Ever since Star Trek first aired on television sets back in 1966 with the Original Series, we have been exposed to diversity. Lieutenant Nyota Uhura portrayed by Nichelle Nichols was a large progressive step for man and a giant leap for humankind. A woman on the bridge of a fictional starship was already progress, but Uhura was more than that. She was a symbol of African-American representation on television in a non-domestic role. She was not the ship’s maid. She was not shown cooking for the crew. Instead, she was shown similar to and about arguably as equal to the men aboard the starship Enterprise. Lieutenant Uhura accompanied Captain Kirk on others on landing party missions from time to time. She was also shown as a capable technician making repairs to ship’s systems and was once even mentioned having command of the Bridge while Kirk and others were busy elsewhere. Likewise, the Original Series had diversity in Hikaru Sulu and Pavel Chekov. Gene Roddenberry set the stepping stones for representation of minorities at a time when it was risky business to do so. (Read about the first TV Interacial Kiss)
News broke surrounding the upcoming Star Trek series Star Trek: Discovery that it would boldly go where no Star Trek series has gone before…at least not fully. The news of a confirmed homosexual character being part of the franchise (excluding that of the Kelvin universe Hikaru Sulu) is fairly groundbreaking for the franchise. At this point, I think it is pretty safe to say that gay, straight, bisexual, male, female, or whatever, we are all on the edge of our seat waiting for Star Trek: Discovery to actually come to fruition. With behind the scene changes happening and premiere dates being pushed back, we have been left waiting to meet the new crew and see the new starship in action.
When it comes to the Trek fandom and examining the fraction who are also part of the LGBTQ community, the news of an established homosexual character is both anticipated and welcomed yet also disconcerting and potentially problematic. This is not unexplored territory for the Science Fiction genre, but it is still vastly unexplored territory to one of the most beloved franchises in the genre. The truth is this is probably a Kobayashi Maru for the writers and their pens could very well feel like wielding double-edged swords. You cannot please everyone and you definitely are not going to be able to please all LGBTQ-identifying (or allies) fans of Star Trek when it comes to the introduction and potential development of Lieutenant Stamets portrayed by Anthony Rapp.
At this point, we do not know how the crew involved with the new series will handle their identified gay character of Stamets. However, with openly gay former showrunner Bryan Fuller taking a bit of a step-down, it has made some wonder if the character will be in good hands. From what we do know about the character, Rapp’s character will be a science officer with a speciality in astromycology (the study of fungi in space). So, it does not appear that he’s going to be a Department Head and probably won’t be a member of the senior staff. We can only imagine his character will come in handy studying fungi on alien planets or growing samples and various culture aboard the starship. There’s no telling how prominent the character will or will not be. Clearly, from characters like Kes and Neelix we have seen that you can be a civilian or hold a minor position aboard and still be pretty important.
Will he or will he not be open about his sexuality? How will his sexuality be handled? These are definitely questions that I and others have. Will the character have a boyfriend, husband, or a love interest at all? It is possible to have an openly gay character and handle it simply by showing the character off duty in the mess having a meal with a member of the same sex and imply that it’s a date. You could show him holding hands with a member of the same sex. For some fans, this will be enough to make us as LGBTQ fans looking for representation quite happy. Of course, there are others who may want the character to lock lips on screen with a member of the same sex or be the Kirk, Riker, or Tom Paris of the show by romantically or sexually pursuing shipmates or aliens on the various planets we see. However, if they take the character down the sexually liberal or promiscuous route, they risk alienating a good portion of fans and taking the character down a dangerously stereotypical route.
When we examine what we already know or can deduce, we are already seeing some potentially questionable decisions. The character will be a science officer. These are usually highly intelligent individuals that tend to avoid conflict and combat. Be it Spock, Jadzia Dax, or T’Pol they had their moments where they were not to be toiled with, but often offered the more analytic or philosophical support. A bolder approach may have been to put the first openly gay character in a Star Trek series in a more combat position such as Security or Tactical as was the case in the Star Trek: Titan series novels with the character Ranul Keru, an unjoined male Trill who served as Chief of Security (though the character’s past explains he transitioned from being a science officer). The casting of Anthony Rapp is also questionable in a way. It’s no secret that Rapp is a well-known stage and film actor/singer who starred in Rent both the Broadway production and film. He’s also a self-identified ‘queer’ individual. Of course, there is a decent argument to make that who better to properly portray a gay character than an actor who has been in love and in relationships with someone of the same sex. However, this particular casting could unintentionally hinder the progress some in the targeted community (LGBTQ) are looking for. All in all, it is too early to really judge without seeing Star Trek: Discovery in action. We can only hope for the best as we continue standing by.
» Images: CBS/Paramount