Friday, August 5, 2016

Gays in Star Trek

When I look at the stats of this blog, I am always amazed. Every time I blog about Star Trek, the numbers are off the wall. For example, in the last week I have had over 90 hits on my post about Dr. Crusher (a character on Star Trek). This is the entry with the highest amount of hits for the week. This was posted over a year ago. The next two closest are my last two posts from last week, one with around 40 and the other around 20 hits. Every time I look at these stats, my Star Trek blog posts have the highest amount of hits. I am tempted to blog more about Star Trek. I don't want this blog to be a geekfest, dedicated only to a 50 year old television show, but it is tempting to follow the clicks. I must resist. I am larger than that. So I am only doing this on occasion.

This year's film Star Trek: Beyond was a good one. Remember every other Star Trek movie is a good one. I am not going to go into details about what made the movie worth seeing, for that you can go to Rotten Tomatoes. One little subtle detail in the film that may have caught your eye or may have even pissed a few people off: Mr. Sulu is gay.  That's right. The Enterprise docks at the space station Yorktown (one of the most spectacular things I have seen on the screen) and the crew goes on shore leave. They meet up with their loved ones. Lt. Hikaru Sulu picks up his daughter, hugs her and walks away with his arm around her and another man. Fans of the show will presume that the little girl is Demura, Sulu's daughter, but his male partner, that is entirely new.

The crew that is in the film is a reboot of the television show from the 60's. The same characters are in the film but obviously, with younger actors. The actor that played Sulu on the television show, George Takei, came out as gay in 2005 and announced that he had been, at the time, in a committed relationship with another man, Brad Altman, for 18 years. This was prompted by Republican governor Schwarzenegger's veto of California same-sex legislation. So it makes sense that if any character should be gay on Star Trek, it might as well be Sulu.  Nothing in the show's past would contradict this. There is one episode, Mirror, Mirror, where Sulu shows some interest in a female crew member, Uhura, but that was the evil Sulu from the alternative universe. Not our Sulu.

When Gene Roddenberry created the show in the 60's he was already pushing the envelope, when he had main characters from non-white descent. While three main characters were white males,the other three were not which didn't happen on television back then. It was somewhat radical for a character like Sulu to be of Japanese descent just a couple of decades after WW II. Uhura was a black woman from Africa and Chekov was Russian during the height of the cold war. Nothing on TV was like it. The network had problems with this, but since they were minor characters, they got away with it. The original pilot had a woman first officer but that was changed when the show was picked up. The network tried to get rid of Spock, because he was an alien, but he was such a popular character, they dealt with it. The original series showed us little of their personal lives so anyone of them could be gay, their sex lives never came into play. Also, their ethnicity and gender had little to do with the plots of the shows. When Star Trek: The Next Generation came out in the 1980's, Roddenberry tried to get a gay character into the mix but it never happened.  He had little control over the show by then and he died during the filming of the fifth season.

Science fiction is fertile ground for gender bending. I may have mentioned before, in prior posts, that Star Trek isn't always good sci-fi but it is almost always good television. It is easier to push the envelope on any subject, particular those considered by many to be controversial, when you can hide under the auspice of an alien culture. This is why, it is a bit disappointing that Star Trek didn't take a lead on this in the television world. While lesser shows like Soap and Will and Grace were making strides on this subject, the Star Trek franchise was quite tame.

Standout episodes exist, but until now, we haven't had a gay recurring character. The closest we have had is Commander Riker, the first officer on The Next Generation, who could be bisexual and seems like he'd have sex with anything. If I were on the crew with him, I wouldn't leave him alone with my pets. In a 5th season episode, called The Outcast, we are introduced to an androgynous species called the J'naii. This species has one gender. It is considered perverted among them to lean toward male or female and against the law. Riker forms a connection with one of them, Soren, who admits to him to lean towards the female. They quickly fall in love. When the J'naii force her to undergo a procedure to neutralize her, Riker and Worf (another crew member) risk their lives and careers to stop it. It is not a very good episode, mostly because of how out of character Riker acts and how his behavior is forgiven. I watched this episode when it originally aired in 1992 when I was living with housemates in the suburbs of Boston. I watched it with one of my housemates who got outright angry with it. It might have been the first time I had ever seen physical manifestations of homophobia. He was turning red and breathing heavily. Obviously, the show touched a nerve so maybe I do see why they weren't more bold. He might have had a heart attack if Captain Kirk and Spock started making out.

A number of episodes have had sexuality themes. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the third series, had a Trill character, Commander Jadzia Dax. DS9 had much stronger female characters than the other series and Dax was one of them. Trills are symbiotic species; they are slug-like and live inside a humanoid host. When the host dies, the slug moves to a new host who could be from another gender. The slug lives for generations and carries the memories of the prior host, so their sexuality is fluid. Dax may be a female character but she has memories of having had relationships with men and women.  In Rejoined, from season 4, Dax meets up with an old spouse and falls in love again. In Trill culture, having relations with an old spouse or lover from a prior joining is taboo. If they were to continue they would be exiled and their symbionts would not be assigned any more hosts. This episode contains the first same-sex kiss in Star Trek.  This is the 357th episode ... it was about time.

Also, in DS9 we had two male characters Miles O'Brien and Doctor Julian Bashir who spend a lot of time alone together on the holodeck. We never get to see what they are doing during these sessions and neither do any of their crew mates. They claim to be reliving famous battles, like the Alamo, but who knows what they are doing. Let your imagination run on this one that is what entertainment is for.

In January 2017, CBS will be premiering the seventh series (if you count the animated series from the 70's) called Star Trek: Discovery. So we'll see if they boldly go where no Star Trek series has gone before.  My guess, it will be more subtle than bold.

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