couple of days about that other thing we talked about last week.

    Yo, Heather. I really like Jacqueline Carey’s books. A lot. Besides depicting both heterosexual & same-sex relationships with lots of depth, she’s also very sex-positive: sexuality across its full spectrum viewed as a good thing, except when coerced, which makes quite a different world from those we’re used to. Re: Wright — I’m don’t actually know his stuff, but if he’s using faux/lesbian innuendo, well — a fascination w/ lesbians is common enough among heterosexual men even when they’re vastly homophobic. Just look at porn. (Or not.) If I ever read his stuff, as with any else of Orson Scott Card’s stuff — it’ll only be in used paperbacks.

  6. electrolass says:

    Wow. I am very disappointed in Orson Scott Card. His book, Speaker for the Dead, made such an impression on me. How sad that someone who wrote something so very touching, can pass such harsh judgement on another person.

    Strangely though, his entry in the bio smacks of his philosophy in Speaker for the Dead. For those not familiar with this book, a young boy and his sister are recruited to play video games. What they think are games are actually real battles. The young boy wipes out the enemy. Later, when he is grown, he empathizes with the enemy and realizes he destroyed them for no reason. He and his sister spend the rest of their lives flying through hyperspace to witness for dead people, dead people who were in some cases very bad people. The man tries to tell the story of the person in such a way as to show the community in which the person lived the reason for the person’s bad ways. So, in some sad, twisted way, Mr. Card feels that he is speaking for us, the homosexual. Perhaps Ender Wiggins was Mr. Card’s outlet to speak for his own personal fears, i.e., I have this sin, but see there was a reason.

    I dunno. My mother is a Latter Day Saint, and yet she loves and accepts me as I am. Besides she doesn’t own the magic underwear, and refuses to give up caffine and oral sex out of wedlock (I will burn for that).

    I really like this statement, Mel.

    “As a lesbian citizen of Anchorage, for whom the Summer of Hate is a very recent and very lasting memory, it’s how I intend to conduct myself in my day-to-day life: to live openly, happily, and fully as who I am — knowing full well that eventually, even the likes of Jerry Prevo and Eddie Burke will fall away.”

    I should feel down after the veto, but like you, I feel strangely positive and uplifted. Whatever strange forces act upon Orson Scott Card, his book brought out compassion in me, and I am a better person for it, and nothing he says can change that fact.

  7. Mel, thanks for the links. The list on wikipedia isn’t huge, but it’s bigger than I thought. I think most of the stories that explore these themes do it for the novelty factor though, or, in the case of Star Trek, often even for comic effect.

    You don’t get many stories with just an ordinary same sex couple, where their sexuality has no real affect on the story but just happens to ‘be’ – i.e. like every hetrosexual relationship in practically every sci fi novel and Hollywood movie ever.

  8. Therese Arkenberg says:

    The sad thing about Card is, I don’t think he is the way he is for lack of compassion.

    Allow me to explain, as I believe I was in a similar boat with Card not so long ago.

    I was raised Catholic (I still am, although a bit lasped internally), which believes that while having a homosexual orientation is not a sin, homosexual acts are. Which means the only acceptable choice for a Catholic homosexual is celibacy. However, the Catholic church does encourage acceptance of gays and lesbians and is against discrimination or attacks against them (this is if you ignore than ban on gay marriage as “discrimination”). As a devout Catholic, I wanted very badly to accept the idea of homosexuality, but my doctrine taught me it was wrong (as is all sex outside of marriage, natch).

    Later, I changed by beliefs a bit, and now I can accept homosexuality entirely without and ifs, ands, or buts. However, there are many people who are likely where I was, and they can’t change it becasue it’s what they honestly believe. I suspect Card might be an example–he WANTS to be accepting of gays and lesbians, and he certainly isn’t/doesn’t intend to be/doesn’t support the idea of discrimination (the character Zdorab’s history in the Homecoming Saga makes that clear), he doesn’t believe homosexual acts are morally acceptable (I noticed, upon rethinking it, that once Zdorab becomes a hero he also become celibate, or at least not sexually active with other men). All I can say is, his loss.

  9. I often wonder about anti-homosexuality being part of Christian faith, it seems quite selective in terms of what to choose to follow from the bible. I mean there’s a lot of things in the bible that Catholicism often simply ignore because they’re silly, but chooses to adhere to others fo whatever reason. I think the reason why some parts of the bible are followed and other are ignored may be because the group of men, long ago, who built and developed the Catholic church liked some parts of the bible and disliked others.

    I think this site talks about this a bit: http://www.fallwell.com/ingnored%20old%20testament%20verses.html

  10. Mel says:

    Therese: A post today by Yonmei at Feminist SF — the Blog called “Orson Scott Card, meet Alan Turing” reminds me of a fact I’d forgotten about Card’s Songmaster because it’s so long since I’ve read it: one of Card’s characters in that novel was chemically castrated because he’d had a sexual relationship with a man.

