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It’s taken 51 years, but 2256 has finally caught up with 2017. Wait, that doesn’t make any sense. It’s taken six different series, and 51 years, but Star Trek has finally introduced gay characters to the final frontier. And it’s about time too!
Star Trek: Discovery, which streams on Netflix in the UK, is set 10 years before the original Star Trek series, and brings with it the most diverse cast yet. Including two openly gay characters played by openly gay actors Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz. (Yay, representation!)
If you’d managed to go into the series without prior knowledge of the gay characters, you might have been shocked at the relationship’s reveal at the end of episode five. Sadly, I’d been consuming every single nugget of information about Discovery since before it’s release, so I was doing the complete opposite. I was waiting for the reveal. What I didn’t see coming, though, was the frankly overwhelming emotion at seeing gay characters in one of my favourite franchises. In the space of five minutes, my mind jumped from travelling at impulse to Warp 9. That’s a little Star Trek joke for you.
“Well, I knew that was coming. Why’d it take this long in the series to reveal them?”
“Wait. There are gays in Star Trek now – that’s pretty fucking cool.”
“Oh my god… There are people like me in Star Trek.”
As a young gay man with an interest in space, costumes, and strong females – Star Trek had always appealed to me. In particular, Star Trek: Voyager, which was the first spin-off to feature a female lead. The franchise seemed to match up with my own personal politics, too, depicting a utopian future where the struggle for equality was an issue of the past. So I just assumed that there were gay people in Star Trek‘s future – how could there not be? It didn’t matter that we never saw them on-screen, because Star Trek wasn’t about identity or sexuality. Except, it was.
The six different series had shown the audience a whole roster of relationships. Some of them between humans and humans, some of them between aliens and aliens, and some of them between humans and aliens. But never between two people identifying as gay.
Now, before the Trekkies come for me, I should point out that there was a single gay kiss in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but this was the result of two characters who were a heterosexual couple in their past lives meeting each other again. Which isn’t to remove any value away from that moment, as it was definitely important for a lot of viewers, but it still felt to me like the franchise was avoiding having an explicitly gay character on-screen.
By the time I was hooked on the show too, most of the spin-offs had already finished airing or they’d been cancelled. So it seemed like a waste of time to be upset about their lack of LGBTQ representation. I was also disappointed to find, upon researching, that original Trek creator Gene Roddenberry had planned to introduce gay characters into Star Trek: The Next Generation after overcoming his own real-life homophobia, but died before being able to make it happen. Subsequent showrunners were less vocal about the LGBTQ issue in Trek, with producer Rodger D. Moore admitting in a 2003 interview, “The truth is it was not really a priority for any of us on the staff so it wasn’t really something that was strong on anybody’s radar.”
I’d put to rest any hopes of seeing explicitly gay characters in the TV franchise at least, and then it happened. With one small scene in a bathroom, Star Trek: Discovery took this gay man where he had never gone before.
It’s hard to tell at this point whether Star Trek: Discovery will do a good job of portraying realistic gay characters on the show. Or whether the characters are actually even likeable, but right now that doesn’t matter. In the most recent episode, which was also the mid-season finale, we saw even more of the gay characters’ relationship: they argued, they loved, they kissed.
And once again – my Twitter timeline was full of people like myself, completely overwhelmed by the on-screen representation. So I have a good feeling about Star Trek: Discovery. It might have taken 51e years, but it was worth the wait.
Star Trek: Discovery returns with the second half of it’s first season to Netflix in January 2018.