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Magdalene Visaggio @MagsVisaggs
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Okay. So I'm thinking a lot about Orson Card. It's all kinda vague but I'm gonna try and sort it out here and see if I end up anywhere.

Because I want to make sense of some things in my life.
To start, the Ender Quartet, especially the Speaker books, remain one of the most profound and important literary experiences of my life. I was gifted the Ender's Game by a beloved teacher toward the end of 8th grade, right before I moved across the state. That context matters.
The teacher, Mrs. Wilson, taught me 6th grade Language Arts, and we remained close all through middle school. She saw an untapped, unrealized potential in me -- and told me as much, so this isn't an exaggeration -- and wanted more than anything for me to read Ender's Game.
You need to know that in sixth grade I was a surly, angry, frustrated, depressed kid who was couldn't figure out how to have relationships with anybody, acted out in class, and would frequently simply *leave* class to go to the library or to hang w/ my guidance counselor.
Mrs. Wilson was one of the first adults in my life to really see and respect me as a person, and the gift of this book meant the world to me, because she was communicating something to me: that I mattered, and that my life did, too, and that my mind was not to be neglected.
On the first level, that's what Ender's Game is about: a child who wants to be *seen,* and not simply *used*. It's a book about recognizing the value of *yourself* through the encounter with the other: Ender's empathy with others has to become empathy for himself.
Orson Card is a difficult, troubling person. I havent read enough of his non-fiction writing to know if his politics are the result of a slide into Crazy Old Man territory or not, but I doubt it; anybody reading, at least, the Shadow books would see how reactionary he has been
for some time now, and the overt bigotry he has displayed in his columns is difficult to deny. And I find that strange for so many reasons, not the least of which is that the single most guiding philosophy of the Ender books is one of radical empathy.
It's all over it, especially the Speaker books; understanding, and thus loving, everyone you meet on their own terms, for whoever and whatever they are. It's built into the book structurally. Do you remember Demosthenes' Hierarchy of Foreignness?
The key distinction is between "ramen" ("rational men", not noodles), being aliens we can and therefore must communicate with, literally and and "varelse," those with whom we cannot speak and must necessarily destroy.

It's a hard line. But there's a key line that blows it up.
It's something like "When we recognize that a species is ramen and not varelse, it does not mean that they have crossed a moral line, but that we have."

That's such a MASSIVE statement: that communication and empathy is *always* possible and the pursuit of it a moral obligation.
And remember, all of this (for me) is in the context of a teacher who wants me to learn how to use my mind and connect with people, instead of treating my intelligence as a barrier.
It's ALSO in the context of a closeted, self-hating trans kid who is inching closer and closer to a Christianity that will utterly center radical empathy for others, while (like Ender) denying it to myself.
I don't want to speculate on Card's sexuality or gender identity (tho even as a kid I noticed the strange emphasis on male physicality and male bodies in close proximity, the literary distance from women, & the assertion that procreative marriage is simply "what adults do" as
members of society, regardless of personal feelings; if I remember correctly, the line is something like that to fail to marry and have children is an abrogation of social responsibility and the insistence on living as a child. It's something Val says later in the series)
Intentional or not, the Ender books are replete with a fear of the self, with a self hatred, that is only resolved for Ender in his decision to settle down, be a man, and be a (surrogate) father. Which is a very interesting way to resolve Ender's driving problem.
Heretofore, Ender has fought his own self-loathing over the Xenocide he unknowingly committed by fostering profound, radical empathy, going so far as to start a religion based on that, but which ultimately keeps him wandering; in Card's vision, Ender remains a "child."
And carrying forward into Card's vision, Ender's homosocial relationships -- his only meaningful female relationships prior to Novinha were his sister Val and Petra, a tomboyish comrade from Battle School; Ender's world is almost entirely homosocial.
Basically, in the Ender books, the transition from symbolic childhood to adulthood lies, not only in the cessation of wandering, but in committing to heterosexualty over homosociality or self-isolation. Without speculating on Card's own sexuality, which is his own business,
I have to say that I find the confluence of these two threads significant: the initial focus on radical empathy, as contained in an almost Buberian depiction of the I-Thou interaction (ESPECIALLY in his relationship with the Hive Queen) collapses into itself, and Ender's world
ACTUALLY CONTRACTS from the whole of human space to staying, marrying, and dying on Lusitania. Ender's mission of connection resolves into the establishment, not simply of family, but of a *particular kind* of family which he has never known but clearly long idealized:
a committed, extended family over which he assumes the role of patriarch, which serves as the model and centerpiece of the peaceful order he constructs on the planet.
This has devolved into literary criticism, so let me bring this back to where it started: my teacher Mrs. Wilson and my own desperately unhappy, frustrating youth.