    Yonmei’s post tells the story of Alan Turing, arguably the founder of computer science, arguably the man whose contributions more than any other single person’s contributed to the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in WWII because of his work in cryptography. Turing, too, was chemically castrated because he’d had a sexual relationship with a man: that was the only choice he had other than imprisonment when the British courts found him guilty of homosexuality under the reprehensible laws it had at the time. Turing committed suicide not long after.

    Would Card advocate for a real human person — not just a fictional character — be chemically castrated? Well, he has said this (as quoted by Yonmei):

    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.

    Too bad for Card that the U.K. no longer jails or chemically castrates people just for homosexual behavior, selectively or not. Too bad for Card that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional a few years ago. But he very clearly believes in discrimination against gay people. I was almost going to say “at least if they are sexually active” — but that’s not true either. Demanding that gay people can only be considered equal citizens if they are celibate — like permitting his homosexual character Zdorab in the Homecoming Saga to be heroic only if he’s celibate (or at least doesn’t do it with another man) — is in itself discriminatory.

    It’s also hateful, because no matter what Card or other “I don’t hate homosexuals” homophobes want to claim, they are acting in hatred when they substitute their own preconceptions and prejudices for our — lesbians’ and gay men’s — self-knowledge with their (the homophobes’) claim that homosexual orientation is not innate to us, is not the way that we were made and born to be. And demand us to deny and hate that aspect of ourselves. What is more hateful than that?

    The fact that their preconceptions derives from “scripture” is of no mind. Religious believers can claim however much they like that the Bible or the Book of Mormon or whatever other religious text sprang fully formed from the mind of God, like Athena from the mind of Zeus. But I know that every religious text, like any other text, is written down by human hands, and is filtered through human minds, complete with all the prejudices humans are prey to. I respect and admire much that I find in religious texts. But thanks to human prejudices, much of it is just as reprehensible as the law that destroyed the life of Alan Turing. Or the laws that Card wishes were still on the books.

  11. Mel says:

    Discworld Mal: The list on wikipedia isn’t huge, but it’s bigger than I thought.

    It’d be a helluva lot bigger if it was comprehensive. But it’s not. It also suffers from being inaccurate in some respects: for example, I’d hardly call Orson Scott Card’s novel Songmaster a “gay male novel” (though at this writing the Wikipedia article does) simply because the novel depicted sexual behavior between two males: Card himself is vigorously antigay and has described the same-sex sexual relationship in his novel as “destructive”. Calling it a “gay male novel” gives the false impression that it was either written by a gay male author, or gave a positive treatment to a gay male relationship within it. Neither is true.

    Which isn’t to say it’s not true of many of the other stories/novels in the list.

    I think most of the stories that explore these themes do it for the novelty factor though, or, in the case of Star Trek, often even for comic effect.

    You don’t get many stories with just an ordinary same sex couple, where their sexuality has no real affect on the story but just happens to ‘be’ – i.e. like every hetrosexual relationship in practically every sci fi novel and Hollywood movie ever.

    “Novelty factor” is not the most accurate term here. There’s a lot of ways for fiction w/ LGBT themes to go, & to some extent there’s been an evolution to it too. Lesbian-themed SF/F, for example, has been influenced a lot by feminist criticism of patriarchy, or of just plain old sick-and-tiredness about being stuck in the real societies we live in which are full of both hostility toward same-sex relationships, along with all the male privilege stuff that even now still means men by & large have greater access to economic and political power than women. Therefore, there’s a lot of earlier lesbian-themed SF/F with female-only or female-dominated societies, in which lesbian relationships are the norm in at least some part of the story universe — e.g., The Wanderground by Sally Miller Gearhart, The Female Man by Joanna Russ. It’s not only lesbian authors who have explored that kinda stuff either. Suzy McKee Charnas, author of the four-novel Holdfast Chronicles, is a heterosexual woman; John Varley, author of the Gaea trilogy, which includes a bisexual female protagonist and another main character from a lesbian-separatist space colony, is male.

    But there are plenty of novels where lesbian or gay male relationships are just part of the facts of character’s lives. Melissa Scott’s Trouble and Her Friends has a lesbian main character, and there are lots of references to antigay prejudice that she faces — but that’s not the tale’s main theme, either, nor is it in a lot of other stuff Scott writes. Kelley Eskridge’s Solitaire which isn’t in that list but should be; Nicola Griffith’s Slow River, C.J. Cherryh’s Cyteen and more recent Regenesis (set in the same story universe) both have two gay male couples who are major characters, and whose relationships are just assumed accepted parts of their lives.

    Those are just a few examples. It’s a lot wider area than you think.

  12. Mel says:

    Therese: I don’t exactly feel uplifted after Sullivan’s veto… but life goes on. Sullivan’s generation won’t be in control forever. Thank gods.

  13. Therese Arkenberg says:

    Mel: I agree with you absolutely. Legal discrimination can ruin lives and can never be anything other than hateful. I guess my argument is to “Hate the sin, not the sinner” (which Card and others will also claim they are doing). I can’t help but view Card as a victim of his beliefs. He’s acting in hatred, but honestly believes he is acting in compassion. All I can do is pity him, and others like him.

  14. Therese Arkenberg, I understand what you’re saying, it totally makes sense. It’s a pity though that some people’s beliefs override common sense.

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