“When Star Trek Discovery first aired 2017, it also brought with it’s first ever explicitly gay main characters, says trans writer and YouTuber Jessie Gender (nee Earl), “It was a huge deal for the 50 year-old franchise, especially considering that the Trek has always been about celebrating diversity.”
But, Gender continues, “Did you know that this wasn’t the first time Trek tried to tackle queer issues? And no, I’m not talking about the blink and you’ll miss it nod to Sulu being gay in Star Trek Beyond. Even though it was adorable. No, a lot of Trek’s history with queer issues began decades earlier, both from fans and the creators.”
Towleroad spoke to Gender.
TLRD: Why do you think so many queer folks love Star Trek?I think there’s so many reasons why Star Trek has resonated with queer fans, especially today.
Star Trek has always had a long, proud history of using science fiction allegory to speak to pressing social issues of the day, even all the way back in the 1960s. And while Trek has largely not focused on queer issues directly outside of a few episodes here and there, it’s become a hallmark of the LGBTQ community to find versions of ourselves in stories of other minority groups onscreen. And on top of that, the small of amount of direct LGBTQ representation that Trek did give in episodes like “The Outcast” in The Next Generation were leaps and bounds ahead of anything else that made it to the small (or big) screen at that time in the early 1990s. Certainly, they weren’t without their faults, especially by today’s standards, but hearing what essentially amounts to a trans woman give a speech about her right to exist on a nationally aired television show in 1993 still feels revolutionary.
On top of that, Trek has always had an affinity for characters who struggle with inner emotional turmoil while trying to hide that struggle from society at large; mirror the story of any LGBTQ person who has struggled with coming out of the closet, or discovering that they are somehow different from what everyone says they “should” be.
Leonard Nimoy’s Spock’s constant struggle between his internal emotions and his external logical veneer remains one of the most iconic characters in all of American television. Yet characters like The Next Generation’s Date, Deep Space Nine‘s Jadzia Dax, Voyager‘s The Doctor, Enterprise T’Pol or even Discovery‘s Saru, Ash Tyler, or Michael Burnham all speak to this same struggle on some level or another.
It’s also worth mentioning that Trek spawned the largest and most important queer fan movements with slash fan fiction, or fan fiction that imagines same gender relationships between fictional characters. Slash fiction started with Kirk/Spock way back in the 70s, and one can still feel it’s influence today in fan and geek culture. I’m sure the Spock’s status as a sex symbol certainly didn’t hurt it’s growth, and certainly didn’t hurt cultivating queer men to becoming Trek fans.
Yet, I think that Star Trek hold’s a particular affinity for queer fans today. Looking around at the world today, it’s very clear that we are at a crucial turning point in the history of humanity. Especially when one looks at politics or climate change, it feels like we are teetering on the precipice of a dark chapter in our story. So with Star Trek’s return to popularity these past few years really speaks to our deep desire to dream of a more hopeful future. A future where humanity overcomes it’s baser instincts and instead yearns to learn and explore not only new planets and new civilizations, but at what it means to be human. Trek has always been a show about celebrating diversity of both identity and opinion. And, especially with Star Trek Discovery featuring the franchise’s first LGBTQ main characters (played by the impeccable LGBTQ icons Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz), allows queer people to actually feel like we get to not only take part in that bright future, but have an importnat role to play in that journey.
What’s something you’d like to see that you haven’t? I know it’s somewhat of an obvious answer coming from me, but I’d truly love to see a transgender main cast member. As I said before, Trek has always been about showing character’s struggling to show who they are with the world, as well as eschewing a simple binary view of the world around us. So the franchise seems ripe to give us an actual transgender character, not one that is simply shrouded in alien metaphor. While I certainly love a good morality tale using scifi as a veneer to talk about our world, I think what would truly make my heart sore would be to see a trans woman step out onto bridge. Even more then that, I’d also love to see some trans people behind the camera, both as crew or writer.
Also, it would be wonderful to see and LGBTQ person actually sit down in the captain’s chair for once. I’m sure we’ll get there, as long as this franchise continues to boldly go where no one has gone before.
Explore Star Trek’s queer history below.