The Weekly Geek: Remembering queer “Star Trek”

Over at The Mary Sue (seriously, if you aren’t reading this blog, you’re missing out!), out writer Becky Chambers has just posted one of the most awesome, nuanced, and down-to-earth essays on nerd culture and the phenomena of women kissing women that I’ve ever read.

Briefly, she mentions the power of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode wherein two female characters fall in love (yes, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but bear with me here), and how revolutionary this was for 1995:

I did not see “Rejoined” when it aired in 1995 (to put things in perspective, Ellen DeGeneres came out in 1997). I must have seen it some time in high school, as a rerun. The metaphor about cultural taboos was lost on me at the time. What had me rapt that no one on the show had a problem with Dax falling head-over-spotted-heels for a woman. Gender was a total non-issue. There wasn’t so much as an “I’ll be in my bunk” (that reference didn’t exist yet, but you get the gist). What I got out of that episode was that in the United Federation of Planets, a place that had captured my imagination since I was in preschool, you were free to kiss whoever you wanted. That was a wonderful, affirming feeling.

She goes on to note the awful drudgery of sweeps week lesbianism, and how it’s ruined the perception of lady on lady love on TV, and how she’s gone on to find more meaningful queer characters in videogames (yep, Bioware gets a nod here).

It got me thinking about my very own re-watching of Star Trek, something that I’m periodically going through thanks to the power of Netflix instant streaming. Seriously – all of The Next Generation and Deep Space 9 (and Farscape, we can’t forget Farscape!) are at my fingertips, and I think I may be in nerd heaven.

Like Chambers, the geeky media I obsessed over as a youngster informed so very much of my own coming out process, and yes, my friends, Trek was a big part of that. While no characters were ever truly explicitly gay, the world of Trek is presented as a tolerant, progressive kind of place. People are accepted no matter what they look like, and in those few (but important) very special episodes that dealt with issues of gender and sexuality – like “Rejoined” – all of the central characters act as if the same sex (or otherwise oriented) folks are perfectly normal. As Chambers said, “Gender was a total non-issue.”

Plus there’s all the non-diagetic Trek stuff – like the fact that original creator Gene Roddenberry openly stated how his attitude towards gay people had changed, way back in 1991, when he was himself an older man, and the fact that he publicly stated that he wanted an LGBT character on The Next Generation. There’s George Takei. There’s the fact that Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway) actively tried to get LGBT representation on Voyager.

Then, of course, there are the executives, who waved the big no-no around. Alas, not all is well in the world of Trek.

But for Becky Chambers and myself, and any other LGBT nerds who came of age (or were influenced by) the mid-to-late ’90s progressiveness of Star Trek, it will remain a very special universe, with a very special message: no matter where you boldly go, there’s a place on the ship for you.