Asexuality in Star Trek by Emma Filtness

Hello, my name is Emma and I am a member of Starfleet and the Tactical Officer on the USS Merlin (Region 20). I have identified as Grey-Asexual for roughly a year and as a keen sci-fi fan, I was curious to look into the spectrum of asexuality in the expanded universe. Today I am happy to produce my results.

What is Asexuality?

According to Urban Dictionary, the term asexual is described as “a person who is not interested in or does not desire sexual activity, either within or outside of a relationship. asexuality is not the same as celibacy, which is the willful decision to not act on sexual feelings. asexuals, while not physically sexual-type folks, are none the less quite capable of loving, affectionate, romantic ties to others.” As a spectrum, asexuality is, much like space, yet to be fully explored.

Asexuality in Star Trek

During my research, I was able to find a few different scenarios featuring blatant asexuality as a theme. Throughout these story arcs, there is a recurring driving force which is that sexuality is considered to be a building block of the human psyche. Any species, alien or otherwise, that are currently not sexually active wish to embrace sexuality in order to further discover what it is to become human. The species that I will be using as examples are The Vaalians from The Original Series episode The Apple, Jn’aii or more specifically Soren from the Next Generation episode The Outcast and Data also from Next Gen.

The Vaalians

The Vaalians are discovered by Kirk and the landing party after being attacked by the indigenous flora. The Vaalians do not procreate as it is forbidden and are replaced as needed by the Vaal, who is the driving force behind their community. According to a blog by Women at Warp, which also explores asexuality, “The episode links the Vaalians’ lack of sexuality to the other elements of their society that causes them to stagnate… When the people express concern about how they will survive [after Kirk & co destroy the Vaal who has been operating a sophisticated computer system which is damaging the Enterprise.] Kirk reassures them that they will now be able to lead ‘normal lives’… ‘You’ll learn something about men and women – the way they’re supposed to be.” On a positive note though Spock stands up for the Vaalians by saying that simply because their culture is different to the crew’s expectations does not make it invalid. The episode links the species’ naivety and lack of understanding to the biblical story of Adam and Eve, with the Enterprise away team as the Apple of Knowledge (hence the episode name) and the controlling Vaal as God. I think this is a ‘fascinating’ though relatively insulting look into an asexual society, though the time period must be taken into consideration here as any sexuality other than straight was highly frowned upon. As a result, the fact that there is even a mention of another sexual culture was a step forward.

The J’naii and Soren

The J’naii are introduced to us in the Next Generation episode The Outcast which lies out as follows. The Enterprise is contacted by the genderless J’naii who require assistance finding a missing shuttle which has disappeared into null space. In order to track down the shuttle, Soren, a skilled pilot and Riker are sent out as a search party. However, the craft is damaged and Soren is injured. During her treatment by Dr Crusher, Soren is interested in learning more about the female identity as it turns out that Soren is interested in Riker and wants to pursue a romantic relationship with him. This presents a massive problem as the J’aii forbid any expression of gender or sexuality in any form as they believe that it is primitive and is thus a perversion. “Those… who view themselves as possessing gender are ridiculed, outcast and forced to undergo ‘psychotic therapy’” which is designed to forcefully re-educate the individual in order to bring them back into line. The point of the episode was to highlight LGBT rights and homophobia in line with Gene Roddenberry’s legacy who wished to include more LGBT characters in the show. Which in addition to The Apple shows that despite arguments that Star Trek is only science fiction and therefore not necessarily accessible, it is one of the only shows willing to express the many variations of the human psyche.

Data

In the last of today’s explorations, Data is arguably the most mainstream asexual character in modern culture. As an Android, “Data is not human, though he desperately wants to be.” In order to become more human, he engages in sexual intercourse with Tasha Yar which is a continuation of my larger point. In a blog post from 2009, the author, Elizabeth, herself an asexual, theorises that in the Star Trek universe, “sexuality… is contingent on having emotions… This implies that sexual attraction is itself an emotion… it could be that the emotion Data as experiencing was purely his desire to be human, channelled through a sexual circuit.” Data is in many ways a very good example of an asexual and the wider reactions to this, in that many asexuals face harassment stating that lacking sexuality is in a way inhuman, much like Kirk and McCoy’s reaction to the Vaalian’s lack of sexual activity or leanings.

