Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Forbidden Gay Frontier: Where Star Trek Hasn't Boldly Gone

AfterElton kindly allowed us to republish their superb article "Forbidden Gay Frontier." Enjoy, and please visit AfterElton to voice support.


By Michael Ricci

In 1991, Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry, spoke with The Humanist magazine about his evolving view of the gay community, “My attitude toward homosexuality has changed. I came to the conclusion that I was wrong. I was never someone who hunted down 'fags' as we used to call them on the street. I would, sometimes, say something anti-homosexual off the top of my head because it was thought, in those days, to be funny. I never really deeply believed those comments, but I gave the impression of being thoughtless in these areas. I have, over many years, changed my attitude about gay men and women.”

That same year, Roddenberry spoke to The Advocate, one of the leading GLBT magazines in the country, saying there would eventually be a gay character in one of his series. “In the fifth season [of Star Trek: The Next Generation] viewers will see more of shipboard life [including] gay crew members in day-to-day circumstances.”

Gene Roddenberry died later that year. No gay character ever appeared on The Next Generation or any other Trek series or movie.

“Just to get Star Trek on TV was an astounding move,” George Takei--the openly gay actor who starred as Star Trek's Mr. Sulu--says in an interview with AfterElton. “The program execs were baffled. They did not know what to do with it! Now, we are in the 21st century, and this is speculation, but I really think that if Gene were still with us today, he would have been equally bold for our times today and addressed the issue of equality for gays, lesbians, transgenders and bisexuals.”

So, why hasn't Star Trek entered this final frontier?

Many blame Rick Berman, Star Trek's longtime executive producer. While Berman has never publicly said he has no plans in the long-term for gay characters on the show, many fans have read cryptic messages into some things he has mentioned over the years. In a 2002 interview with USAToday.com, Berman addresses the subject matter.

“That was really the wishful thinking of some people who were constantly at us,” Berman states. “But we don't see heterosexual couples holding hands on the show, so it would be somewhat dishonest of us to see two gay men or lesbians holding hands.”

But in Star Trek: Insurrection, Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) are seen holding hands at the end of the movie. Indeed, Star Trek has often shown characters kissing and embracing. And fans have desired more than just handholding, hoping instead for a well-rounded character with as many virtues and flaws as their heterosexual counterparts.

In an exclusive interview with AfterElton, Andy Mangels--Trek's only openly gay writer, having written over a dozen Star Trek themed novels--says he believes blame lies with Berman. “I have never met Rick Berman, and he has never expressed any specific attitudes directly to me. That said, not one single actor, staff member, or Paramount employee has ever once defended him from charges of homophobia, and many have accused him of it.

"Berman was ultimately responsible for killing almost every pitch for gay characters, and in interviews, was mealy-mouthed and waffling about the need for GLB T representation. At the very least, he was gutless and didn't care about GLBT representation. From the information and evidence I've seen, heard, and read, I believe that Berman is the reason we never saw gays on Star Trek I shed no tears that he's gone, except that he did his best to ruin the franchise on his way out.”

AfterElton contacted the representatives of Rick Berman. Mr. Berman had no official response.

Gay Star Trek storylines have been written—such as the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Blood and Fire” by David Gerrold—but it was never put before cameras. In this episode, written back in 1987, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise encounter a derelict spaceship infected with a dangerous pathogen, known as Regulan Bloodworms, capable of killing the infected within hours. This episode was to be a 24th century allegory to the HIV/AIDS scare of the 1980s. One of the main reasons, however, this episode was never put into production was because two of the episode's characters, Freeman and Eakins, were intended to be a gay couple.

The official explanation for the episode's cancellation was because of studio concerns. Gerrold stated in an interview with Mark Altman for Cinefantastique that he believes the episode dealt with homosexuality in a “blatant” manner. He says the feedback from the staff was either encouraging or concerned. “There was a paper trail a yard wide and a mile long on everything and the memo on this was half that. People complained the script had blatant homosexual characters. Rick Berman said we can't do this in an afternoon market in some places. We'll have parents writing letters.

The other half of the memos were, from people like Dorothy Fontana and Herb Wright and Bob Lewin, who said this is a very strong script. I'm not making Rick Berman a villain because he also acknowledged the technical aspects of the script were right on the nose for what the show needed to be. But Rick Berman was the studio guy. He was watching out for the studio's interests.”

Three episodes, in particular, are labeled Star Trek's “gay” episodes. The first is a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode called “The Outcast” which dealt with an androgynous species (cast entirely of female actors) known as the J'naii who do not have typical gender roles of male and female. Those that do identify as either/or are seen as abnormal and sent to rehabilitation centers. Riker falls in love with Soren (Melinda Culea), a young J'naii who identifies with the female gender. When he attempts to rescue her, she eventually decides to stay. Gay viewers felt the episode cheated given all the actors playing the J'naii were obviously women.

“The Host” also dealt with homophobia presented as subtext. In the episode, Dr. Beverly Crusher falls in love with a Trill ambassador, Odan, who later dies. His new host turns out to be a woman (played by Nicole Orth-Pallavacini), prompting Dr. Crusher to end the relationship. It is said that Gates McFadden, who played Dr. Crusher, attempted to change the ending of this episode, but was overturned by studio execs.

McFadden isn't the only actor who objected to an episode's homophobic overtones. A Salon article from 2001 reports that in the Star Trek:The Next Generation episode “The Offspring” actor Whoopi Goldberg (Guinan) refused to say the line “When a man and woman are in love...”. She opted instead to say “When two people are in love.” Said Goldberg, “This show is beyond that. It should be." It was also decided on set that the background of the scence show a same-sex couple holding hands, but one of the show's producers made sure that didn't happen.

