“I don’t have religion, I have Star Trek.”
I grew up watching The Next Generation, admiring Captain Picard and everything the Federation stands for. I have to believe that one day humanity will leave greed behind. That we will work not for the acquisition of wealth but for the betterment of society as a whole. So Star Trek is kind of my thing. I find it very difficult to function in society without the hope of a better future, you see.
But it has been a while since I watched all those episodes with my grandpa. I’m a ton of years older, a lot of things have changed. I’m aware of a lot of things that I wasn’t back then. New things mean a lot to me that weren’t even concepts in my mind back then.
I’ve recently started rewatching TNG. At least, I can say it hasn’t been the disappointment a lot of childhood fandoms can be once one grows older. All the values I hold dear are still there: the pursuit of knowledge, letting go of superstition and unfounded prejudice, respecting the differences of others and working together no matter who you are and where you come from. The awareness that greed is not a virtue, that humanity doesn’t need money to drive innovation and progress. And the belief that people are inherently good and are, with few exceptions, driven to evil acts because of their circumstances. That conflicts can be resolved without causing further suffering.
While Star Trek is very good in all those things, it certainly has fallen behind in matters of gender and sexuality. Yes, women can reach any rank in Starfleet. They are treated equally for all intents and purposes.
Or are they?
The patriarchy, as it turns out, is still alive and well.
In the episode ‘Data’s Day’, Data plays ‘father of the bride’ to Keiko Ichikawa, who is getting married to Chief Miles O’Brien. And then, you guessed it, becomes Keiko O’Brien. What in the galaxy is the reason behind this? As a vocal opponent of marriage name changes (I understand some people genuinely want to and that’s not for me to decide, but I reject the assumption that anyone must change their name, and in particular the expectation that it must always be the woman in a heterosexual marriage), I find this assumption troubling. In a universe where equality is a big fucking deal and something Captain Picard has expounded upon on many occasions, this barbaric custom still somehow prevails. What’s stopping Chief O’Brien from becoming Chief Ichikawa if things are so fucking equal? It makes no sense to me.
It made me repeat my mantra: “it was made in the 80’s… it was made in the 80’s.”
In ‘The Offspring’ (an episode that I do admit still makes me cry), Data creates a child, Lal. At first this android has a somewhat masculine shape but no primary sex characteristics and a non-human face. Data encourages Lal to choose what they will ultimately look like. He puts special emphasis on species and gender. Data should know better. He lives in a galaxy with countless species, some of which don’t even HAVE genders. Still, he insists that Lal must be either male or female.
And again I repeat my mantra.
In ‘The Host’, Beverly is willing to sleep with Riker as Odan’s host, but once Odan, a Trill, becomes a woman, she hits the brakes. Oh, she tried to sugarcoat it, but I couldn’t quite reconcile the future I expect with this version of a future. At least in this aspect. In order to reconcile it I had to step outside the narrative and remind myself that this was the 80’s/early 90’s and they couldn’t really help being beholden to the network censors and having the biases of the time period.
It still felt somewhat uncomfortable.
But, I am happy to report that a few years later, Deep Space Nine made it better when they had an episode in which Jadzia Dax, a Trill, reunited with another joined Trill who was the wife of Dax’s former, male, host. The fact that both characters were now physically female played no part in the narrative and was never once mentioned. At all. There was conflict, but it was entirely framed in a Trill custom that no joined Trill should revisit relationships of past hosts. It was the taboo that the characters were breaking.
Yes, it was a glorious gay metaphor, and I think it was very well done.
So yes, Star Trek has evolved with the times, but I can’t help but think that evolving with the times still makes Star Trek fall behind. The original series had the first interracial kiss on television. This is a franchise that has been and must be at the forefront. Ahead of its time in any way it can be. The fact that it falls behind where sexual and gender minorities are involved makes me feel a tiny bit disappointed.
I am not trying to put the show down. I am simply trying to reconcile my own feelings. I am, and always will be, a Trekkie. In my spare time, I write stories with original characters set in the Star Trek universe. But I would love for a new series, one which follows the timeline post-Voyager, and one which reflects the changing tides.
I want my show to BOLDLY GO, present the future as it SHOULD BE, and fuck the haters and the censors and the ratings. I know that’s unlikely to happen, but I lose nothing by wanting it. I lose nothing by writing my own Star Trek stories (I keep those for myself, but I may share them in the future).
Why do I even care? Because fiction drives reality. Stories shape us, and in turn we shape the future. I want us to write the future we need, a future where reason, not fear, shapes our actions. I think Star Trek can still be relevant, can stay relevant, and can be a guiding force in our culture. I call for the powers that be to consider a new Star Trek tv show. Don’t leave it all up to JJ Abrams. We don’t need a reboot. We need the saga to continue. We need to see the legacy of Captain Picard, Captain Sisko, Captain Janeway… the aftermath of the Dominion war… We’ve had three white captains, one black captain, one female captain. It’s time for a gay captain.
If you don’t make it happen, I’ll just have to become powerful enough to make it myself.