Conclusion

Summing up, it is clear to me that within the Star Trek mythology, asexuality is treated as a somewhat alien trait, lacking emotion and deeper knowledge which is a cornerstone of humanity. However, I am not attacking the franchise, in fact, I celebrate that Gene Roddenberry was forward-thinking and daring enough to encourage other cultures, ideologies, gender and sexual identities when it is still relatively frowned upon in society. This legacy has continued in the Star Trek pathos, introducing Sulu played by John Cho as gay in the new film ‘Star Trek Beyond’. I hope to see this legacy grow in future series and films and potentially include another asexual character.

Thank you for reading!  


Bibliography


  • Author: Emma Filtness
  • Pictures provided by: Emma Filtness
  • Blog layout, Some Pictures and links: James Hams

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LGBT in Star Trek: We Are Ready and We Have *Been* Ready – By Jason Fritz

Star Trek is one of the most enduring cultural phenomena to come out of the United States in the 20th Century, and certainly the most enduring science fiction franchise to ever do so. Premiering with the original series in 1966, viewers have swept away to strange new worlds and new civilisations as well as new cultural and technological ideas. While lagging behind the 1963 debut of the British series Doctor Who, it preceded the 1977 release of Star Wars by more than a decade and pushed the limits of television standards in the sixties. In 1979, the cast was reassembled for a motion picture continuation, followed by five more instalments with that cast of characters, four more television series and another seven motion pictures with varying casts and characters.

For over fifty years, Star Trek has introduced us to changes in the way we view gender and racial equality as a society, explored the implications of becoming involved in the internal affairs of others (a thinly veiled criticism of American adventurism overseas to stem the spread of communism during the Cold War), and employed the use of alien races and cultures as metaphors to examine aspects of our own condition. Star Trek was among the first to feature an interracial kiss on television, and among the first to feature roles of significant professional authority for women and minorities.

Despite all that, throughout its long history of promoting social change in America, one glaring omission from Star Trek lore has been the lack of any significant non-heterosexual characters. While the subject has been touched on in passing, most notably in Next Generation’s “The Host” in 1991 and Deep Space Nine’s “Rejoined” in 1995, both of which used the alien Trill’s trait of changing host bodies (and therefore genders) over time to explore the issue, the main characters in both stories remained firmly heterosexual thereafter, their orientation never to be explored or even questioned again. Next Generation also touched on the subject more metaphorically in the 1992 episode “The Outcast” through another alien race, the androgynous J’naii as represented by Melinda Culea’s character Soren, who in this case enjoyed a brief romance with Will Riker. The episode kept Riker’s orientation firmly heterosexual, however, while the conflict safely revolved around Soren’s self-identification as a female in a society that rejected gender identification altogether.

More recently, sharp-eyed viewers of the 2016 feature Star Trek Beyond might have caught a brief glimpse of Hikaru Sulu (played by John Cho) enjoying shore leave with his unnamed husband and daughter, but in fifty years of existence, that is the extent of the entire Star Trek franchise’s efforts to depict any significant character as anything other than heterosexual. That is literally it.

Last August, as the casting process for the upcoming series Star Trek: Discovery went into high gear, executive producer Bryan Fuller announced that the new show will feature the franchise’s first openly gay character, which we now know will be played by Anthony Rapp. In a landscape where the first gay character on television was introduced in 1972 and Billy Crystal played the first openly gay regular television series cast member in 1977, where Saturday Night Live featured its first openly gay cast member in 1985, where Friends depicted the first lesbian wedding on television in 1996 and Ellen DeGeneres came out on her own show in 1997, where Buffy the Vampire Slayer and ER ousted longtime regular characters as gay in 2000 and 2002, and where Will & Grace and Queer as Folk have both enjoyed long and successful runs, this hardly seems to be breaking new ground. In fact, one could argue that simply featuring an openly gay character is old and tired ground. Still, sceptics of the depiction of a gay regular character have loudly asked: “Is Star Trek ready?”


Ready for what???

