Gay Me Up, Scotty: How Star Trek Failed To Boldly Go There

Sci-Fi and Fantasy television shows have always offered gay viewers some very attractive futures, supernatural universes, and alternative galaxies, chock-full of tolerant peoples and adorable lesbiwitches. Outside of the limitations imposed by our current political climate, writers and producers can create a context-free world where special things tend to happen, like Willow and TaraBabylon 5 featured gay marriageFarscape had a bald, blue plant lady who uncontrollably orgasmed in the sunlightStargate‘s second season will feature lesbian IOA officer Camile Wray; and Caprica’s got a gay Tauron assassin and heaps of subtle queerness throughout.

Much of what we now consider standard fare for sci-fi television, like its left-leaning-to-libertarian politics, began with the grandfather of the genre, Star Trek, which celebrates its 44th anniversary this week. You know that Buffy/Spashley/Tibette fan-fic you swap on message boards? Trekkers invented that — mostly as a way to write homosexual Spock/Kirk romps — and, unlike the overall composition of fandom itself, most slash authors were women.

So, in an age of inter-species-polygamous-holosex, one would think that a little fingerblasting would be no big deal. But despite addressing a multitude of social issues like sexism, racism, disability, evolving into squiggly lizards and having squiggly lizard babiesand being the origin of all slash fanfic in the world ever – Star Trek has yet to acknowledge the existence of LGBT people and, in my opinion, has slowly died because of it. What gives?

I know I’m not the first Star Trek fan who’s ever wondered: where are all the gays?


The Original Series (TOS) was pretty groundbreaking for its time: while the American Civil Rights movement was still facing significant struggles and setbacks on the ground, “Lieutenant Uhura,” played by African-American actress Nichelle Nichols, was not only on the bridge of the Enterprise, but even finding time to cop off with Kirk in the first interracial kiss on mainstream US TV.

Nichols’ presence on the show inspired a generation of actors, including Whoopi Goldberg, who appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation. So if the show wasn’t afraid to address racism and representation – which was a pretty bold thing to do at that time – why shy away from homophobia? Is this another case of accepting a show’s liberalism at face value but never asking them to prove it past an initial display of interracial affection? And what does it say about how complacently we’ve been programmed to accept homo-free television even from our most inclusive franchises?

According to gay rights activist George Takei (“Ensign Sulu” from TOS), series creator Gene Roddenberry was totally up for putting a gay character in the original show, but feared the wrath of the studio:

“I asked him, ‘How do you feel about that [gay rights]?’ He said, “This is an important issue and we want to deal with it… [but] our ratings are low and I need to keep the show on the air. All I need is another firestorm and this show will be cancelled. The times will change as we move along, but at this point, I can’t.”

Roddenberry may have had a point there because despite his pussyfooting, the show was cancelled anyway.

Almost a decade after the original went off the air, the franchise returned with Star Trek: The Next Generation and Roddenberry’s assurance that there would be some gay characters.

Sadly, however, Roddenberry passed away during season five, leaving producer Rick Berman at the helm (see what I did there?).  Berman was afraid that parents would freak out about their kids watching gays on afternoon reruns and so, under his direction, TNG began what would be a long and illustrious tradition of awkwardly bumbling around gay issues but NEVER DIRECTLY MENTIONING GAY PEOPLE AT ANY COST.

Not shockingly, Star Trek‘s LGBT fans (who adorably call themselves the “Gaylaxians”) don’t feel that gay people have been properly acknowledged in the show’s universe: other than a manipulative evil lesbian kiss here and a smattering of body-swapping romance there, the Gaylaxians have been completely ignored. Star Trek is supposed to be about the future, and instead the lack of LGBT representation on the show betrays it as outdated and narrow-minded.

I present, for your reading pleasure:

My Top Three Gay-But-Not-Really-Gay Moments
in Star Trek: The Next Generation:


1. Dr. Crusher and the Trill

The Host” was written as a response to a letter-writing campaign from Gay Star Trek fans to address sexuality issues. In the episode, Dr. Beverly Crusher falls for “Odan,” a symbiotic slug-dude that lives in host bodies. When Odan’s male host unexpectedly kicks the bucket, he’s transferred into Riker’s body, which takes Beverly about 20 minutes to get used to, but Riker’s just a temp. Ultimately, Odan is transplanted into a leggy blonde woman. Awkwardness ensues.

