20 June 2006

Why does "official" Star Trek avoid gays?

After the recent press Hidden Frontier is getting about its gay characters, I decided to post something I wrote back in early 2003. I had spent a good few years collecting articles on Trek and this one was prompted when Star Trek: Enterprise was going to an AIDS allegory episode. I’ve updated it a bit.

Since it's beginning in 1966, series creator Gene Roddenberry sold the Star Trek universe as time were humans had long ago put away their prejudices and learned to live in peaceful harmony; a utopian life where in quadrants that were Federation based, everyone seemed to be well-adjusted, happy people. Even religion appeared to no longer exist (as well as television), as everyone looked as though to be a sort of secular humanist. Like Rod Serling, creator of the Twilight Zone, Roddenberry used allegory stories to inform the public about current issues, with racism and anti-war being the original series (TOS) bread and butter. But in later years, as times changed, one thing that Trek seemed to always stray away from was homosexuality and as early as 1987, AIDS.

Back in early 1986, after it had been announced that Trek was returning to TV in the fall of 1987, Roddenberry was asked by a fan at a convention in Boston if a gay character would be part of the show. After all, it could be reasoned, that after TOS inclusion of black and Asian characters in their ensemble cast, adding a gay character seemed logical, if you can excuse the pun. It was reported by writer David Gerrold, to Jonathan Kay in a Salon.com interview in 2001, that after the question was asked, Roddenberry acknowledged that it could be possible that TNG might explore those issues.

For most long-time fans of Trek, Gerrold’s name brings up memories of one TOS favorite episode, The Trouble with Tribbles. The writer was only 19 when he sold that story to the NBC series, and 40 years later is remains one of the most popular episodes of the series. As proof of its prevalence, when Star Trek celebrated its 30th Anniversary in 1996, the second spin-off show Deep Space Nine did an amazing tribute/sequel to it called Trails and Tribble-ations. It featured the crew of DS9 traveling back in time to revisit that episode. And it featured a brief cameo by the writer himself.

Gerrold had been hired to help pen stories for TNG and had written an allegory tale about AIDS called Blood and Fire, but as production on TNG began, the writer found his script was not going to be produced. The story had the Enterprise answer a call from a distressed medical research vessel. When the mission team beams over, it finds that the ship's crew is infected with "Regulan blood worms," an apparently incurable pathogen so deadly that Starfleet has orders to destroy any ship that is contaminated. Aside from its obvious reference to AIDS, the script also contained a casual nod to homosexuality, with a pair of male officers who had been a couple since their academy days.

"This was during one of the worst parts of the AIDS crisis," Gerrold told Kay of Salon.com "Before protease inhibitors, before AZT. AIDS was not a treatable condition; it was a fatal disease. And the fear of it was widespread, so much so that blood donorship had reached critically low levels." It was also a more personal issue for Gerrold, as Michael Minor, art director for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Merritt Butrick, who played Kirk's son in Trek II and III had succumbed to the disease in 1987 and 1989, respectively.

In Gerrold's script, curing the disease required a complete blood transfusion. To treat the infected, the Enterprise crew was asked to donate blood. "I felt this plot point would raise the consciousness of 20 million Star Trek fans overnight," says Gerrold. But after a series of arguments with Roddenberry's underlings, Gerrold quit the show, and the episode was permanently shelved. Gerrold told Kay , half-joking, that the script got caught up in "orifice politics."

Gerrold also told Kay that part of the issue was Roddenberry’s health. Even before his death in 1991, it had been reported and rumored that Roddenberry was nothing but a figurehead during the first few years of TNG. Writers on the first season came and went, many, like Herb Wright, where fired. Gerrold says. "He didn't have the physical strength he needed -- and he was experiencing mental lapses as well." Gerrold says that some of Roddenberry's collaborators stepped in and began to make decisions about the show. Roddenberry's lawyer, Leonard Maizlish, even went so far as to write story memos and rewrite scripts. And Maizlish was hardly sensitive to the gay issue. "The last time I saw [Maizlish] I was helping Herb Wright pack up his office," says Gerrold. "The lawyer came to make sure we weren't stealing anything. To my face, he called me 'an AIDS-infected cocksucker. A fucking faggot.'"

