Alright – GayProf must confess. I know some have conjectured about this and some have taken strong positions in the debate. Rumors have abounded. Now, though, the time has come for me to confirm what some have suspected. Ready?
Yes, I have attended a Star Trek convention in my life. No, I did not wear the ears.
Until I went to that convention (around the age of 12 or so), I thought that I was a Star-Trek fan. I could tell you details from ever episode and I had the technical manual for the Enterprise. Therefore, I thought I would be well acquainted with the other people at the convention.
No way, man. I didn’t even come close. Nobody told me that I should have sewn my own uniform or cast a phaser out of plaster of paris. Star-Trek fans take the show very seriously.
Recently I read a piece on 365Gay about an unofficial Star Trek program that has been gathering a loyal following. Apparently Star-Trek fans have developed their own series, Star Trek: New Voyages, which they film and distribute via the internet. What caught 365Gay’s interest was that fans had adopted a gay-oriented script originally intended for The Next Generation. The new, revised version will have James Kirk’s nephew turn out to be a big homo. One can only hope that we will get a green male go-go dancer at some point in that episode.
Star Trek provided much solace through my exceptionally lonely adolescence. It started when my entire family came down with Chicken Pox all in one go. I got a particularly bad case that invaded every part of my body, including my eyes (Yes, I had pox IN MY EYES). Sleeping proved impossible.
In the middle of the night, therefore, I discovered that the sixties Trek lived on through reruns. Only one incarnation of Star Trek existed at that moment and it centered on Kirk and Spock. The first episode that I saw involved the crew fighting off a doomsday machine that ate planets. Between the phasers and the battle with an insane Starfleet Commodore, I was hooked.
Star Trek always offered a rosy glow to the future. Enterprise operated because of a multi-cultural crew. The first version of Trek created a multi-cultural and egalitarian future. For the 1960s, it appeared almost radical to have Asians, African Americans, and women (of all different backgrounds) in high-ranking positions. As a result, part of the mythology around the series has been centered on its inclusiveness.
So, when Nichelle Nichols came to Albuquerque for a Star Trek convention, I made my parents drop me off for the entire day. She was way cool on the series with the giant beehive hairdo, gold-hoop earrings, a mini mini-skirt, and go-go boots (and I am sure all of that was super practical for working 12-hour shifts on a starship).
Yet, Star Trek’s inclusiveness had its limits. None of the shows addressed two basic constituencies in its audience: the gays and the Latinos.
I have already complained about the lack of Latinos on Star Trek on this blog. Still, when a show implies that Latinos, as a people, don’t exist in the future, it's worth repeating -- many times.
When Next Generation appeared, the pilot episode seemed like it was going to offer a corrective to both of these issues. After all, they had men running around in the mini-skirt and go-go boots that Uhura wore so proudly. Early in the episode, the show also introduced the character Lt. Torres who manned the helm. Finally a Latino character who would fill the void from the first series! Alas, no. Lt. Torres didn’t even survive the first full episode as the mysterious alien “Q” froze him to death.
After the Latinicicle, we had to wait until Voyager before we even came close to other Latino characters. Even then, things remained muddled. While the Chicano actor Robert Beltran played the first-officer, his character was Native American, not Latino. Even there, his character skirted dangerously close to indigenous stereotypes. He also lacked any type of specific tribal affiliation, existing as a cross between Pueblo, Navajo, Apache, Cherokee, and seemingly Mexica (though that probably reflected the interests of the actor). To the creators and producers of Star Trek, Native Americans were both interchangeable (one tribe is the same as the other) and also indistinguishable (How can we possibly know the difference?).
Likewise, a new (female) Lt. Torres appeared. Though this Torres got to live through the whole series, she was also half-Klingon. Indeed, much more time went to exploring her Klingon side than ever mentioning her Latino father (who apparently abandoned the family when she was just a baby).
Queers fared even worse than Latinos. In 1988, Star-Trek creator Gene Rodenberry promised that The Next Generation would include gay characters. This, he believed, went with the spirit and concept of the show. Unfortunately, his health had started to fade. Rick Berman entered the scene as the Executive Producer and quickly quashed any notion of a queer story. None of the following three series included gay characters, either. Kate Mulgrew often lobbied Rick Berman to add a gay character to Voyager, but he always declined.
The half-assed attempt by Next Generation to appease queer audiences came in 1992. They decided to air a very special episode where the Enterprise visits a planet without gender. Riker soon develops a relationship with one the planet's people. He discovers that she has a gendered identity as female. The people on her planet discover her “secret” and she is promptly sent to a “rehabilitation camp.” After she emerges, she claims that she is cured and 100 percent androgynous.
On the surface, that episode kinda hinted at issues surrounding sexuality in this nation. The parallel, in particular, to hiding one’s gender identity and “rehabilitation” would be the most obvious. Yet, it really just enforced heterosexual standards and gender presumptions.
It was only through quasi-monsters (aliens) that the existence of queer people could even be suggested in Star Trek. Even then, those aliens contrasted with the perfectly healthy, all hetero crew of the Enterprise. The mere presence of the aliens threatens to take down the ship and embroil the entire federation in intergalactic war!
The message of the episode further presumes that our social constructions of gender are natural. The romance between Riker and the planet’s citizen is explicitly heterosexual, as she considers herself female. She looks to emulate the other women on Enterprise, such as the doctor and Counselor Troi, as she asks for hair and make-up tips. Star Trek tells us its okay to be gay, as long as you are really straight and adopt a proper gender performance.
Once the ship leaves the planet, Riker never again mentions or thinks about this love affair. Though I think he might have sold the massage table on e-bay. Personally, I always hoped for an episode where we see her take revenge on her “therapists” through some type of bloodbath.
Paramount, the owners of the Star-Trek franchise, have expressed confusion about why their recent movie attempts and series failed. Now they want to make a new movie that focuses on a young Kirk and Spock. Unless that film shows them getting it on, I doubt it will leave much of an impression.
Part of their failure, it seems to me, is that Star Trek stopped being relevant when they stopped focusing on social issues and started focusing on big explosions. If fans of the show can produce a program that is more cutting edge than the studio that holds the license, there is a problem.
Or maybe they just need to use more of the ears. What do I know?