Sunday, February 11, 2018

Queers In Space!

There’s a distinct lack of queer characters in science-fiction. That’s not news to anybody, really.

I’m a die-hard Star Trek fan and I’ve increasingly become a Star Wars fan. In the hundreds of hours of televised Star Trek, the Star Trek movies, and the Star Wars movies (I’ve not watched the animated Star Wars TV show), I can name two queer characters — Stamets and Culber from the new Star Trek: Discovery show.

I can understand that the lack of queer characters and the very slow integration of them in present televised Star Trek as being a result of general society’s acceptance of queer identities. These things often come down to being business decisions — I hold no anger to TV or movie executives for not historically including queer characters. In fact, there was the intention of introducing Star Trek’s first gay couple back in the 90s — Doctor Bashir and Garak from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine were intended to be a gay couple. I didn’t know that until someone told me very recently, but looking back at the episode where the two characters first meet, it’s very clear now that there’s an initial infatuation that would have easily transitioned into romance. However, TV execs at the time kiboshed the idea and they instead became best of friends.

Given my love of Star Trek books, though, we have a little more material to work with for this post. I’ve literally read hundreds of them. I’ve also read a few dozen Star Wars books. I can’t speak for Star Wars literature that much since it was in the 90s and early 00s that I read those couple dozen books and I’m not up to date on what the books are doing. For Star Trek, though, I very clearly remember the first gay couple showing up. There was on outrage on the internet, of course, as there always is, but the publishers didn’t back down. There are still inclusions now and then of gay characters — since they can’t rewrite canon characters from TV or movies, the gay characters tend to be family members of canon characters or original characters of the authors.

While I enjoy this diversity, I’m still very critical of it.

Of the queer characters I can remember, 95% of them are gay men. I believe there was one lesbian couple. This completely ignores most of the queer rainbow. However, perhaps in the Star Trek future, identities like trans are far less of an issue than they are today — perhaps in that future, transitioning is an easy process that’s totally accepted, and so there would be no need to mention it in a novel as it’s a relatively minor aspect of their identities/pasts.

As well, I have to acknowledge that I spend my day-job working life immersed in the queer community, so I’m very aware of the diversity of identities that exist and the lack of them that exist in fiction. That could simply be my fairly unique perspective and it might not be a concern shared by many (or any) readers of Star Trek books.

My bigger problem, though, is that there are two profiles that queer characters are given in Star Trek books, and in most other general fiction books I read (including, for example, thrillers by James Rollins) — they’re either the sacrificial hero or the happily paired-up couple.

I can see why this is. These authors are trying to normalize queer characters and relationships for their readers. (“Look! He’s the hero of the book — he sacrificed himself! Just like a hetero action hero!” or “Look! They’re blissfully happy and monogamous!”) Sometimes, a queer character is both of these things. In one Star Trek novel I read years ago (maybe more than a decade ago), there was a blissfully happy gay couple and at the end of the book, one of them sacrificed his life to save the crew of the Enterprise.

Perhaps this wouldn’t bother me so much if hetero characters were given the same treatment. Yet, in televised/movie Star Trek alone, we have:

  • Captain Kirk’s promiscuous one-night-stands;
  • Bones being a bit of a creepy man that would be brought down in our modern #metoo movement;
  • Commander Riker sleeping around and eventually dating and marrying Counsellor Troi;
  • Captain Picard having vacation flings;
  • Captain Sisko dating and falling in love with Kasidy Yates;
  • Worf dating Counsellor Troi (in Next Generation), hooking up with an Ambassador and fathering a child (in Next Gen); and later dating and marrying Dax and later becoming a widower (in Deep Space Nine);
  • All the other casual dating and relationships that happened in the relationship-heavy Deep Space Nine;
  • Torres and Paris being on-again-off-again for most of Voyager before marrying;
  • An odd short term relationship between Chakotay and Seven;
  • An is-this-a-relationship-or-not ongoing “thing” between T’Pol and Trip;
  • Mayweather hooking up with an ex;
  • Lorca hooking up with an ex (who happens to be his boss);
  • And Burnham nervously falling for Tyler.


These are all examples of complicated, messy, realistic relationships between hetero people.

But queer people (AKA gay men)? They’re only in blissfully happy marriages or they’re sacrificial heroes or both. (I haven’t watched all of season one of Star Trek: Discovery yet, so no spoilers please, even though I’ve already seen some hints regarding the gay couple.)

If Star Trek, Star Wars, and other science-fiction properties want to normalize queer relationships, they really need to treat them like hetero relationships. If someone is homophobic and watching Star Trek, they won’t think “hmm… that gay couple is just like me and my wife… maybe being gay is normal…”. No, they’ll think “ugh, another scene with the queers — why is Star Trek being ruined by political correctness?”

(I sometimes read the comment section on TrekMovie.com — those who are homophobic clearly haven’t changed their minds and those who are not homophobic are celebrating the inclusion of Culber/Stamets. No one has changed their mind; they’ve only reinforced their pre-existing opinions.)

I always question the reasons for including something — is it there because it makes sense to the story? Or is it there to make a point or to create a teachable moment?

Queer characters could and should be put in Star Trek (and other science-fiction properties) to add diversity and realism — unfortunately, right now, they’re in there to create a teachable moment. It just makes me roll my eyes. (An off topic but tangential non-sci-fi example — condom use in MM romance fiction is typically there to reinforce the idea of condom use among gay men and some authors go overboard explaining why it’s important. It becomes a big “thing” in a sexy chapter that really serves as a distraction and nothing more. Ugh.)

I’m trying not to be overly critical, though. We have gay and lesbian characters — yay! — which is better than years ago when we had none. But we need to push for more diversity and more realism. This, too, will come with time.

Perhaps it will even come in Star Trek: Discovery. We have a happily-together gay couple, but it doesn’t mean they’ll always be this way. While I’d hate for them to not be together (as I’d hate for any couple to not be together), there’s at least opportunity for some realism there.

Until they do that, I’ll just keep writing my smut.



Cameron D. James is a writer of gay erotica and M/M erotic romance; his latest release is Schoolboy Secrets. He is publisher at and co-founder of Deep Desires Press, member of the Indie Erotica Collective, and hosts two podcasts, Deep Desires Podcast and Sex For Money. He lives in Canada, is always crushing on Starbucks baristas, and has two rescue cats. To learn more about Cameron, visit http://www.camerondjames.com.

4 comments:

  1. Wonderful post! Worth waiting for!

    Do you like Firefly? It seems to me there were gay, or gay-leaning, characters in that series.

    The one serious science fiction novel I've written in M/M erotic romance, actually. And it's a difficult relationship, full of deception, misconception and mistrust, along with the passion.

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  2. This is a great post, Cameron! I know that the Star Wars books have introduced some queer characters (particularly in one by Chuck Wendig, if I remember correctly). But I'm disappointed by how the movies have shied away from the obvious chemistry between Poe and Finn. I'm glad you pointed out the general lack of queer women, too. That always bugs me.

    Just to add to your compilation, I remember an episode of ST:TNG that flirted with a queer relationship for Beverly Crusher (she was into a symbiote who was given a female body). Ultimately, though, Dr. Crusher decided she couldn't do it.

    I agree there need to be more, and more realistic and interesting, queer people in space!

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    1. Ah, I forgot about that Crusher episode!

      There was another one in Deep Space Nine where Jadzia Dax (a Trill, the same race with the symbiont from TNG), meets up with another female Trill -- and they were lovers in previous bodies. While their current bodies were female, the attraction ran much deeper and had nothing to do with gender. I think that would make it sapiosexual? Potentially pansexual?

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