Odan: Yes I am still Odan and I still love you. I cannot imagine that ever changing.
Crusher: I’m glad that you’re alright.
Odan: Is there to be nothing more?
Crusher: Perhaps it is a human failure but we are not accustomed to these kinds of changes. I can’t keep up. How long will you have this host? What will the next one be? I can’t live with that kind of uncertainty. Perhaps someday our ability to love won’t be so limited.
Odan: I understand.
Crusher: Odan, I do love you. Please remember that.

Then Odan kisses Crusher’s wrist. Yup. Smack on the wrist.

So basically, a potential same-sex lover showed up on the Enterprise only to be instantly rejected by her prospective paramour. NICE!

Not only did the producers fail to include a gay storyline as promised, but the offensively almost-gay plot detracted from the episode’s meaning to begin with.  Franklin Hummel, director of Boston’s Gaylactic Network, told The Advocate: “In a way, I found [the female host] weakened the point of the story. Was the problem that the rapid changes were too much for her, or was it the fact that it was a same-sex relationship?” Double fail, Star Trek.


2. Whoopi’s Giant Hat of Love

In “The Offspring,” Data builds an unintentionally creepy android daughter named “Lal” and, as any loving parent would, foists her onto somebody else at the first opportunity. Lal is left in the care of Guinan, a 600-year-old bartender who teaches her, along with how to dispense pithy pearls of wisdom and sport magnificent hats, all about the birds and the bees.

In 2001, Richard Arnold, Research Consultant for The Next Generationexplained that during the taping of “The Offspring” Whoopi Goldberg refused to refer to love as a strictly heterosexual concept:

“According to the script, Guinan was supposed to start telling Lal, ‘When a man and a woman are in love …’ and in the background, there would be men and women sitting at tables, holding hands[…] But Whoopi refused to say that. She said, ‘This show is beyond that. It should be ‘When two people are in love.'”

Goldberg also lobbied for a same-sex couple to be put in the background of the scene but a last-minute call to the producer put a stop to that outrageous shit.

3. Riker and the J’naii

After Roddenberry had promised to put a gay character in the show, Rick Berman got a lot of heat from fans demanding that he follow through with it, and he responded with “The Outcast.”  But because there couldn’t actually be a gay character – because people might see and write letters and WILL SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN – fans got a ham-fisted homosexual/trans metaphor in the “J’naii,” a race of androgynous beings who treat gender as an icky perversion. One of the J’naii, “Soren,” wants to identify as a woman and get her freak on with Riker. Cue impassioned speech:

“I am female. I was born that way. I have had those feelings, those longings, all of my life. It is not unnatural…What makes you think you can dictate how people love each other?”

Jonathan Frakes (Riker) tried to persuade Berman to have a man to play Soren, but that would have led to TWO MALE ACTORS KISSING, so no dice. Frakes complained that the episode wasn’t “gutsy” enough and that “Soren should have been more evidently male.”

I understood the episode to be an awkward metaphor for homosexual tolerance in the 20th century, but apparently many viewers thought the J’naii (who were all played by women) were supposed to be a race of man-hating bra-burning lesbians with a vendetta against hetero men.

Stardate: Present Day

Five incarnations and 600 episodes later, we are still led to believe that 300 years from now the galaxy is populated by heterosexual nuclear families.  It’s no wonder that the franchise fizzled out when, sixteen years after Britain elected a female Prime Minister, the producers of Star Trek: Voyager congratulated themselves for putting a woman in command of a starship, and they nearly chickened out of that. Out of touch much?

“They don’t need money in Star Trek and they don’t need religion,” author Cecilia Tan told in 2005. “There are no Christians in Star Trek. Everyone’s a sort of secular humanist. Everyone is accepted and happily employed. So everyone wants to see themselves in that world. It’s like, if everyone’s all happy and well-adjusted, where are the happy, well-adjusted gay people?”