The final gay Trek episode was Star Trek: Enterprise's episode, “Stigma”, in which T'Pol (Jolene Blalock) contracts a rare mental disorder, Pa'nar Syndrome that is portrayed as a version of the HIV/AIDS (of which she is eventually cured).

Berman told TrekWeb in April of 2003 that “Stigma” was, “supposed to be our gay episode, but we sort of copped out.” Some critics of the episode also felt synonymously linking the HIV/AIDS virus specifically with the GLBT community to be questionable at the very least.

There have been other Star Trek episodes perceived as having gay-ish themes. One that misfired was 1998's “Profit and Lace”—written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler. Here the context of male homosexuality and transgenderism are set up as comedic and insulting instruments. Producers, fans, and even the story's main actor, Armin Shimmerman consider this Deep Space Nine episode to be one of its worst.

In its defense, Deep Space Nine has also portrayed homosexuality in a (somewhat) positive light. In the episode, “Rejoined” written by Battlestar Galactica producer, Ronald D. Moore, Trill Lt. Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell) is reunited with Lenara Kahn (Susanna Thompson), a lover from a previous life (Trills being a symbiotic species who live many lifetimes from host to host). Rekindling a romance with previous hosts is taboo and punishable by exile. In what is undoubtedly a metaphor for modern-day homophobia, Jadzia defies the law, and engages in the first ever same-sex kiss in Star Trek's history. But, in the end, Len ara Kahn leaves and Jadzia Dax “comes to her senses”.

This episode is both praised and criticized by fans. Gay followers of the show feel the romance wasn't homosexual in nature as Dax's previous host was male, while Kahn's was female.

Another female kiss, this one lacking any emotional resonance, was in the episode “The Emperor's New Cloak”, set in the mirror universe of Star Trek—where everything is the parallel, yet opposite. The counterparts to Colonel Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor) and Ezri Dax (Nicole deBoer) engage in a meaningless kiss. It's only intention seems to stimulate the straight-male fantasy of woman-on-woman action.

Finally, Star Trek: Voyager's episode, “Warlord” also had a same-sex kiss when a male psyche possessed the character of Kes (Jennifer Lien) and kissed another woman. Both characters were seen as duplicitous and evil—a stereotypical trademark of gay and bisexual characters in Hollywood.

While Star Trek on both the large and small screen has yet to portray a positive and well-rounded gay individual, the Trek publishing media has journeyed to that frontier many, many times. Most notable is the Section 31 novel, Star Trek: Rogue written by Andy Mangels and Michael A. Martin. The novel centers around Lieutenant Hawk (a character who had been rumored to be gay in pre-production of Star Trek: First Contact) and his partner, an un-joined Trill named, Ranul Keru.

Mangels believed the rumor of Hawk's being gay to be untrue. There was no evidence of the character's orientation in any movie screenplay that he saw, nor was Neal McDonough (who played Lt. Hawk) aware of such intentions. Mangels liked the Hawk character and “expected him to survive” the movie. When he and writing partner, Michael A. Martin brought the idea to their publishers about a gay character being the center of Rogue, he said they met no resistance of any kind.

As with everything in the 24th century, bigotry toward Hawk and Keru's relationship is nonexistent. In one passages from the book, Commander Riker and Data inquire about Hawk's upcoming anniversary as easily as if it were Worf's.

The novel stayed at the top of the USA Today best selling list for several weeks.

Mangels says, “When we decided to make Hawk the focal point of the book, we brought up with our editor, Marco Palmieri, that we wanted to make him gay, playing off the movie rumors. Marco was all for the idea, as long as the elements of his sexuality had something to do with the characterization and the story. Neither he--nor we--wanted the gay stuff to just be ‘stuck on'.”

The author, however, admits there were some problems with the Paramount licensing and worried the character's sexuality might be edited. He goes on to say, “Paramount licensing was very quiet about the book's contents, and made sure that Rick Berman and Brannon Braga (the Trek TV producers) did not see it before it went to press. There was some concern that the gay elements would be forcefully removed if Berman and Braga saw it. Once it was at the printer, it was given to their office. I never heard if there was fallout or not, but the book got publicity all around the world.”

Even though Lt. Hawk was killed in Star Trek: First Contact, Ranul Keru still remains a favorite character of the writers. Since his introduction in Rogue, Keru has gone on to appear in other novels by Mangels and Martin such as Tales of the Captain's Table, Worlds of Deep Space Nine, and the adventures of Captain Riker's starship, Star Trek: Titan. In the Titan series, Keru deals with the loss of Hawk and attempts to quell his growing anger for Worf—the man responsible for Hawk's death.

In more than four decades Star Trek has produced nearly a dozen feature films, more then five hundred episodes between five series, numerous video games, and countless books, comics, role-playing games, and magazines. The ground-breaking sci-fi franchise has broken through many barriers, such as being the first to have an interracial kiss (between William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols) on broadcast television, as well as touting the values of peace and tolerance for all. Yet the series has refused to address forthrightly the topic of homosexuality where it would most matter—on television or film.

Currently there are no new Trek series in the works, but there is an eleventh movie rumored to under consideration. [Trekdom insert: Now in pre-production] Gay fans fervently hope Star Trek will live on and that one-day this remarkable franchise will finally—and boldly—go where none of its predecessors have gone before.

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