Thursday, September 8, 2011

Discussion: Homophobic Hamlet

I was one of those weirdo kids who was more comfortable talking to adults than their peers. I read the dictionary for fun and drove my Sunday school teacher up a wall by trying to engage her in theological debate when she just wanted me to sing, "Jesus Loves Me, This I Know". So when I read Ender's Game, I was thrilled. I could see twelve-year-old me as one of the battle school students, intellectual enough to plan strategy but still naive enough to trust authority figures. It broke my heart when I learned, years later, that twelve-year-old me would have never have been welcome there. Twelve-year-old me was old enough to notice boys, but she also noticed girls. And according to Orson Scott Card, that makes me genetically predisposed to sin.

Card made his opinions clear in "The Hypocrites of Homosexuality". In this, Card invokes the old Christian platitude that it's the sin, not the sinner; it's the action of same sex relations that's wrong, not feeling the desire. But Card takes it a step further. Not being able to control one's sexual desires is childish. It's your fault for not thinking the gay away - or praying it away. He also advocates making and keeping same sex behavior illegal, and making an example of those who aren't discreet enough in breaking those laws.

Now Card is at it again. He has re-written Shakespeare's Hamlet. It's bad enough that he removes the questions and moral ambiguity of the original. Shakespeare's Hamlet asks, "To be or not to be, that is the question". That is the central question of the play, as I interpret it: ghosts, murder, disrespect to the deceased, an ambiguous death that might be suicide or an accident caused by madness. But Card's Hamlet doesn't bother; I suppose there's no need to ponder what lies beyond this mortal coil when all of the characters were born to burn in Hell.

You see, this alone would be bad enough, but he takes it a step further. In Card's vision, the main characters are gay and were turned gay when they were raped by Hamlet's dead father. Yes, even Hamlet, the guy who flirts with Ophelia and jokes about the "country matters" in her lap. From Rain Taxi's review:

Here's the punch line: Old King Hamlet was an inadequate king because he was gay, an evil person because he was gay, and, ultimately, a demonic and ghostly father of lies who convinces young Hamlet to exact imaginary revenge on innocent people. The old king was actually murdered by Horatio, in revenge for molesting him as a young boy—along with Laertes, and Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern, thereby turning all of them gay. We learn that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are now "as fusty and peculiar as an old married couple. I pity the woman who tries to wed her way into that house."

Hamlet is damned for all the needless death he inflicts, and Dead Gay Dad will now do gay things to him for the rest of eternity: "Welcome to Hell, my beautiful son. At last we'll be together as I always longed for us to be."

Card conflates homosexuality with pedophilia, as heterosexists are wont to do. Never mind that most rape and child molestation is committed by straight men. Rape is about power, not sex. It is an act of violence, not lust. The victims a rapist chooses are indications of a power differential, not the rapist's preferences.

In Card's mind the dead king was a bad king because he was gay. Never mind Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar or Richard the Lionhearted. Queers cannot be good leaders. Never mind Sappho and Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron and Virginia Woolf. Queers cannot know beauty. Nope, not at all. Must be one of those genetic things, like all that sin with which we're born.

The irony of hate speech is that Card chose Shakespeare as the author whose works to translate. Whose works he is trying to bring to a modern audience who supposedly cannot comprehend the originals. Shakespeare: the man who wrote love poems to other men. I wonder how ol' William would feel about Card's "improvements" to his works? Hamlet's gone from an exploration of the nature of life and death to a festival of rape, pedophilia and homophobia.

The tropes that Card uses are hurtful to real people in real ways. This rhetoric is used to justify acts of violence against queers. Lesbians and gays are raped to try to turn them straight. One in twelve transgendered people's lives will end in murder; they are ten times more likely to be murdered than the general population. QUILTBAG teens are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than straight teens.

In the "gay panic" defense, attackers and murderers claim that they had to brutally beat and even murder their queer (or suspected of being queer) victims because they believed that being flirted with by a member of the same sex was a fate worse than death. That they were defending themselves from an evil beyond compare. Where do you think these murderers get these ideas? From media like this, where homosexuals are violent and being raped by one condemns you to share their fate in Hell.

But I do have some good news: the Twitter hashtag Buy A Big Gay Novel For Scott Card Day is collecting recommendations on books about or by queers (what a lovely complement to our last discussion!). Check it out and maybe pick one up in Card's honor.

ETA 9/9: Martin Kaye, the editor of the anthology in which this novella originally appeared three years ago, has responded. He says he did not want to include Card's work in the anthology, but was told he must by Tor, and when this was handed into him it was already over a year late. However, I notice that Kaye was very careful not to mention the content of this novella in his response.

