Live by the Code Live by the Code question

The prevalence of gay characters in this series- obnoxious or long overdue?
deleted member (last edited Aug 17, 2016 07:44AM ) Jun 16, 2016 04:01AM
Let's be clear on this: I think that having visible gay characters in books and other media is a good thing, This is especially true for Star Trek, where showing gay characters as a part of the evolved and improved humanity sends a message, and their absence in previous incarnations of the show inadvertently sent an even stronger one. Gene Roddenberry wanted to have a gay character as part of the TNG crew and was laughed at by the heads of Paramount. He did manage to work in the idea that the future might hold different forms of gender expression through the "skant", a uniform skirt that many of the male extras wore in season 1. Suffice to say, including gay characters in the franchise has been on Trek's "to-do" list for some time.

Reading "Live by the Code," it was clear that Bennett had an agenda beyond telling his story. Not only are the gay and married Klingons from Martin and Magels' books back, but we now have lesbian Andorian crewmates and an Tellarite who pines over his male colleague. Time is taken away from a battle sequence to let us know that Morgan Kelly has had a sex change operation between books. This doesn't advance the story, and the scene only happens so that Bennett can establish that trans people exist in Starfleet. In a series with a huge cast, it seems as though characters are made gay as a lazy way of giving them a character trait and moving on.

Introducing new gay characters is one thing, but Bennett is also determined to "queer" characters in the established cast. In the last book we learned that Mayweather experimented with both male and female partners during his childhood on the Horizon. This volume sees Phlox openly musing on his desire to experience a male Denobulan's famed sexual prowess firsthand. Neither revelation is necessarily out of character, but I found the revisionism to advance Bennett's personal agenda obnoxious.

If Bennett had wanted to examine 22nd century sexual politics, there are many interesting topics to explore. Would medical science have advanced to help trans people affect an easier and more biologically authentic transformation? In a world where sexual preference cannot be presumed, would people broadcast their preferences, or would there be a social convention around learning the interests of your crush? How would these social mores play out between different species? We won't see these aspects in this series, since this would require Bennett to be interested in writing Star Trek as science fiction and not his personal soapbox.

Then again, I might be biased here. As a straight reader who has been reading Star Trek novels since childhood, maybe I am seeing these changes as more jarring and out of place than they actually are. What do you think? Did Bennett's use of sexual politics ring true to you, or did you find it as annoying as I did?

Update 17/08/16: Since I last posted on this topic, there was a minor controversy when Simon Pegg's "Star Trek Beyond" revealed that Hikaru Sulu is gay. Among the critics of this move was George Takei, who claimed that rather than "queering" an existing character the writers should have introduced a new gay character. (For the record, Sulu's sexuality had never before been addressed in canon, although his Mirror Universe doppleganger enjoyed sexually harassing female crew members.) Pegg fired back that creating a character for the sole purpose of having them represent gay people would be tokenism. This debate highlights many of my concerns with this series . If Bennet had bothered to give his gay characters the same level of attention and character development as the straight couples in the novel (Williams/Kirk, T'Pol/Tucker), or had their relationships factor in the stakes of the story (like Sulu's family in Yorktown in "Beyond"), I would have had an easy time accepting them as part of the novel. Instead, he sprinkles queer characters throughout a book that does not require them or benefit from them, committing the exact type of tokenism Mr. Pegg describes.

I don't know anything about Bennett to gauge his personal agenda. My only thought as I read was cool, ST is acknowledging transgender. I saw it more as staying up to date on the social issues in our world, as the transgender bathroom issue has become a hot button the last two years. ST has always dealt with modern social issues; in the 60s it was interracial. Was it seamlessly integrated into the story - NO. But, I didn't feel it was jarring or annoying.

If it matters, I too am a straight reader.

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