But Trek archivist Richard Arnold defended the reason why the story was put aside, in related story from the Trektoday website: "I knew Gerrold from 1972, and I'd read all his books up to that point. Blood and Fire was not his best work. I was almost offended by the stereotypes. The scene I remember particularly was when the gay couple was having a sort of lover's dispute. The one we could call the wife was expressing concern to the other about getting into dangerous situations. He was saying stuff like 'You know how much I worry about you when you're away.' I mean, come on. This was absolutely ridiculous - for Starfleet officers or for gay men."

In 2003, Enterprise aired an episode called Stigma, which had the Vulcan character of T'Pol acknowledge that she is suffering from an incurable degenerative blood disease, ala HIV/AIDS. T’Pol can not reveal she has this illness because that knowledge would forever stigmatize her among her people. According to Rick Berman, who wrote the episode with co-creator Brannon Braga, he told Gannett News Service that: "What we would most likely deal with is T'Pol's desire to educate the Vulcan people and destroy this sense of prejudice held against [mind melders who are the majority of who suffer from it]"

Sadly, the episode never achieved what many gay Trek fans had wanted. The story line would only pop up again once or twice during the rest of the series run because by then, as typical in Trek’s later series run, when their parable became too complex, they would abandoned it.

So, once again, Trek was able to skirt the whole gay issue.

But just once, though, it would be nice to hear that gay people exist in the Star Trek universe. I mean, even Babylon 5 indicated that homosexuality endured in their universe (in the episode, two male characters have to go undercover as a honeymooning couple to contact some local resistance group on Mars). And while it was essentially a throw away line and not important to the plot, it was really the first modern science fiction show to make it clear that it would be perfectly normal for a male couple to be honeymooning.

In an article from fandom.com in February 2000, former writer TNG and DS9 writer Ronald D. Moore confirmed that there is a conservative view against homosexuality in Trek and why there is no gay characters in the franchise. Moore said to them: "This is one of those uncomfortable questions I hate getting when I was working on the show, because there is no good answer for it. There is no answer for it other than people in charge don’t want gay characters in Star Trek, period." Later in the article, though, he appears to exonerate Paramount: "That’s one of the great things about Paramount. Paramount left us alone. They always left us alone. They let TNG do whatever it wanted. God knows it let Deep Space Nine do whatever we wanted. It lets Voyager do whatever it wants. The studio is not the problem here. The studio is going to let you go wherever you want to go, as long as they believe that this is quality, as long as they believe it’s good work. You’ve just got to come up with something good."

So you don't have to be a brain trust to realize that if what Moore says is true, that if Paramount leaves Trek alone to do what it wants, then Rick Berman -who was, and still is, in charge of the Star Trek franchise -is the sole reason there is a complete absence of any gay character in Star Trek. Further evidence of this, came in an August 2001 story on Enterprise, in which TV Guide writer Michael Logan confronted Rick Berman with that rumor that Enterprise would feature a gay character, only to get the usual denial. Reportedly, Berman said "That's totally untrue. Well I shouldn't say totally untrue. It has not been discussed. One of these characters may turn out to be gay. We've just decided not to make an issue of it for the time being (at the time, it was thought that Lt. Malcolm Reed, the ships chief of security, was going to be gay)."

And after years of seeing Trek do away with some of its sexist attitudes that haunted TOS, with Enterprise, Berman and Braga revived them. Since the first episode where we see Trip and Maryweather drooling like 18 year-old modern day adolescents over female (note, no male) dancers, we've seen T'Pol become the Seven of Nine replacement as the resident sex kitten. As proof of Trek's return to it's old ways when dealing with women and sex, Braga told Cinescape Online back in March of 2002 that: "Rick and I have been allowed to bring our own sensibilities to the show in a more natural way, which we haven't been allowed to do in some of the other shows."

If all of this true, then it would appear that Star Trek being written, produced and marketed solely for heterosexual males.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That was worth every penny I paid to read (...parts of...) it. Don't you have better things to do than look over every single Star Trek episode ever written for a gay character?