ETA 9/12: Orson Scott Card has responded. He claims that he never intended a link between homosexuality and pedophilia. As that's a statement of intent, not results, I suppose that's factual enough. I find the rest of his statement to be disingenuous bordering on dishonest. He claims he "thinks no ill of" homosexuals despite having called for us to be arrested and sent to prison. He claims any evidence of his homophobia is made up by haters, when he has been speaking out against same sex marriage and other queer rights for decades. He claims that Hamlet's father isn't "attracted" to adults of any sex when again, rape is about power, not orientation. And so on, and so forth.

ETA 9/16: According to Sylvanstargazer's review, Laertes is actually asexual, not homosexual. (Apparently Card is aware that more than one flavor of queer exists. Hunh.) He was still "turned" asexual by child rape, though. Also, Hamlet is really, really misogynistic.

What do you think?


  1. "and Dead Gay Dad will now do gay things to him for the rest of eternity:"
    That part had me giggle some as I saw them stroll together through a sunny field in hell, gaily singing and dancing, what a terrible fate to suffer. :D

    It’s too bad that Card shows no interest in following some of the morally more complex points he brings up:
    (Hamlet about his Father’s Ghost, there’s some crab about the righteous and seeing the light at the beginning but lets skip that and go for the important part) “… he is an angry spirit, and mine are the hands that he has chosen to act out his rage. And yet by justice and ancient law, my hands do belong to him, until his murder be avenged.”
    (Just think about it what this says about Hamlet, and about “justice and ancient law” he knows in this instant to be wrong, what Card himself implies here about blind following handed down orders for no other reason than tradition demanding it)

    Even more interesting I find to see some of Cards less conscious word choices:
    (Emphasis added by me)
    "Ophelia? I didn't touch her."
    "She killed herself. Walked out into the sea, dressed in her heaviest gown. A funeral gown. Two soldiers went in after her, and a boat was launched, but when they brought her body back, she was dead."

    So, according to Card Christian marriage is not a virtue but a sentence?
    He equals Ophelia’s suicide to a marriage after all. I found that to be highly interesting to read. And in that light Card’s statement that Taming of the Shrew is a “…comedy with a legitimate moral lesson about the relationship between man and woman in marriage” makes a lot more sense. And a troubling one at that.

    One last point, am I alone in marvelling at the “buy at” buttons at the end of Rain Taxi’s review? It seemed… well, out of place to have them there given what she thought about the work.

  2. Ophelia's death especially bothers me because of the ambiguity of the original. Her drowning was probably deliberate but there was still a chance it was accidental due to her madness. And when the church refuses to bury her in sacred ground, thus deeming her a suicide and a Hellbound sinner, some of the characters are apalled and infuriated. But Card just takes the church's explanation as canon (big surprise) and loses that subtle depth.

    I've never read anything but Ender's Game, but I've seen Card's female characters discussed and apparently most of them are stupid babymaking machines. If he does have such a low opinion of women, it makes sense that he would see heterosexual marriage as something to be endured, not celebrated.

    I assume Rain Taxi's buy buttons are automatically generated. My buy links are manually added and I deliberately did not add one to this article. But I know more tech savvy people automate the tedious bits, so I doubt Rain Taxi did it intentionally.

  3. Card really is pretty much without redeeming qualities: a virulent misogynist and homophobe, I leave out his probable transphobia only because he probably prefers to think trans people don't actually exist. He wrote one clever work, which he has since ridden for all its worth, expanding it into a whole misogynistic and racist universe.

    Frankly, I'd rather have dinner with John Norman than buy a Card book. At least Norman doesn't try to pretend he's not a misogynist.

  4. I leave out his probable transphobia only because he probably prefers to think trans people don't actually exist.

    I think you're right. In Card's response, he refers only to "gay" and "homosexual" people, completing ignoring every other flavor of queer. Which is interesting given that apparently one of the characters in his Hamlet is asexual.

    I've also noticed that many heterosexists conflate transgender and transsexual people with gay people, and vice versa - as if there were no same sex attractions, only people changing their gender identity, and as if your gender identity dictated to whom you were attracted. I think the whole idea that "who you are doesn't dictate who you love" is too complicated for them, in more ways than one.

    Also, since the subject of Card being misogynistic has come up several times, I took to Google to look for an article or opinion piece that could expand on that. I found a post at Feminist SF pointing out the sexism in an article Card wrote about J.K. Rowling, but everything else I found was either vague or focused specifically on his homophobia. So if any commenters here have a good resource exploring Card's views on women or gender, please share it.


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