Sexuality in Star Trek

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What would you have us do, put pink triangles on them? Have them sashay down the corridor?

—Richard Arnold, Gene Roddenberry's personal secretary, before a group of gay Star Trek fans in 1991, http://www.webpan.com/dsinclair/tng.html


Contents

Introduction

The landmark first interracial kiss on American television: Kirk and Uhura from Star Trek: The Original Series.

While Star Trek, going back to the time of the original series in the 1960s, was noteworthy for confronting racial issues and promoting racial equality, the franchise has not made as many strides in its dealings with alternative sexuality. An ongoing struggle and point of frustration for many Star Trek fans has been the continued lack of any identified gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered characters within any of the television series or movies. To date, the only official acknowledgment of gay and bisexual characters has occurred in the tie-in novels and comic books. Occasionally the various series have had episodes tackling issues of alien sexuality and gender which might be read as allegories for homosexuality, but the messages taken from such episodes have often been mixed, and fan reaction less than overwhelmingly positive.

Given Star Trek's critical role in the development of the slash genre in media fandom, and its huge popularity within the GLBT community for its overall message of IDIC and tolerance, this issue has continued to cause repeated controversy and kerfluffling, both within the fandom and between the fans and The Powers That Be.

Star Trek: The Original Series

The original series never dealt directly with the issue of homosexuality, although George Takei, who played Sulu, was the first Trek actor to come out as gay in October 2005.[1] Some claims have been made that certain villains in episodes of TOS were portrayed or meant to be read as gay or effeminate, such as Petri in "Elaan of Troyius" and Claudius Marcus in "Bread and Circuses".[2]

The issue of alternative sexuality, however, was greatly explored through the fanworks produced by TOS fans as the first Kirk/Spock slash fiction began appearing in the 1970s. This was, however, not part of official canon in any way, and there was in fact some controversy over Della van Hise's professionally published Star Trek novel Killing Time in 1985. An early draft was published by mistake, which contained a fair amount of Kirk/Spock subtext.[3] Word among the fan community after the fact claimed that for some time afterwards, the publishers of the Star Trek novels avoided soliciting female authors as they were afraid others would come out of the slash community and try to insert similar themes in their books.[citation needed]

Star Trek: The Next Generation

As far back as 1987, Gene Roddenberry was being asked at conventions whether any gay characters would appear on Star Trek: The Next Generation.[4] After affirming he would support seeing such an idea developed, writer David Gerrold developed a script featuring a gay male couple and an allegory for AIDS. Paramount raised concerns about airing such content during daytime syndication hours and after numerous revisions (including dropping the gay characters completely), the script was eventually completely scrapped.[5] Roddenberry was seen as having gone back on his word to incorporate gay characters in the Star Trek universe, a situation which would not improve or show any progress throughout the following Star Trek series and films.

In "The Host", Beverly Crusher falls in love with a Trill named Odan, but rejects her feelings when Odan's male host body dies and is transferred to a female.

After the disappointment of the scrapping of David Gerrold's original script featuring gay characters, numerous other incidents happened in Star Trek: The Next Generation to the frustration of those hoping for inclusion of gay characters, or at least the acknowledgement of homosexuality, on the series. In a 1991 interview with Salon magazine, Gerrold described the filming of a scene in the episode "The Offspring" where Guinan teaches Lal about human love and dating practices:

"According to the script, Guinan was supposed to start telling Lal, 'When a man and a woman are in love ...' and in the background, there would be men and women sitting at tables, holding hands," Arnold says. "But Whoopi refused to say that. She said, 'This show is beyond that. It should be "When two people are in love."' And so it was decided on set that one of the tables in the background should have two men holding hands -- or two women, or whatever. But someone ran to a phone and made a call to the production office and that was nixed. [Producer] David Livingston came down and made sure that didn't happen."[6]

In 1991, Franklin Hummel and the Gaylaxians began a letter writing campaign to feature a gay character on the series. The campaign made mass media attention and was endorsed by Trek celebrities including Leonard Nimoy. Yet Paramount's reactions to it were hostile and dismissive. A letter to Franklin Hummel dated March 12, 1991 from Roddenberry's executive assistant read:

"During the course of our production, there have been many special interest groups who have lobbied for their particular cause. It is Gene Roddenberry's policy to present Star Trek as he sees it and not to be governed by outside influences."[7]

However, Roddenberry's attitude seemed to change over the following months. The August 1991 issue of The Advocate included a statement from Roddenberry that the fifth season of Next Generation would include regularly appearing gay characters. However, Roddenberry died a few months later and Rick Berman took control of the franchise. Many blame Berman for, in the following seasons and other Trek franchises, the continued lack of gay acceptance and visibility.

