Saturday, February 23, 2013

I Resigned From IGMS


Here we go.

I have resigned from writing columns about graphic novels at Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. In addition, for whatever it's worth, I won't be submitting any more short stories, even though I had a wonderful experience when they chose one of my stories for publication.

This is because I do not want to be associated with the anti-gay-rights views that Orson Scott Card has become synonymous with.

This was a hard decision.

Scott Card was my favorite writer through most of high school, until I replaced him with Octavia Butler, who I learned about through one of Scott Card's books, How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. At the time I was far from the controversies that would dominate public discourse about Card. I didn't know he opposed gay rights. I didn't know that I supported them!

I didn't know my sister was gay. I didn't know that my parents, loyal California voters that they are, would support Proposition 8 in 2008, choosing the requirements of Mormonism over the vocal protests of their daughter and son. I didn't know that I would not blame my parents for their decision.

But I did know that I wanted to be Just Like Orson Scott Card.

The man was one of my heroes.

He had promoted his faith through his writing without soft-pedaling his work or rating it all G. I even admired his complex treatment of a homosexual in a heterosexual society in the Homecoming series. I don't admire that part of it anymore, but I will still defend that series as a great piece of writing.

He was great at writing misanthropes and people who didn't fit in to a society they were supposed to fit in to. Ender was too smart and persecuted. Nafai was too connected to his spirituality. Jason Worthing was too aware of the foibles of his society.

As a missionary, I served in his ward and got to have dinner at the man's house. He signed books for us, cooked us salmon, and was a perfectly lovely host.

In 2005, I attended his writing workshop, where he was again a wonderful host and a great mentor.

I'm sorry, people who hate him. He's done a lot of nice things for a lot of people with no hope of reward.

And thus it was easy to ignore the fact that, when he began writing columns for The Rhinoceros Times and The Ornery American, his political views were very far from my developing ones. He was a vocal supporter of President Bush and the invasion of Iraq. I didn't like either; in fact I found Bush's behavior shockingly irresponsible. Big deal; I disagree with lots of people I respect.

He was surprisingly opposed to gay marriage, considering the rather sympathetic treatment of homosexuals in his work. Oh well. I supported gay rights. My best friend in high school was gay, and although she hadn't come out, I more or less knew my sister was gay. I had always and would always support gay rights. I could work with, be mentored by, and read the works of people I disagree with.

After I attended his 2005 Boot Camp, I got the opportunity to write comic book reviews for his fledgling magazine, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. I cannot express enough how grateful I am for the experience. For five and a half years I got to write about comics and get paid for it! They asked for the work sight unseen, having only seen my work in Card's 2005 workshop, and praised the columns.

In 2011, IGMS published one of my stories, and the experience, working with editor Ed Schubert and assistant editors Eric James Stone and Scott Roberts, was really wonderful.

But. Here's the big but.

Scott Card is not just a vocal opponent of gay rights, he is an activist against them. He sits on the board of the National Organization For Marriage, one of the big supporters of movements like Proposition 8.

By writing for the magazine, I associate my name with the name of someone who represents the National Organization For Marriage.

In this he is following the lead of the LDS Church, which also supported Prop 8. And if Prop 8 drove me out of the Church, I had to ask myself if I could remain visibly associated with an anti-gay-rights-activist.

The conflict in my family over Prop 8 was... well, we never get intense in the Ellsworth house, but it was a conflict. My sister and I were against it. The rest of my family voted for it, or at least abstained.

This was particularly difficult for me to watch. My father was in a high place in Church leadership, but was a supporter of gay rights. To speak his conscience would have meant that he would lose his calling, possibly his membership, and of course his "eternal blessings."

It was his name. His name on a roll in Salt Lake City, and what it represented, that he could not lose.

Adulthood is full of compromises. I can't hold my father's decision against him. I've made lots of compromises in order to stay employed, feed the family and save face. And he didn't support Prop 8; he just laid low.

But in the words of Arthur Miller's John Proctor: "It is my name, and I cannot have another in my life."

(Well, unless I pay 80$ at the courthouse. But you know what I mean, semanticists.)

Looking at what Card has said, I can't compromise on this one. I cannot put my name next to his. I cannot put myself in a place of constant compromise.

I don't know where it might lead me.

