Every once in a while, I get so frustrated with the “typical male attitude” around gender and sexuality that I pretty much throw my hands into the air and scream “What the fuck, straight boys?!”
(Not that all straight boys — or even most straight boys are the ones to blame, but it always seems to be a straight boy who steps up.)
I had a what-the-fuck-straight-boys moment this week. Not over the whole anti-feminist poster issue out in Edmonton, although that came close (and I’ve posted about the so-called Men’s Rights movement before) and I’m not going to deny that it very much set the stage for the later WTFSB moment.
No, what triggered my moment was, once again, a Facebook response to an article I posted. The specific article was a well-reasoned piece about boycotting the Ender’s Game movie because of Orson Scott Card’s repugnant political stance on equal rights for LGBT people. My distress at Card’s politics versus the many beautiful, emotional, and empathetic stories he’s written would pretty much be a post unto itself, but I will say this: one of his novellas, Unaccompanied Sonata, had a huge impact on me while I was closeted in high school. I genuinely cannot understand how someone could write that story — about a boy born with a genius for music being repeatedly punished for transgressing the arbitrary rules of his dystopian society before being coerced into defending the same system which marginalized him — and then turn around and advocate criminal penalties for homosexual behaviour.
And a friend of mine commented that Card was entitled to his opinions and that by boycotting his movie how was I any different from the “Salem witch burners?”
And that’s when I startled The Fiancée with the cry of “What the fuck, straight boys?!”
Under the circumstances, and being mindful of the recent drama on Facebook that I had to deal with (and the fallout from which I’m still dealing with) I repressed my urge to freak out and put some thought into my response:
Two things. First, nobody was burned at Salem. Nineteen of the twenty people executed during the Salem Witch Trials were hanged, the last was crushed to death beneath stones. Several more died of disease in jail.
(This was me being pedantic, which is a bad habit of mine. As an aside, the man who was crushed to death, 71-year-old Giles Corey, was being tortured to elicit a confession of witchcraft because he refused to participate with the unjust proceedings and enter a plea of either guilty or not guilty. After two days of torture his final words were probably the most badass ever: “More weight!”)
Second, I’m not advocating hanging Orson Scott Card or crushing him beneath large stones. Hell, I’m not even saying we should deny him legal and civil equality and criminalize his sexuality — which is what Card has publicly stated should be done to LGBT people. What I support is a voluntary financial boycott against an author who uses his public exposure to espouse homophobic views.
My friend responded that he would fight to the death for the right to hold differing opinions.
This is a reference, of course, to Voltaire’s famous statement “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” And you know what? I agree with Voltaire, which means I agree with my friend… as far as Orson Scott Card having every right to hold his opinions. I even acknowledge Card’s right to use his visibility as a successful science-fiction writer with a blockbuster movie to espouse poltical and social beliefs that I disgree with (or find repugnant.)
But I’m not advocating stripping Card of his right to hold odious opinions: I simply, publicly, refuse to give him my money because of those opinions. I won’t be seeing Ender’s Game, ever, for the same reasons that I won’t be eating food from Chick-fil-A or attending a Roman Catholic church service: I refuse to support or enable homophobia. That’s my right, and boycotting is pretty much the only tool of opposition that I have, legally.
Do I think that boycotting Ender’s Game is actually going to change Card’s attitude? No, no I don’t. If anything, the blowback from his political stance has Card playing the victim for all it’s worth, and he’s using the publicity from it to make himself more famous. The point of a boycott is to put pressure on Summit Enterainment, OddLot Entertainment, Chartoff Productions, and every other production company and studio involved with the project with the simple message that if you back a homophobe you’re going to lose money. Of course, that may or may not happen: After the whole Chick-fil-A thing in the states, for example, the company actually made record profits because the anti-LGBT people flocked to the chain in droves as a way of demonstrating their opposition to equal marriage. Sometimes the haters win: it’s frustrating, but true.
In the equal marriage debate, as in the much larger LGBT-rights debate, there are three schools of thought: There’s the pro-equal-rights faction, of which I am emphatically a part; There’s the anti-LGBT-rights faction, of which Orson Scott Card has made himself a prominent spokesperson; and then there’s the who-cares-it-doesn’t-effect-me faction, which is frankly in the majority. That majority sees no profit in getting involved in the debate… so a huge part of LGBT rights activism is aimed at educating that third faction. Once you’ve made people notice that there’s a big steaming pile of injustice in the middle of the sidewalk they’ll generally demand that somebody clean it up, or at least they’ll stop blocking the people holding the shovel. The challenge is to get people to see the injustice instead of just holding their noses and ignoring it.
It’s entirely possible that Orson Scott Card will get very, very rich from his movie. It’s entirely possible that Ender’s Game will be a runaway, blockbuster success and the studios will queue up to make more movies from his novels. It’s even possible that the notoriety Card has achieved with his public opposition will actually boost attendance by the religious, Republicans, and the right-wing generally. And I would be disappointed by that, because I am always disappointed when bad people profit from being bad people.
Being a homophobe is one of the defining criteria I use for determining whether or not someone is a bad person, in the same way that being a misogynist or a racist will impact my judgement of a person. Simply put, if you believe that someone being born different from you is a reason to treat them as an inferior, then you are a bad person. If you are a bad person, I want nothing to do with you and will take my business elsewhere.
Orson Scott Card, obviously, uses a different set of criteria than I do to judge good and bad people, and he is hardly alone in that. We do not all have to agree, and yes, I would defend his right to make his own determination. It’s just a pity that he doesn’t extend me the same courtesy… and in fact cannot even comphrehend that I might deserve courtesy at all. (Trigger warning on the link, BTW.)
The law cannot be used to punish people who are different simply for being different. Denying basic civil rights, such as the right to marry, based on being born with certain characteristics is punitive and wrong; it was wrong when the characteristic was skin colour, it was wrong when the characteristic was gender, and it is wrong when the characteristic is sexual orientation. Orson Scott Card has publicly advocated that people of a certain sexual orientation — my sexual orientation — deserve to be criminally prosecuted because of how we were born. Refusing to give him my money is actually a fairly mild reaction to that opinion, when you think about it.
I understand that, to those who have the luxury of saying “who cares, it doesn’t effect me” (i.e. straight boys), my reaction might be regarded as being unfair to Orson Scott Card… but even as hyperbole I genuinely don’t understand how witholding my business could remotely be equated with systematic judicial persecution. And that’s where my frustration comes into the picture: you have to be pretty comfortable in your position and your privilege to make that kind of statement.