"The Outcast" was not well accepted by those looking for acceptance of gay characters and alternative sexualities in Star Trek.

Indeed, his approach to dealing with the "gay issue" was the single episode "The Outcast", which told the story of the Enterprise's encounter with a world that only accepted an androgynous culture, and one member of this society who wished to reject it to embrace a female sexuality (all members of this culture were portrayed by women). The episode was rejected by most gay and lesbian viewers, however, as it only seemed to enforce a heteronormative viewpoint. An analysis of the episode by Kathleen Moran and Joe Sartelle points out how:

The Planet Without Gender turns out, upon visual inspection, to be an offensive stereotype: the Planet of the Lesbian Separatists -- drab, grim, oppressive, unattractive beings who regard attraction to men as an intolerable sickness. When Riker and Soren finally got around to the inevitable Kiss of Forbidden Love, it wasn't controversial in the slightest: we knew that Riker was really kissing a woman, not just an androgynous being who thinks she's a woman. In that sense, "The Outcast" reversed the approach taken by the kiss in "Plato's Stepchildren." Although the context of Kirk and Uhura's kiss was conservative (they didn't want to do it), the visual image of that kiss was not -- it transcended the plot and demanded to be "read" as a controversial, even daring, social and political statement. In "The Outcast," in contrast, the seemingly radical context of Riker and Soren's kiss was overwhelmed by the conservative casting choices. Apparently Jonathan Frakes, who plays Riker, lobbied to have a man cast as Soren -- a decision which would have made all the difference, and turned "The Outcast" into a truly radical and controversial treatment of the complex issue of sexual desire and identity.[8]

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

The not-quite lesbian kiss from the episode "Rejoined".

There was little progress -- and indeed, several stereotypes reinforced -- regarding the issue of alternative sexuality on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, even though several relationships (notably Bashir/Garak and Bashir/O'Brien) seem to be played with a certain amount of subtext, and produced slash followings. Actor Andrew J. Robinson stated that he always portrayed Garak as bisexual, although it was never officially part of canon beyond being intimated in the novel about Garak he himself wrote, "A Stich in Time".[9].

The Trills, first introduced in the Next Generation episode "The Host", were featured more prominently on DS9, in particularly with the character of Jadzia Dax. Dax had been in both male and female hosts before, and did allow for some exploration of alternative/wider sexualities, but still remained fairly closely tied to heterosexual relationships. While the episode "Rejoined", aired in October 1995, included the first female/female kiss in the Star Trek universe to some great promotion and media attention, it was not actually a "lesbian" kiss. In the episode, Jadzia is reunited with a woman now hosting a symbiont Dax had previously been married to--when Dax had been hosted in a male body. They rediscover their feelings for each other and kiss, but by the end of the episode Jadzia has "recovered" and only shows romantic feelings towards male characters for the rest of the series. When Jadzia is killed and a new host is needed for Dax, some felt it would have made for interesting storytelling, given Jadzia's marriage to Worf--for Dax's new host to be male. But instead Nicole de Boer was brought in to play Ezri Dax, and what developed after that was a love triangle between Ezri, Bashir and Worf--all strictly heterosexual.

Mirror-universe Kira and Ezri--where they were allowed to be bisexual

In the episode "Rules of Acquisition", a Ferengi named Pel dressed like a man in order to do business, and found herself attracted to Quark but unsure what to do. In one of the series' few acknowledgments of homosexuality, Jadzia--while still under the impression that Pel is a man--encouraged "him" to act on "his" feelings. Of course, Quark rejected Pel, which may make sense for the very male-dominated (and likely homophobic) Ferengi culture. This episode was not considered a very strong statement in support of homosexuality by many, although Jadzia's statement was at least a small step forward.[10]

The only genuinely bisexual or gay characters shown on Deep Space Nine were the alternative-universe versions of Kira and Ezri--and, in stereotypical fashion, they were villains in the alternative universe. The "evil homosexual" stereotype has been rampant through Hollywood productions for decades, so this plot development was actually seen as homophobic by many.[11]