It's not just gay marriage. It's the comment that "there is a hierarchy of suffering," which violates the principles I teach every day in a tribal school on an Indian reservation. It's the fact that Zdorab, the sympathetic homosexual in Homecoming, was essentially cured, feeling only "the memory of a youthful desire," which is something most people seem to forget when they focus on Card's typically sympathetic homosexual characters. I won't go as far as John Kessel in ascribing a dangerous interpretation to Card's fiction, but Zdorab's character arc is only complete if you understand that he really was supposed to have been "cured."

As to whether or not he should write Superman... actually, I think that one's rather silly, considering that just about every variety of people in history have written about Superman, and if you're going to go after DC Comics, encourage them to demand more accountability for labor practices in the factories that make toys of their characters in China, where abusive conditions are rampant. You get what I mean.

There is much debate within the sf field about the ethics of submitting to Card's magazine if you support gay rights. For the record, I've known a queer author who published fiction with queer characters in IGMS and never heard a peep; in fact his work was in their year's best. Card takes a giant financial loss to support a magazine of short fiction.

However, that author, like me, still has some trepidation about the name at the top of the page, and what it means to his name.

I loved writing that column, and I loved getting paid for it. This is the hardest decision I've made in years. I wish everyone involved with the magazine, including the Cards, the best. And I sure would love it if anyone out there is looking for someone to write about comics and contacts me.

It is my name. And I cannot have another in my life.


  1. Recognizing the complex nature of admiring someone's talent and skill and not agreeing with them politically or socially is one of the toughest things we can do in life. Just like finding the difference between how we see our heroes and finding out that the might just be human too.

    With your permission, I'd like to share your post with my Multicultural Studies Class.


  2. Spencer, that is so awesome! It was also Prop 8 that drove me out of the church and I am super proud of you for not associating with Card anymore. That would be really really hard. But you're awesome.

  3. Very thoughtfully written, Spencer, and I'm sorry you had to make such a difficult decision.

  4. as a great fan of Orson Scott Card... I didn't know and you just taught me a lot. About respect and admiration and still having the courage, even a discreet one, of your opinion. Thanks a bunch.

  5. Hi Spencer,

    This is a very tough, very brave thing you did. I'm a freelancer, I do what you do, and whilst my contacts are scarce I may be able to help you or at the very least, send you some names. If you like, contact me on the email address this is attached to, or on twitter at @AlasdairStuart

  6. .

    If you left the Church over Prop 8, you've missed what's happened since then. And you haven't been a part of it.

    And a lot's happened.

  7. Thanks everyone. Theric, I didn't exactly leave. I didn't stop attending until 2011, actually. I went inactive, but my wife is still active and I support her in that. I've watched many of the recent developments and was pleased by the lack of action re Ref 74 in Washington, but I still see the same problems there. A lot's happened. But official policy hasn't changed.

  8. .

    The Church is people. Don't let people define the Church for you. You define the Church by being part of it.

  9. I'm at a loss for words. This is really touching. As a pansexual, it means a lot to see a fellow author stand up for gay rights and say enough is enough.

  10. Spencer, I understand your decision, even though I'm sad to see you go.

    I was a bit puzzled by this part of your post:

    > It's the comment that "there is a hierarchy
    > of suffering," which violates the principles
    > I teach every day in a tribal school on an
    > Indian reservation.

    In context, I read Card as saying that his suffering a little bullying by his older brothers as a child is significantly less suffering than that of a homeless child on the streets of Brazil. And I'm kind of stumped as to how anyone can really disagree, let alone find it offensive.

  11. Actually, I'm glad you brought it up.

    There is a concept in AA that goes against the idea of "hierarchy of suffering." If someone comes into the meeting upset because they didn't get a job, and someone else comes in upset because their child died, the group will sympathize with and validate both forms of suffering without trying to place the dead child over the job--rather, they are two forms of suffering. Different, but human pain nonetheless. (AFAIK; I'm not in AA.)

    When I began teaching on the rez, I had to confront a really difficult fact: my students live in endemic poverty, suffer disease, drug abuse and alcoholism, and I am the person holding them accountable for completing their schoolwork. I grew up white and middle-class and I haven't suffered the pains of this community.

    One of the most damaging things I could do would be to make big allowances based on the idea that I can never ever understand their suffering.

    One of my students has a baby in the hospital with a respiratory infection, and he rides his bike all the way from town to the rez every day for my class. The baby probably got the infection from the black mold he can't afford to have removed from his house--and even though the tribe might help remove it, he's too busy scrambling for work and school to think about that.