For a franchise that purports to “boldly go where no one has gone before”, Star Trek is remarkably behind the curve on this issue. Instead of asking if the franchise is ready, critics should be asking where the franchise has been all this time. The opportunity to create controversy, which I would argue is no bad thing, was decades ago. Carol and Susan already got married, Willow and Tara already kissed, and Will and Jack have already made every risqué gay reference that prime time television will allow, plus a few others that managed to sneak by. Captain Jack Harkness, who became the first omnisexual character on television in 2005, should have premiered on Star Trek, not Doctor Who. Now is not the time to question whether Star Trek should be inclusive; now is the time to play catch up.

Most commercial ventures have a natural desire to increase profits as much as possible. If the owners have good business sense, that usually means taking steps to offend as few paying customers as humanly possible because even the people who are wrong still have green money. Some media properties have an advantage in that regard because of not reaching the phenomenal success that Star Trek has, and not have become such a cultural touchstone. The gayness of Will & Grace was part of the concept before it was ever greenlit for a pilot, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer was lucky enough to air on the fledgeling WB, where network scrutiny had not yet reached the point where it would later doom Joss Whedon’s Firefly. ER was able to introduce the story as a major conflict with a character who wasn’t fully revealed as gay until her sixth year on the show, and even then, she was depicted as facing the threat (or reality) of extreme homophobia and discrimination at every turn.

None of those advantages is available to Star Trek. The future depicted in our weekly programs and movies is one where discrimination and bigotry are dead, where racism and homophobia are but footnotes in history, and where all people are treated equally regardless of heritage, skin colour, or sexual orientation. Star Trek has no choice but to depict an openly gay character as unremarkable in his or her gayness. By the time of Star Trek: Discovery, if everything we’ve learned about Gene Roddenberry’s future is accurate, being gay should simply be an accepted part of society, no more or less remarkable than my heterosexuality.

All that leaves critics in a bind. There can be no easing into this. There can be no slow introduction, no period of getting to know the character before revealing that he or she is gay, no comfort zone. For those who have felt safe in the womb of a Star Trek that addresses gayness only in easily dismissed metaphor, briefly touched upon one week and then blessedly gone the next, the idea of an openly gay character suddenly standing next to Captain Kirk week after week can be a scary one. There can be no pretending that the future is not gay, that marriage will only ever involve a man and a woman, perhaps while one of them wears comfortingly silly forehead prosthetics or painted on spots. They must face the stark reality that gay men and gay women are attracted to and date other gay men and gay women week after week, and that they are not going anywhere no matter how much some people might wish the episode would just be over.

Some people won’t like that; it’s practically inevitable. Some longtime fans will refuse to accept it. They’ll complain loudly about how the new series is destroying their childhood; they’ll lament the state of excessive tolerance in our society and how it will end the world as we know it; they’ll mock the gay lieutenant mercilessly and portray him as so disliked that the producers should give him an abrupt “Wesley Crusher” exit; and they’ll threaten to withhold their dollars and CBS All Access subscriptions until their intolerance of tolerance is tolerated and appeased.

Some fans will argue that we shouldn’t risk creating a schism in the Star Trek community, that we shouldn’t risk conflict between the people who are willing to accept a gay character and the people who aren’t. I submit that the schism already exists—it’s just hiding safely in the shadows right now, safely nurtured and protected by the absence of any significant portrayals of gay characters in the Star Trek mythos to date. That situation shouldn’t be preserved. It should be dragged out into the light and exposed. It should be questioned, it should be examined, and it should ultimately be discarded. Nothing is accomplished by hiding it in the name of offending as few people as humanly possible. That may be the commercial way, but that is not the Star Trek way. That’s not what our fathers taught us. That’s not what Gene taught us. And that’s not the way we should move forward.

I am the last person in the world to tell anyone “If you don’t like it, get out.” Those words are not worthy of Gene’s vision, either. They’re not worthy of our fifty years of history and tradition. They’re not worthy of us. Instead, I would encourage everyone to stay—stay and watch, even if you don’t like it. Stay and take the journey. Stay and get used to it.

Because gay people aren’t going anywhere. And neither are we.