Despite a massive cult following and a seemingly endless syndication, Star Trek has never had high ratings and the producers have always been terrified of offending their limited number of faithful viewers. They may have tried to satisfy us by including a handful of evasive homosexual metaphors in their version of the future, but that type of representation only reinforces the notion that being gay in the 21st century is soooo controversial that it can’t even be talked about – not even three centuries later. Now we can get our gay fix elsewhere — like an upcoming Big Bang Theory episode in which George Takei and Outer Space Shane Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) will play the dueling voices of Wolowitz’s conscience.

I couldn’t help but feel cheated that in a supposedly utopian 24th century, Star Trek never managed to accomplish the things we’re achieving in the 21st. All Star Trek ever managed was “implied nudity,”making the once-great franchise guilty of the worst crime of all – being boring.

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  1. I really do not believe it that he ignored it as you put, and for the time they did quite a bit but did not want to tell people what to think, but tell a story.. Morality of some sort is in there to the Christian comment,.. but it is a part of the society, of which god in episodes is mentioned, it is just a free society for all religions..
    The “gay” episodes occoured in Deep Space Nine aswell.. but again it is just about love..

  2. I have to agree, I am disappointed at the lack queer characters and story-lines in all star trek shows. (And if you notice almost never from humans, only from other species who “are just that way.”)
    However, when I tried to think what COULD they have done, I realized I am glad they did not try (harder?) to inject some gay.

    Why? Unless they really do it right, it will just join your list Gay-but-not-really moments. And I just don’t want more of those. They are disappointing.

    Also, another thing TOS and TNG lack is women. All the women in TOS are nurses and people who give Kirk something to look at. I mean even uhura wasn’t all that important. TNG was better, but it wasn’t untill Voyager or Deep Space Nine there was even a female in a important role on the ship.

  3. Yup. As a certified Trekkie – it sucks. Big time. Not just the lack of queer characters, but women, characters of color, you name it. (And OMG, don’t even get me started on the TOS episode “Turnabout Intruder.” Feminists do NOT like TOS.)

    But: also ironic since Kirk/Spock is pretty much widely acknowledged as “the mothership” of all slash fanfiction. (Seriously, there’s like, some history of fandom project that calls it that somewhere.)

  4. Star Trek doesn’t really owe me, gay star trek fan, anything more than what every TV show in gay ignoring heteronormative world owes me. So I respond to it with my usual strategy: fantasizing. So much mental fan fiction. So much.

  5. I know this is ridiculous and superstitious, but between no gays in Star Trek’s utopia and people talking about “eliminating the gay gene,” I am totally paranoid about the future! I don’t really want kids because being raised by hippies made me anxious about overpopulation and resources, but if people start engineering straight babies in my lifetime, I will totally do the opposite and birth/parent like five or six gays. They might end up pissed off at me, but your future gay kids will thank me because they have somebody to date. You’re welcome.

  6. Because the only men I fall in love with are gay men, and because I was in love with Tom Paris (Voyager) as a youth, I deduced many years ago that Tom Paris must have, in fact, been gay. Just saying, I’ve never fallen in love with a straight man, ever. It’s too bad Tom wasn’t out; Star Trek Voyager failed Tom.

  7. There are some actual queer characters in the (official) Star Trek books (at least in ST corps of engineers)… But yeah, I too blame Rick Berman for not having the guts to do anything “edgy” on the tv series. Lame corporate cowardice.

  8. “Star Trek has yet to acknowledge the existence of LGBT people and, in my opinion, has slowly died because of it.” – stupid! less than 1% of the world population is gay and Star Trek will hardly miss them if every single one of them stopped watching. What’s +-1%? I for one do not want to see two men kissing and if Star Trek started trying to please 1% of the world’s population they would alienate the majority who find the idea of two men in love unappealing. I for one would stop watching, and let them have their 1%.

    • less than 1%? where did you get that from?
      and why do you think that the majority of straight people has a problem with two men/two women kissing?
      what you view as gay people flaunting their homosexuality is in reality just the same as straight people flaunting their heterosexuality.
      also, I think batman wants to say something:

      • I think star trek needed more than just gay kissing, sex, ect. It needed to actually address the issue.

        Even off-handed remark from picard about how humanity has gotten past their prejudice of homosexuality. There has been an off-handed comments such as this about almost all other modern human flaw: racism, money, war, stuff like that.

        Why did they steer clear of ever mentioning gay people directly?