Star Trek: Voyager

In 1995, the Voyager Visibility Project/USS Harvey Milk Gay & Lesbian Star Trek Association was founded as a pressure group to get the Star Trek producers to include a positive, ongoing gay character on Star Trek: Voyager. The project folded in 1998, acknowledging defeat and urging a boycott of the Star Trek franchise. The website for the project, gaytrek.com, was supposed to remain up to document the struggles, but eventually was usurped by an internet porn site.[12]

When the character of 7 of 9 was introduced, there was hope by many--especially given her developing relationship with Kathryn Janeway--that the character would be revealed to be lesbian. However, producer Jeri Taylor denied this and said in an interview with TV Guide in 1998:

Seven of Nine is not a lesbian, Star Trek: Voyager executive producer Jeri Taylor says. The Voyager Visibility Project, a gay Trekker group, issued a press release asserting that Jeri Ryan's Borg character would reveal her preference sometime this season. But "that's completely untrue," Taylor says. The group has been lobbying for a gay Voyager character, she adds, "in my mind, quite legitimately. It is something I am absolutely sympathetic with, and I have tried several times to do it. But for various reasons there has been opposition, and it gradually became clear that this is a fight I could not win."[13]

Kate Mulgrew made a number of public statements regarding her own hope that the series would explore gay relationships, but also acknowledged why it was unlikely to happen. In a 2002 interview for Out in America, she stated:

Well, one would think that Hollywood would be more open-minded at this point, since essentially the whole town is run by the gay community. It makes very little sense if you think about it. No, Star Trek is very strangely by the book in this regard. Rick Berman, who is a very sagacious man, has been very firm about certain things. I've approached him many, many times over the years about getting a gay character on the show--one whom we could really love, not just a guest star. Y'know, we had blacks, Asians, we even had a handicapped character-- and so I thought, this is now beginning to look a bit absurd. And he said, "In due time." And so, I'm suspecting that on Enterprise they will do something to this effect. I couldn't get it done on mine. And I am sorry for that.[14]

By the end of the series, virtually every one of the main characters on Voyager had been paired up in a heterosexual relationship, and as a series which regularly included sexual/romantic content, many were disgusted that the show never once included acknowledgment of homosexuality.[15]

Star Trek: Enterprise

Early rumors suggested Malcolm Reed might turn out to be the first regular gay character in a Star Trek series. These rumors proved to be untrue.

As Star Trek: Enterprise was preparing to launch, rumors circulated that one of the main characters would turn out to be gay--specifically Malcolm Reed. TV Guide writer Michael Logan asked Rick Berman about this in August 2001 and was told: "That's totally untrue. Well I shouldn't say totally untrue. It has not been discussed. One of these characters may turn out to be gay. We've just decided not to make an issue of it for the time being."[16]

Scott Bakula came out in support of the idea of introducing a gay character, stating in a 2002 piece in Metrosource:

"I'm not really familiar with the history of this particular issue with regards to Star Trek; in fact, the first I ever heard of it was at our first junket when somebody asked if there was going to be an opportunity for a gay or lesbian character on the show. I was surprised at the question, because I had just assumed that over the course of the years that it had been addressed. I was surprised it was even an issue. Since then I haven't sat down with Rick and Brannon to discuss it. It does seem awkward (that nothing has ever happened).

"I haven't heard anything coming down the pipeline, but I would be in favor of it. I would hope it would be handled in a great way. It would be wonderful, in my opinion, if it was not such a huge issue, but was just there."[17]

Star Trek IX

An icon created to show support for the Social Equality Effort.

