Star Trek is finally gay
John Cho, the actor who plays Enterprise helmsman Hikaru Sulu in the rebooted Star Trek, just revealed that the character is gay. It's going to be a small, not-a-big-deal kind of thing addressed in the new movie, Star Trek: Beyond, which is coming at us at warp speed (sorry, not sorry) on July 22.
It's not going to be a big deal, which is... a big deal. It's also incredibly cool that the first Trek character to be canonically gay is Sulu, a nod to openly gay and utterly fantastic George Takei, who played the character on the 60s show.
But you know what is really, really cool? That this is finally happening. Here, in 2016, 50 years after the show first graced Americans with its progressive view of the future. A future where women could be in power (the original pilot for the show had Majel Barret as second-in-command, naturally, the execs in 1966 were NONE TOO IMPRESSED with a woman in charge -- she ended up playing a smaller role on the actual show), where a black woman could work at the controls of a spaceship, where people of any race or creed could get along, work together, and explore the awesome universe alongside each other.
In the 1980s, that vision included a woman heading up the security department, a woman surgeon, people of color in leadership positions, and finally, some gay stuff. A little bit. The series was famous for tackling social issues with some degree of progressive spirit, tolerance for all, and kindness.
There's an almost-gay love affair between Doctor Crusher and her Trill lover (more on Trills later). But that doesn't quite happen.
In one famous episode called The Outcast, Riker falls in love with a person from a genderless society. She asserts her gender identity and petitions for equality and respect on her world.
It was stirring and well-written. Although, the episode could've been a bit more potent. William Frakes, the actor who played Riker, wanted the stronger metaphor of Riker falling in love with a male-identified person. Alas, that was still too bold a move. Too bold for producer Rick Berman, anyway.
Deep Space Nine had a totally gay episode, when Dax reunites with an old lover. Cool sci-fi backstory - both are Trills, beings that live for many centuries, living in various host bodies, men and women. Jadzia Dax used to be a dude, and Lenara was a woman when they were married years ago.
But reuniting past loves is forbidden in Trill society. So the totally hot not-at-all-ratings plug kiss between the two was just as risky as it would be between ACTUAL LESBIANS. It's actually a fantastic episode, very much about how silly and damaging cultural taboos can be, and the gayest Star Trek had ever been to that point.
The series had Garek, a Cardassian spy/sassy tailor who TOTALLY flirts with sexy Doctor Bashir at first - though it "gave people fits" as the Star Trek Universe couldn't be too gay and lest offend its more conservative viewers.
Deep Space Nine also had an evil bisexual mirror universe version of Kira, but maybe that isn't the greatest queer representation.
Then we have Voyager. The show with more girl power per inch than any other Trek series, headed by Captain Kathryn Janeway and a multicultural cast. The series that spawned more lesbian fanfiction than Xena (ok, that's not a scientific claim, but just go look for J/7 on the internet, I dare you).
Voyager explored sexuality in one way - showing half-Klingon engineer B'Elanna Torres struggle against her own (albeit so hetero) sexual impulses when she gets Pon Farr'ed by a Vulcan engineer in the hottest Star Trek episode of all time that no one remembers (Blood Fever, it's great, go watch it). But there wasn't another "very special episode" to comment directly on gender identity or queer sexuality until Enterprise. The show no one watched.
Where The Outcast offered a direct allusion to gender identity and Reunion was a gay allegory, Enterprise's Stigma was more about the AIDS crisis. Vulcan T'Pol has contracted a sort of mind-meld STD after a very rape-y mind meld, and she is treated like a pariah for it, much as many AIDS patients were in the epidemic that ravaged America starting in the 1980s, devastating the gay community.
Throughout Star Trek history, we saw these allegorical episodes. The message of acceptance was always there -- but it didn't mean nearly as much without an actual queer main character, someone we see often, someone we know and root for.
He's here now. A gay man of color at the controls of a spaceship.
I'm queer, and I grew up on Star Trek. As a baby dork and a baby dyke, I grew up practically worshipping these characters and their awesome ives -- exploring the universe, romancing hot shipmates, living in an infinitely better and more promising future than will ever reflect reality. I wanted that.
But, aside from those Very Special Episodes (and also, Blood Fever, because goddamn), I was always a little bit left in the cold. The future could be so bright, so promising, so exciting... but it was also so straight.
No longer. This move proves that you can be gay, have a family (as Sulu does, a partner and a child), and be a respected, loved member of the coolest crew in Starfleet.
Now, if that's not worth a celebratory, rainbow-clad dance to the Picard Song, I don't know what is.