  • Blog Words: Jason Fritz
  • Blog Layout and Pictures: James Hams

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LGBT in Star Trek: We are not ready – Bill Allen

“Foreword: As we draw closer to the release of Star Trek Discovery (DSC) there has been a lot of assumption as to what the new show is going to bring to the franchise, one thing we know for a fact it is going to bring is Star Trek’s first openly gay character.

Throughout its 50-year history, Star Trek has brought us TV’s first mixed race kiss along this was in itself controversial for its time, even though Star Trek has had an infinitesimal fling exploring same sex relationships it has never embraced it. One thing I wanted to explore was how we as Star Trek fans feel about this unexplored country, so I advertised on Facebook for you the fans to write a series of guest blogs about this topic.

One of the first people to answer the call was Bill Allen, below you can read his take on how he feels about the inclusion of this controversial Trek character.”

By James Hams 


LGBT in Star Trek: We are not ready.

When you look at the 50 plus years of history of Star Trek, one thing becomes clear: any statement that begins with ‘Star Trek is not about’ is false. Star Trek is about EVERYTHING. It is an action/adventure show, hard sci-fi and science fantasy combined an allegorical examination of contemporary humanity, a philosophical examination of humanity’s purpose, a dream, an aspiration, a hope, a promise…Star Trek is everything.

For Star Trek, there are no real limits to what can be done, or how it can be done. So, it might seem counterintuitive to hear me say that an LGBTQ character in Trek is not something that should be done.  And yet, here I am, saying that the new Star Trek Series “Discovery” has announced that they will have an openly gay character, and I am telling you it is a bad idea.

It’s not because Star Trek and the values it represents are antithetical to the LGBTQ community; LGBTQ is just one more facet of ‘IDIC’.

It’s not because homosexuality is ‘evil’ or ‘perverse’ or whatever another pejorative adjective one would want to assign to it; morality is subjective, and often irrational, emotional, and rather silly, so passing judgment on someone else’s life is foolish and pointless. ‘Evil’ knows no orientation preference, and ‘good’ is within anyone, no matter which way the door swings.

It’s not because sexuality has no place in Star Trek; I submit to you James ‘seduce the hostile alien’ Kirk, William ‘chicks dig the beard’ Riker, Mr. ‘Fully Functional’ Data….and let’s not forget T’pol, 7 of 9, Dax, Troi and those lovely Orion Dancers.

It’s not because the writers are going to screw it up…though this one does worry me some. The Producers have assembled a team of writers that include folks who are not only some of the best and brightest from Trek’s own history, but just phenomenally talented writers related to Star Trek and non-Star Trek stories alike, these guys are good, some of the best. But even the best writers will have a hard time hitting the right balance when they start tackling some of the trickier issues society faces today.

The true problem lays with the viewing audience…The fans and potential fans.

The problem with any Ideology, even one as seemingly noble and ideological as ‘Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations’, is that those who believe in that philosophy can believe HARD, and idealism becomes a fanatic. And we live in a world where ideological conflicts are a constant source of hate, and divisiveness, and antagonism.

There are two kinds of fans that are going to create all sorts of problems for this show because of an openly gay character. First, you have the bigots, the homophobes, the religious fundamentalists, the folks who despise, fear, dislike, and oppose homosexuality and homosexual people.   (I think it’s fairly obvious why THEY are going to be part of the problem.)

the second kind of fan that is going to be a problem will be the fans that hate bigotry, that fight against oppressive and discriminatory people, that fight for equality for ALL, and are offended by Homophobic people. The people who read the previous paragraph and said ‘screw those bigots…Star Trek isn’t for them, they don’t deserve to be fans if they can’t be more liberal.’

Star Trek is not a show for bigots.Star Trek is not a show for people to push their narrow-minded superstitious and backwards religious views onto others.

Star Trek is not for people who are intolerant.

Now, take a minute to go back and re-read the first paragraph of this blog….are the three statements I just wrote true, or false?

It happens far too often in all sorts of forums: fans argue. They squabble, they bicker, they debate, and they fight. They fight over which captain was the best, they argue over whether Janeway made the right call in killing Tuvix, they nitpick any little detail in the ‘bad’ Trek and criticise anyone who nitpicks the ‘good’ Trek.  It makes sense; anything we feel strongly about is something we will argue passionately for or against. The problem is that there is so much negativity.