        • A good example of a simple off hand remark would be in the Doctor Who episode “The Doctor Dances” where The Doctor gives an quick explanation to one character about how another character is from the 51st century and by that time humans have spread across the galaxy and don’t have the same sort of issues that they do at present. It’s just a basic statement of fact about the future, that’s that, and the main plot moves forward.

    • I would posit that a greater percentage of Trek fans are gay than the general population. Science fiction in general tends to pull in the outcasts and misfits. (Trust me, I just got back from Worldcon.)

  9. If Doctor Who, which is officially a children’s show and pretty much an institution in the UK, could go there and have Captain Jack Harkness kiss The Doctor before going off to face certain death fighting the Daleks in the first season of the revived show, Star Trek’s producers need to stop worrying and get with the program.

  10. I think they missed a HUGE opportunity with Seven of Nine- here you had entire episodes devoted to her trying to figure out emotions and falling in love, but yet they never even thought to have her try and date anyone but a guy? She was someone who researched things to DEATH, and it never once occurred to her ONCE while researching human sexuality “gee, there are all these stories of women falling in love with women, maybe I should try that?” Such a wasted opportunity. And don’t get me started how she somehow ended up with Captain Cardboard himself, Chakotay, in the last 2 episodes.

  11. oddly enough, the fact that homosexuality’s never really mentioned in TOS hasn’t bothered me all too much; the kirk/spock fanbase is HUGE, and honestly, they had so much on-screen chemistry that it seemed obvious enough to me. TOS was pretty out there for its time, i think, but it definitely had its share of problems with its portrayal of women, other cultures, etc. homosexuality’s one point on a long, long list.

    i’ve yet to watch the later series, but i agree- at that point, i think a positive message of homosexuality could have been given without too much hassle. plenty of other sci-fi shows have done it, at any rate.

    in the meantime, i’m happy to idolize bones mccoy and watch the captain & first officer flirt with each other on the bridge like there’s no tomorrow.

    • A lot of the issues with the way women were portrayed in the Original Series had to do with the network demands. Roddenberry’s original pilot had Majel Barret playing Captain Pike’s first officer but the network demanded that be changed in order for the show to be picked up. I think we need to be careful to judge older shows in light of the societal standards at the time, and Roddenberry was pushing the envelope, for his era, with many of the roles he gave women in the Original Series.

      Next Generation could have been more progressive, and the Rick Berman era is another matter altogether, but I’m not going to knock the Original Series.

      • Yeah, he was a trendsetter in his own way. But does that mean that the sexism in TOS should be excused? I don’t think so. When you critique a show (I believe) you’re critiquing everything involved with that show – the network, the audience, the social/historical context – so while it’s good to give props to Roddenberry and his crew (including Shatner even – have you heard the story about when they filmed the Uhura/Kirk kiss, and he deliberately overacted in all other shots so that they’d have to use the one with the kiss? Pretty awesome), that doesn’t mean that the sexism, racism, ethnocentrism, etc. that were present is okay.

        Just saying “well, it was the 60s” isn’t enough for me, I guess. Not to say that TOS wasn’t awesome, but to ignore it I think is foolish as well.

  12. Garak’s actor, Andrew J. Robinson, loved Garak so much that he wrote a novel about Garak post-DS9. Garak is “omnisexual” according to Robinson, and definitely queer. He had an unreciprocated interest in Bashir and began having an interest in Ziyal only when he realized who’s daughter she was. Yes, he flirts with any Cardassian who comes his way, but you can bet that’s loneliness. According to the head writers, Garak was always envisioned as queer, if not gay, and all the characters were supposed to know it and–GASP!–like him anyway, or at least distrust him for other good reasons.

    Of course Paramount was like FUCK NO and so Robinson toned back the fey a bit. Babylon 5 is even sadder…poor Ivanova. If you ever heard about B5, you know how, well, they “straightwashed” her. Worse, they made her an asexual frigid person instead of just, you know, gay. At least everyone on the cast agreed Ivanova was gay whether Paramount liked it or not.

    Blame the networks, not the creators of TV sci-fi. They’ve wanted to do queer characters since the early 80s, they just get threatened with the axe. I bet you anything the next big sci-fi show will have a queer main character in the cast.