After the release of the Star Trek "Reboot" film in 2009, there was a renewed campaign by some to see a gay relationship featured in this new film series. Specifically, a group calling themselves the Social Equality Effort[18] began a petition campaign to make Kirk/Spock a canon couple in the next film. In July 2009, they launched their website and petition, which read:

"In the fifth season [of Star Trek: The Next Generation] viewers will see more of shipboard life [including] gay crew members in day-to-day circumstances." - Gene Roddenberry, to The Advocate, 1991
The above quote is a promise made by the creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, shortly before his death. This promise was never fulfilled.
We, the undersigned, request that the director, producers and writers of the new Star Trek films include a romantic relationship between the characters of James T. Kirk and Spock in the execution of Star Trek sequels.
If you, the director, producers and writers, allow this relationship to be shown as it was displayed in the original Star Trek series, we believe that it would carry forward the legacy that Gene Roddenberry left to us: the legacy of a future in which all genders and races are equal and accepted. The acknowledgment of the relationship between Kirk and Spock in a mainstream film would encourage the abolition of prejudice and homophobia and open the door to further acceptance of all types of sexuality.
We recognize the fiscal implications of such a momentous step; however, a relationship between Kirk and Spock, if accepted in the mainstream films, will bring financial returns from Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual groups as well as Star Trek fans. The resurrection of the franchise has come at the perfect time for it to lead the way again, as it did in the 1960s, and break new ground in terms of gender and sexual equality.
Sincerely,
The Undersigned[19]

They began promoting their efforts on various mailing lists and forums such as newtrekslash, but were met with very mixed reactions to their campaign.[20] Many fans objected to their insisting that Kirk/Spock had to be the couple focused on, as that would break up Spock/Uhura which had gained a considerable following after the new movie. There was an "anti-het" vibe to some of the arguments to canonize Kirk/Spock, and people raised eyebrows over the way it read as more of an effort to make a favored slash couple canon instead of a real push for social equality and gay visibility.[21],[22],[23],[24],[25] Comments on the Social Equality Effort's own forum raised more questions about the entire effort, with some supporters posting comments such as "I really think it's a bit...silly? For people who support LGBT interests not to sign the petition or support us because they don't support the pairing. It's like if civil rights supporters decided not to support the movement because they didn't like MLK Jr.."[26]

Faced with this brewing controversy, on July 24, 2009 the organizers had a meeting to discuss changing the focus of the campaign away from specifically Kirk/Spock due to all of the criticism. A re-worded petition was proposed and parts of the website taken down until they could be revised.[27]

On August 1, 2009 the Social Equality Effort website was re-launched. The SEE Trek Love project and petition pages were modified to be more supportive of LGBT representation in general, and no longer requested a specific relationship. In regards to the initial concerns that were raised about the project, the organizers of Social Equality Effort released a statement on their website to clarify what the goals of the group were, and to apologize for the earlier issues regarding Kirk/Spock. [28]

The project's petition now reads:

In the fifth season [of Star Trek: The Next Generation] viewers will see more of shipboard life [including] gay crew members in day-to-day circumstances." - Gene Roddenberry, to The Advocate, 1991
The above quote is a promise made by the creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, shortly before his death. This promise was never fulfilled.
We, the undersigned, request that the director, producers and writers of the new Star Trek films include a romantic relationship between main characters of the same sex in the execution of Star Trek sequels. This relationship could be formed by any number of character combinations as might develop naturally in the course of the story. Preferably, this development would occur between members of the primary cast of characters on the Enterprise.
If you, the director, producers and writers, allow such relationships to be shown as was intended for the original Star Trek productions, we believe that it would carry forward the legacy that Gene Roddenberry left to us, the fans: the legacy of a future in which all genders and races are equal and accepted. The acknowledgment of the deep love and friendship between members of the Enterprise crew in a mainstream film, regardless of gender, would encourage the abolition of prejudice and homophobia and open the door to further acceptance of all types of sexuality.
We recognize the fiscal implications of such a momentous step. However, such a relationship, if accepted in the mainstream films, will bring financial returns from Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans groups as well as Star Trek fans. The resurrection of the franchise has come at the perfect time for it to lead the way again, as it did in the 1960s, and break new ground in terms of gender and sexual equality. [29]

Star Trek books and comics

The only official acknowledgement of alternative sexualities has come in some of the Star Trek tie-in novels and comic books.

  • Starfleet Academy issue #17 revealed that cadet Yoshi Mishima was gay.
  • "Section 31: Rogue" by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin confirmed that Lt. Hawk from Star Trek: First Contact was in fact gay, as many fans had heard rumors and wished to believe despite Rick Berman's denials in 1996.
  • "Pathways", by Jeri Taylor, includes a story about Harry Kim's days at the academy, where his room-mate was gay.
  • "The Best and the Brightest" a Star Fleet Academy book by Susan Wright, features a lesbian relationship.

See also

External links

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