Op-ed: Why I'm Skipping Ender's Game
As most people know by now, Ender's Game author Orson Scott Card is not a friend of the LGBT community. He's written essays that, among other things, attribute same-sex attraction to molestation and assail governments for even considering laws that allow for marriage equality. Nevertheless, Card has also written some spectacular novels. Lionsgate Films and Summit Entertainment wouldn't be shelling out millions of dollars to bring Ender's Game to the big screen if this second point wasn't true.
But as much as the producers and cast of Ender's Game want me to ignore Card's horrific rants, I can't help but take these statements personally. Now, granted, I was only 4 when the novel was originally published and I've never met the man, but I have spent my life in the world that Card created. That world, whether he intended it or not, is the world of geek fandom.
Geek culture is a huge atmosphere that encompasses a wide rage of genres and media. One can spend their entire life immersing themselves in just one particular character from one book or television show, or gorge on a variety of comic books, television shows, films, novels, and games. It's an exciting, vibrant place to be, that nowadays seems to be everywhere, whether it's The Avengers and Man of Steel in movie theaters, Harry Potter and Hunger Games novels flying off the shelves, or spending Sunday night at home watching Once Upon a Time. But while geek culture has reached near-ubiquity, it wasn't always like that.
Having been raised in upstate New York in the 1980s and '90s, I can tell you it wasn't the easiest time to be a geek, let alone a shy, closeted gay youth. In the early and mid-'90s, there were few options for science fiction television programs, which were basically The X-Files, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, or Third Rock From the Sun. Hopes for a Doctor Who revival were dashed by a poorly received made-for-TV movie starring Paul McGann. The only comic book film franchise was Warner Bros.' original Batman series, which died a campy death with its fourth installment, Batman and Robin. At the time, the Star Wars saga was truly a trilogy, with only three films. Internet access was just beginning to make its way into people's homes, and the idea of social media was at least a decade away, not to mention the thought of having digital media available in the palm of your hand.
On top of this, the LGBT community hadn't achieved the level of recognition it has today. In the political sphere, the Clinton administration had signed the Defense of Marriage Act and "don't ask, don't tell" into law, and the best hope for same-sex marriage was these awkward things called civil unions. In terms of mass media, most Americans thought gay couples were something like Nathan Lane's and Robin Williams's characters from The Birdcage, and Ellen DeGeneres was starring in a romantic comedy opposite Bill Pullman before coming out in her quickly canceled sitcom. And while Will & Grace debuted toward the end of the millennium, one was hard-pressed to find gay characters outside of Thursdays at 9 p.m. on NBC. Put all this together, and the concept of a "queer geek community" was nonexistent.
So while I had a number of friends in junior high and high school, few of them knew that I was an avid collector of comic books, and I couldn't bring myself to tell them about my burgeoning sexuality (although I'm sure most of them knew I was gay before I admitted it to myself). Comic books and science fiction became my way of grappling with my identity and inspired me to boldly explore new worlds while doing my best to help others in need. I wanted desperately to fly away to Metropolis and join the staff of the Daily Planet. I couldn't help but yearn to travel through space and time with any incarnation of the Doctor. And while my feet were firmly planted in Utica, N.Y., for the first 18 years of my life, geek culture provided me with the comfort I needed during that time of my life.
When I moved to New York City for college and became active in my school's LGBT organizations, a lot of my geek habits stayed with me. Wednesdays were spent at local comic shops picking up the latest issues featuring the Justice League, the Flash, or Wonder Woman fighting whatever cosmic villain was threating the universe that week. My friends were amazed by my knowledge of the X-Men and Spider-Man, and I was more than happy to impress them with trivia before and after the films hit theaters. And of course, seeing Doctor Who come back to television on a regular basis was welcome.
As geek culture continued to gain mainstream attention and it became easier to connect with other geeks, I was amazed to eventually learn that there were other LGBT folks with the same passions I had. Groups like Prism began promoting queer creators, and eventually the larger publishers began to give their LGBT characters more prominent roles in storylines. The past few years have been a boon for queer geeks, and I feel there are still greater things to come. Geeks OUT was formed in part to continue to drive this momentum forward and ensure that LGBT fans were a part of a larger dialogue about diversity in the fan community.
Unfortunately, people like Orson Scott Card are a threat to this progress. To me, Card's activism and homophobia have one general message: "You don't belong here." His vitriol and venom toward the LGBT community do nothing but tarnish his reputation as a quality writer. Numerous friends have tried to sway me on the merits of Ender's Game, but my mind can only recall statements from Card like "r]gardless of law, 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," or that people become gay “through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse.” It's within this context of lies and bullying that I can only think of one thing to do and that's to skip Ender's Game when it's released in the United States on Friday.
Since Geeks OUT launched this campaign earlier this year, we've faced a slew of criticism, ranging from "you need to separate the art from the artist" to "this isn't big enough to make a difference." To the first argument, I have to draw on my experience of being a queer geek and knowing that Orson Scott Card doesn't respect who I am as a fan of science fiction. We're not talking about someone who at one time or another made some stupid comments and is now apologizing for them, like James Gunn, director of the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy. Card actively works to target and undermine the LGBT community's progress, and he's quietly begun attacking people of color as well. To me, consuming any of his products is extremely problematic, and I'm addressing that in the fashion I see fit.
On the other hand, to say that the Skip Ender's Game campaign won't have an impact is completely moot at this point. Geeks OUT has pushed Card's atrocious attacks on the LGBT community to the forefront of mainstream media, with nearly every outlet that reports on Ender's Game commenting on his radical activism. Even if people weren't aware of his views, they're learning about them now. Regardless of Ender's Game's box office tally, Geeks OUT has helped raise awareness of Orson Scott Card's fear-mongering, and no amount of ticket sales can change that.
Fifty or a hundred years from now (or, heck, even during Ender's time), I hope Orson Scott Card is remembered for his novels. However, his current outspoken activism impedes that honor. Until Card realizes how important diversity is to geek culture, I have no other option but to skip Ender's Game this weekend.
PATRICK YACCO is a board member of Geeks OUT, a community organization dedicated to rallying, empowering, and promoting queer geeks everywhere. He is currently pursuing an MPA degree in nonprofit management at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service. Learn more about Geeks OUT on their website and follow them on Twitter @GeeksOUT.