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Homosexuality: The Final Frontier
Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
The Gay and Lesbian Times
June 1, 1999
On September 8, 1966, the television adventure series Star Trek debuted on NBC with producer Gene Rodenberry at the helm. Boldly going where no television series had gone before, Star Trek was daring for it's time. Rodenberry wanted to create a program that commented on man and society in an way that was not offensive, and which reflected America. This included featuring television's first interracial kiss, when some omnipotent aliens forced Kirk to lay one on Uhura.
In the thirty-three years since it's debut in American homes, Star Trek has been responsible for it's fair share of helping to alter the way humans view themselves in regards to race and race relations. The focus of my inquiry however, is not to address how the producers of the venerable series of programming engage in the issues involving of racial politics, instead my concern concentrates on the lack of homosexual representation on Star Trek, and the implications of such an omission.
Speaking from personal experience, as a Trekkie who has seen every episode and movie ever produced by the Star Trek franchise, there has never been the mention of homosexuality. It seems unfathomable that a vision of the future that allows for different species to mate and have children, travel forward and back in time, shape-shift, and read minds and emotions with telepathic abilities, can not envision a species beyond the twentieth century that encompasses a sexuality outside the narrow realm of heterosexuality. The question here is what does that say to young viewers.
If sexuality and relationships were not addressed on a regular basis, and the characters family lives and histories rigorously explored, the omission of homosexuality would not be so revealing of the overriding homophobia inherent in the structure of Star Trek. The main demographic of Star Trek is young middle class males between the ages of twelve and twenty-nine. In keeping with standard statistics, it is safe to suggest that 10% of these viewers are homosexual. This statistic can also be carried over to include all other demographic groups. What is the impact of a show, set in a future where humans are no longer at war with each other, racism does not exist on earth, and women are equal to men in all regards, but homosexuality is never mentioned?
Of all television genres, science fiction has been the most remiss in including homosexual characters in their story lines, and considering that Star Trek is the most successful, and has had the greatest longevity within the genre, it only goes to reason that if a such a popular program can not see homosexuals existing in the future young gay men and women, would also fail to see a future for themselves as well.
One would think that the story lines inherent in the gay experience would be a rich cache for the writers involved. Producing finished scripts on a weekly basis, is no easy task. Again using the standard 10% statistic one would believe that their must be a few individuals one the production staff that identify as gay or lesbian. Also, without any knowledge to the contrary, it follows that a few of the cast members are also gay. Yet, according to the message of Star Trek, homosexuality is not a part of mankind's future.
One thing that does exist in the future proposed by the producers and writers of the various Star Trek series is medical technology that has replaced all known diseases including the common cold and cancer. Doctors on the series can replace organs, genetically enhance those of limited intelligence, and heal wounds and burns in a matter of seconds with a arsenal of medical instruments. This leaves this gay viewer wondering if the production staff of Star Trek believes that homosexuality will be cured, due to it's conspicuous absence in the long-running series.
What is the message to be derived from this lack of representation? The fact that homosexuals have no place in the enlightened realm of Star Trek is an unmistakable form of homophobic discourse. To be politically represented, a group must first be represented. Without representation, an unmarked invisibility is the default position from which homosexual viewers have to work from. Without positive role models, the social construction of reality continues to exclude homosexuals from the process of social cognition, and thereby alienated from what is considered the cultural norm.
Now we all know, the complete absence of homosexuals is not due to a lack of stories to tell. The possibilities are endless. It would be interesting to follow the mating rituals of two male Klingons, and Vulcan lesbians would be the logical choice for any bridge crew. Personally I would love to see a planet of hairy male humanoids that closely resemble a hybrid of Grizzly Addams and Rupert Everett. Beam me up Scotty!