I’ve seen it far too often, and I’m sure you have too: in an online forum or discussion, someone has said things like ‘if you don’t agree with____, you don’t belong in this group,’ or ‘your moral and ideological position contradicts the true meaning of Star Trek’ and ‘you aren’t a real fan if you don’t like____’. The message of ‘you do not belong here/get out’ is often followed by ‘you missed the lesson Star Trek teaches us about a better point of view. And the people who say such things don’t even realise how horrible and destructive their statements are….if you exclude and exile the bigots, if you really believe they need to stay away from your Star Trek because they don’t think the right way, then how the hell are they supposed to learn the lessons Star Trek is trying to teach them?

If you are not a bigot, then you are the one who learned nothing from Star Trek, because you already knew the answer.  Even then, though, Star Trek has a lesson for you, if you are willing to learn it. That lesson is the core of what ‘IDIC’ represents. The lesson is so incredibly simple and obvious; some people are incapable of seeing it.

The lesson is this: Star Trek is for EVERYONE.

Star Trek is made for Bigots.

Star Trek is made for the Atheist.

Star Trek is made for the Religious.

Star Trek is made for the sinner AND the saint.

Star Trek shows us a better future, a future free of bigotry, poverty, conflict, etc., and then finds ways—subtle ways, not the crude and imbecilic ‘GTFO’ of internet crusaders—to examine the flaws of contemporary humanity in a way that gets the lesson home without demeaning or belittling the person you are trying to teach. It instead WELCOMES them, takes them in, and shows them a better world that they have every right to be a part of. But too many fans would rather cast them out and attack the bigot, part of their righteous crusade to make the world a better place…the end justifies the means, and to hell with ending bigotry, just attack the bigots.

 TOS gave us ‘Let that be your last battlefield’ an episode where black/white faces and white/black faces fought each other over an incredibly silly thing like skin colour. Gee, I wonder who would find such an allegorical lesson something they should consider. TNG gave us “The Host”, where Dr Crusher falls in love with a man, a Trill…and when the Trill changes hosts, the man is now a woman, still the same person, still the same feelings for Dr Crusher…but she no longer feels the same way. DS9 gave us several more episodes about the Trill, showing, through this alien’s life, that who a person is and how they love is not bound to one gender configuration, that there are more important aspects.  With Seven Series, 13 movies, and hundreds of books, comics, etc. etc. etc., there are many more examples. Star Trek has spent five decades trying to appeal to as many people as possible, from all sorts of cultural and ideological viewpoints, and it is something more than just a franchise….it’s an opportunity to reshape the world and bring us all together.

all these examples are the ones the anti-bigots point to as being the philosophy Trek represents…but the subtext of their statements is not ‘this is how we all should be’; it is more ‘I am right and my ideology is superior!’  So, they have those human flaws of hate and petty struggles to establish dominance or whatever primate instinct they are doing, and they completely miss the point.

Star Trek Discovery provides yet another opportunity for the writers to play in that sandbox, to show us through metaphor our own flaws and foibles, a chance to make the world better by reaching out to the intolerant and the misinformed and hopefully get them thinking about being a part of something bigger and better than themselves…..but the fans will just use it to attack people they don’t like, wrecking an opportunity to turn an enemy into a friend, because they value victory more than peace. The fans are going to selfishly ruin Discovery’s attempts to enlighten the human race.  They don’t see that the homophobe and the gay man have an opportunity to come together and get to like each other because both love Star Trek; they only see an opportunity to insult and degrade a human being who isn’t as liberal or enlightened as themselves, and they don’t even realise they are just causing the resentment and hate to fester and grow within the bigot, making things worse for the world instead of better.

I really hope the writers for Discovery deliver a brilliant show, and I think they will…but I’m also fairly certain that when they do give us something amazing, the fans will screw it up.

The simple fact is as fans we are not ready for an openly gay character in Star Trek…but we do need one it is long overdue.


  • Foreword: James Hams
  • Blog By: Bill Allen

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