    If I subscribed to the idea of a hierarchy of suffering, I might be tempted to just give the guy a passing grade out of sympathy, tell him to go work with the tribal business council on the black mold and spend time with his kid.

    That would be a terrible idea.

    He is getting a degree in order to gain the advantages that come with that degree. In order to do that, he needs the rigor of academia.

    I would be taking away choice in order to ease my own difficulty at confronting such suffering.

    I can give him all the tools he needs--I can walk with him over to the business council and talk to him about black mold--but I can't lower the standards of my class.

    Now of course I could believe that his suffering was "worse" than mine and still hold him to academic rigor. But that's a slippery slope. Who, then, deserves an allowance because they suffer "the most?" Who does not deserve sympathy? If I ignore white middle-class depression because it's "low on the hierarchy," I ignore someone in very real pain. I see a slippery slope.

    Better to say there is the pain of poverty and disease and homelessness, and there is the pain of isolation within the world of means--and they are both pain, and we don't need to bother with a useless conversation about which one is worse.

    Thing is, I see this as tying in to Card's beliefs, expressed in other places in the article, that you cannot equate homosexuals with people who suffer racism for their ethnic group. This seems to me to be a fundamental rejection of the idea that prejudice is prejudice, and puts homosexuals, because many of them are white and middle-class, lower on a hierarchy of suffering than other races. And my experience shows me that is not true. My students suffer greatly for being Indian. My sister suffers greatly for being gay. I would be a much more callous person if I decided that my sister, because she is middle-class and white, is less deserving of sympathy than my students. Is human sympathy a limited quality? I think I can give sympathy to my students and my sister and have plenty left over.

  12. Thanks for clarifying. But I don't see Card as classifying people in a hierarchy of suffering based on their race or socioeconomic status; he's classifying them based on the amount they're actually suffering. A homeless kid in Brazil is actually suffering more than Card did from some bullying by his older brother.

    Yes, you would be a callous person to decide that your gay sister deserves less sympathy than your students merely because of her socioeconomic status and race. Such things aren't really relevant. The question is, how much is the person suffering? It seems callous to me to say there is no difference in suffering between a rich movie star in Hollywood who complains of a hangnail and a starving kid on the streets of Bangkok who's beaten and forced into prostitution. Sure, we can extend sympathy to both, but is it really impossible to say whether one's suffering is worse than the other's?

  13. Spencer: in lots of contexts, people who are suffering in differing ways push theirs to the side because they aren't suffering "enough" by this hierarchy's standards. For many, it creates false dichotomies: "I guess my brother punching me is okay because other people are homeless and beaten to death in foreign lands." It pushes people to ignore or dismiss their own trauma, and often makes it worse, under a false rational that things like these hierarchies enforce. Good on you for finding sympathy for those who aren't suffering "enough" by the table of ranks, but still suffering.

  14. Spence, I appreciate your comments and your sympathy for people who are suffering (and, for the record, I tend to agree with your opinion on the slippery slope), but I want to make one thing clear: being gay is not a source of suffering for me. The end.

  15. Woops, bad rhetoric, English teacher; sorry, Becca, I meant that homosexuality can put you in a place to suffer persecution in the way that being Indian on the rez can put you in a place to suffer the effects of extreme poverty. But not that your sexual preference causes any suffering on its own.

  16. Suffer in the sense of "has to put up with crap" in the mode of "suffers prejudice."

  17. This is brave and well written on all fronts.

  18. Spenser,

    Three years later, this still holds impact. Thank you for sharing. I really appreciate the honesty of your remarks regarding Card. I also find much value in your willingness to take the good with the bad and to not paint Card as an all-around bad person. This entire desicion shows true empathy and bravery. Your conviction is to be admired.

    As a queer agender individual who writes loads of alt-sexuality and alt-identity characters,I feel personally like I'm at the stage of my career where I still am willing to throw myself on that fire. In that, for IGMS to run a story of mine is subversive in its own way. I feel that subversiveness, at this point, is worth the effort.

    My sincerest hope is that between people like you willing to out your foot down and people like me and your friend willing to continue giving queer context to IGMS -- we can affect change and maybe open up some eyes and hearts. One of which, I hope, can be Card himself one day.

    Onward my friend.
    It is an honor to know you.