Mrs. Wilson wanted me to *learn* from these books, to take up that radical empathy, to see myself as a being in
relationship with others and not an isolated node that observed the world but mostly collapsed into its own misery. And I took that lesson to the profoundest heart; it's animated me for most of my life. And yet Card himself can't demonstrate it. That frustrates me to no end.
And again, I'm trying to avoid casting any judgment here; nobody is perfect, no philosophy has ever been perfectly realized, and our idols all have clay feet. I know this. But the vision that so animated and compelled me as a child -- radical empathy -- was enunciated by a man
who believes my presence in the ladies' room throws all of society into chaos, that homosexuality isn't simply morally wrong but socially irresponsible, that war and violence are both necessary and proper for the perpetuation of society, that we are facing not simply the
supposed post-9/11 "clash of civilizations," but an internal civil war as well. And it's frustrating to me, because it makes me start to think that the message, at heart, of the Ender books is ultimately that duty dictates men be fathers.
That that is the ultimate good, that anything that doesn't serve that ultimate end is merest distraction, that that particular model of extended, localized families is objectively preferable over and above all others, and that radical empathy only goes as far as it serves that.
In short, it becomes very difficult to escape that a book about the vastness of the galaxy and human experience is both deeply parochial and rooted, at least in part, in fear of homosociality and by extension homosexuality. For further evidence of this, look no further than the
fact that all the pieces, ultimately, come together as Ender's "children" -- Miro and the weird magical clone of his brother Peter -- both close the books in committed heterosexual relationships that promise the procreation.
Notably, Jane's incarnation in the youthful Val-body Ender accidentally created both sexualizes her (she was previously an emergent, sentient AI that, again, Ender accidentally created) *and* commits her to a specific version of a life well-lived; HER wandering ends, too.
Now, there's a level on which these themes are very natural; a series that began with a child being ripped away from his family and who built surrogate ones finds fruition in the creation and perpetuation of a new one. That's a good theme that is SUPER present in the text.
But it's hard to walk away from these books without seeing Ender as a type of Charles Ryder, from Brideshead Revisited, who undergoes essentially the same journey: a youth spent with men (almost explicitly with a sexual component) to an adulthood with women. So much is PROPRIETY.
Now, let's return to the start of all this.

In the eighth grade, a beloved teacher gave me Ender's Game so that I could learn to have relationships with people. I devoured EG and the rest of the series immediately and repeatedly, and internalize it's worldview. What next?
I dove deeper and deeper into the closet, embraced reactionary religion that, on one level focused on radical love and empathy but on the other preached stark gender roles and the primacy of procreative family as a key part of society, and preached the same.
I built closeknit surrogate families almost entirely with men where we could practice and enforce masculinity all on the assumption that we would, in time, separate and forge our own traditional families or embrace celibacy (which was the plan of the two queer ppl in the group)
In other words, consciously in some ways and unconsciously in others, I modeled my life after Ender's; Ender is where I learned what a man is supposed to become, what the ideal is: displaying magnanimity with others but firm on social propriety.
All of that, in the context of both my queerness and the book's profound fear of sexuality (again, remember Ender and Bonzo in the bathroom: the water hot and steaming, both nude, Ender dripping with soap, tackling each other in an act of brutal, mortal violence).
I thought I had learned the right lessons from the books. I hadn't. I used them to construct and elaborate a philosophy that encouraged me, absent my religion, to abolish my queerness to a dark little corner because it was a social abberation that would keep me from Being A Man.
So much of that seems inherent in the text; I believe I was ultimately an attentive student, and it fucked me up super bad.

So now I'm not sure what to do.
Regardless of the message, regardless of that toxic things it taught me, I love those books, those stories, that world. It's inventive, brilliantly written, full of lively debate and discussion and fully-realized people. It's always going to live in me.
But I fear to revisit it, to ever spend time again with those people, because that's to sit at Card's feet and listen as he regales me with a moral fable a thousand pages long that concludes with "men make babies and thats what makes them good."
Or more to the point, that our lives are validated by and for our fecundity and acceptance of social norms.

I'm at a profound loss.
I dont have a tidy conclusion, so Im going to wrap this up here. Thanks for your patience with this essay.

Finito
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