If you haven’t been watching Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, and you missing the ‘classic’ Star Trek where they went off and had semi-complicated adventures, but with modern sensibilities, then you have been missing out.
I can’t remember when I first watched Star Trek, not exactly.
I remember sitting in a room we called ‘the pit’ which was the TV/play room at my parents’ house, on a battered brown couch that eventually moved with us from Cleveland to San Diego, with my cousin, who eventually moved in with us. I remember the teeny tiny TV, a terrible earache, and I really can’t remember what the episode was about.
But forty-odd years later, I can pick out any episode of Classic Trek and remember most (if not all) of it.
Favourite characters? Spock and McCoy, followed by Scotty and Uhura. Oh and Nurse Chapel.
I totally shipped Spock and Christine. I didn’t know what shipping was back then, but I loved them together, and “Amok Time” became one of my favourite episodes for so many reasons. The bromance between Spock and Kirk, the third wheel snarking of McCoy, and that smile at the end when Spock’s façade slips. It was all perfection.
A New Generation
When TNG rolled around, I was older and more capable of understanding things. Like why I had posters of Marina Sirtis, Gates McFadden, and Denise Crosby on my walls. Oh, and Wil Wheaton, which I think he and I would find hilarious for similar reasons right now. I admit, teen Mika was sobbing when Tasha Yar was killed so unceremoniously in the first season (the story goes Crosby was upset her character didn’t get development, but at the time we had no idea and I recall Starlog magazine made a quip about how a woman asks for more lines and her character is killed).
But unlike Classic Trek, TNG addressed the changing world a little more directly. The fourth movie (The Voyage Home — the whales one) was released while the series was on-air, and like that movie (which ostensibly was about how we’re killing everything and this will be bad), they took advantage of the platform to pontificate.
In the mid-80s, at a Boston convention, Gene Roddenberry took a question about why ‘Infinite Diversity’ excluded the gays, and he pledged to introduce a gay character in TNG. A writer named David Gerrold wrote a script called “Blood and Fire,” back in 1988, and that has become infamous among LGBTQ+ fans.
Gerrold wanted to tackle AIDS! So he wrote a script that gave the Romulans some weird bloodworm virus that required everyone on the Enterprise to donate blood. At the end of the episode, there would be a title card telling people to donate. Also in the episode would be a pair of one-off characters, a couple dudes in a committed relationship. There was a quick “How long have you two been together?” and that was it.
Don’t remember the episode? That’s because the script never happened. And in an interview with Trek Movie, Gerrold put the blame on Rick Berman:
I don’t blame Gene as much as I blame Rick Berman for that clusterfuck. Others have confirmed it. They have said that in their experience Rick Berman was a raging homophobe, which makes the whole thing even more bizarre. […]Exclusive: David Gerrold Talks Frankly About TNG Conflicts With Roddenberry & Berman + JJ-Trek & more – 12 Sept. 2014, Trek Movie
A lot of the LGBTQ+ fanbase has nothing nice to say about Berman.
Still, they managed to get away with a lot, even with Berman around. Riker romanced a person from a genderless society, and was in support of Soren no matter what. Dr. Crusher romanced a Trill and, when they changed to a new host, a woman, and were still into her, Crusher admitted she couldn’t. Small steps. Baby steps. A lot of setbacks, but baby steps.
Then, on August 8, 1991, Roddenberry sent a statement to The Advocate
In the fifth season of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation,’ viewers will see more of shipboard life in some episodes, which will, among other things, include gay crew members in day-to-day circumstancesGay “Trek” – 30 June 2001
Roddenberry died only two months later.
The Berman era was terrible.
I’m going to skip the new movies, in part because we’re a TV site, but also because in the end, I didn’t like them. Oh I wanted to. I love the acting, the subtle timeline shifts, and in fact some of the story. But the movie, as my cousin (yes, the same one) put it, “lacks hope.”
That was always the draw, for me, about Star Trek. It had hope. Hope that being a PoC on the bridge, in command, was normal. Hope that we could all work it out, find peace, become better people. Tangentially this is also why I love the Bill & Ted movies. For all people scream that Star Trek is ‘woke’ and has ‘abandoned’ the right… well honestly I wonder if they were even watching the show I was. The show that put a black woman on the bridge, in command, and had her kiss Kirk? The show with the Asian helmsman? The show with the bloody Russian, during the IRL Cold War, up there?
Anyone who thinks Star Trek wasn’t woke all along has really been asleep at the switch.
So when they continued their awareness into DS9 (which had the first lesbian kiss), and then we had those rumours about Seven of Nine being a lesbian…. only to have Roddenberry die and the heteronormative reign supreme was the point that I walked away from Star Trek. It wasn’t going to show ‘me.’
Star Trek: Discovery changed it.
They brought back a lot of aspects from Classic Trek but was questionably received. Not everyone liked the ‘Mary Sue’ aspect of Spock’s hitherto unknown sister, and yeah, a lot of people hated Michael for being black. There were gays all over the damn ship, and everything was solved with the power of friendship!
Is Disco perfect? Nope. It is as flawed as every other TV show. But is it bad? Honestly I enjoy it. I like it better than Picard, who finally did give us gay-Seven but had a very uneven second season and somehow managed to waste Q, the best villain ever.
But what Disco did was give the Trek Universe room. Suddenly we had room to have imperfect heroes again, to have people make choices with their hearts and heads, but sometimes out of balance. We had them experience love and loss, make difficult choices, and screw it up.
And this matters because from all of this, we got Strange New Worlds.
Strange New Queers
My wife quipped that ‘strange’ and ‘queer’ are synonyms.
Strange New Worlds started off with Ortegas, who is the most queer-coded character on that show.
Besides her awesomely queer haircut, when off duty we see Ortegas in a bomber jacket, cargo pants, and boots.
But she’s not the person who came out last week.
No, that would be Nurse Christine Chapel.
Majel Barrett is best known for being ToS‘ Christine Chapel, as well as TNG’s Lawaxana Troi. Trekies also know her as the original Number One. Barrett’s Christine pined for Spock in every way possible. It was obvious to everyone she loved him, and he was just a big dumb alien, so hell bent on not appearing human, than he would do anything to erase it.
Bush’s Christine is a little more wild. She has more personality than just ‘The nurse who digs Spock,’ but the depth of nerdy like … she’s fascinated by ancient surgical techniques. She teases Dr. M’Benga. She is besties with Ortegas, who teases her are a disastrous date with a woman that ended with phaser fire.
And yes that’s how Christine Chapel’s pansexuality comes around.
Infinite Diversity, Infinite Queers
While the jury is still out on Ortegas (come on, Trek…), it looks like Star Trek has finally returned to its roots and remembered the best way to give us everything we want is to just include it.
The casual, no-special-of-the-week introduction of queers.
Because we’re normal.
And we are.
Peace and Long Life, my friends.