  13. Speaking of DS9, and on a positive-ish note, there was one episode in season 4 where Jadzia Dax had a brief relationship with Lenara Kahn. The Dax symbiont and the Kahn symbiont had been spouses in previous hosts, but Trill custom forbids contact with the family of previous hosts, under penalty of exile from the homeworld, and no new host for the offending symbionts once their current host dies. I don’t really have a problem with that, it’s a sensible policy, and has nothing to do with the gender of the host. What was cool about it was that neither Trill had a problem with the fact that they both had female hosts. There was a kiss and everything. And while they didn’t end up together, Jadzia was willing to risk the punishment to be with the person she loved.

  14. I’ve been watching TNG all summer and while I loved it, I found myself wondering where the LGBT representation was (and why there weren’t more women in power and more main characters of color). There was a lot of =/ involved.

  15. In a bout of cosmic alignment, I was thinking about this very subject at length recently.

    While superficially it seems like just another queer visibility issue, I don’t think the importance of this one can be understated.

    Think about what kind of people casually toss around the gay and faggot abuse, and make XBL and other male geek spaces the writhing pits of homophobia that they are. Yeah, they’re the demographic that probably watched TNG et al during their formative years. I truly believe that better representation could have had a huge impact.

    Anyway, some good nearly-gays above, although I think the whole Janeway/Seven thing was entirely people’s projections. Ultimately it was just a minor diversion from the fact that Voyager was usually dull as fuck.

    My most-wasted queer opportunity would come from DS9, coincidentally my favourite of the franchise. Not the Dax thing (although they could have explored that a whole lot more), but Odo.

    He’s a shapeshifter. He can be anything he wants. So why does he choose to look like a tea-stained claymation reject with a comb-over? Why is he even a “he” at all? I know they came up with some half-arsed reason why he couldn’t shift shape so well at first, but come on, if you could change into anything – anything – would you really look like that?

    No you wouldn’t. You’d change into a giant floating space-vagina and hump the port nacelle of every shuttlecraft that flew by. I have no idea what a port nacelle is, but it sounds sexy. Also, it would probably help with his disappointingly-heterosexual crush on Major Kira. Imagine:

    Kira: Hey Odo, fancy looking over some security reports this evening while I bask in, yet ultimately reject, your futile advances?
    Odo: Sorry, I’m out humping nacelle.
    Kira: Who’s Nacelle?! *jealous glare*

    While I might have let Odo off on account of him being orphaned and probs subject to some evil heteronormative upbringing by some fundamentalist space-missionaries, eventually he finds his own people, headed up by the imaginatively-titled Female Changeling.

    And you know, you can really tell she’s female, because she’s shapeshifted herself as wearing a dress. That is some stunningly forward-thinking gender representation there.

    Are you really telling me that in the vast, mercurial sea of shapeshifter goop, each analogue gooplet really conforms to a binary gender and sexuality identity?

    The lack of visibility is merely frustrating; the crushing failure of imagination is devastating.

    Queer goop, gay Klingon bears, bisexual worms living in your stomach – I think these are my minimum requirements for any future trek.

  16. Great article!

    I’m glad someone mentioned Doctor Who above – I know this wasn’t what the article was about, but I feel like in the round-up of Queer characters on contemporary sci-fi shows, Doctor Who and Torchwood (especially Torchwood) should’ve been included. Every single main character in Torchwood has both heterosexual and homosexual romantic encounters.

  17. DS9 went “there” on several occasions. It was quite clear that folks on that space station didn’t give a good goddamn what they humped. Examples:

    1. Dax and Kahn kissed. Both were female Trills. Sisko warned her to leave the station because Kahn was enroute.
    2. Alternate universe Kira was bisexual (6 different episodes)
    3. Dax thought it was perfectly normal when Pel was in love with Quark. Pel was masquerading as a male Ferengi.
    4. Dozai woman excuses herself when she found Pel (thought to be a man) laying on top of Quark
    5. Worf was pissed at Dax cause he thought she was cheating on him with Arandis, a female Risian.
    6. A Vulcan killed a Bolian male that had a husband and a wife.

  18. As the co-founder of The Gaylaxians and the person who lead the letter-writing campaign to have open gay crewmembers shown on the starship “Enterprise”, I don’t think I have read or heard anywhere else the name “Gaylaxians” (that was me also) was “adorable”.


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