Star Trek: Not Quite Going to the Final Frontier of Equity.

In Next Generation Star Trek, the Red Shirts were switched with Gold Shirts.  Because we wouldn't notice that.

In Next Generation Star Trek, the Red Shirts were switched with Gold Shirts. Because we wouldn’t notice that.

I’ve been thinking a whole lot about my few students that are struggling with their gender identity and sexual identity. Out of the whole group of some three hundred students, I specifically know of two. That makes them less then one percent, and as a result, I can see why those students often “slip through the cracks” for services and assistance, especially in areas like the one where I teach.

I’ve been watching a whole lot of Next Generation Star Trek, and reading a bunch of the comics. I was aware that there was a fairly large fan base attached to the character of Tasha Yar, the first season Security Chief on Star Trek: The Next Generation. I wasn’t as aware as the roots of a significant amount of that fan base…

It turns out that a significant amount of fans believe that the character was intentionally designed as a lesbian character. One that was not “out” despite the progressive nature of Roddenberry’s Utopian future.

Reviewers have questioned the character’s sexuality since the end of the series. “Curve” magazine speculated that Yar was a “closeted” lesbian. In the book, “Science Fiction Audiences: Watching Doctor Who and Star Trek,” the authors describe her as “an obvious bisexual”, but that “she should be a lesbian”. When referring to the events in “The Naked Now”, (Episode 3 of the series) the authors explain “when they decided to straighten her, they used an android. So we ended up heterosexualizing two perfectly wonderful characters”. Okay…I don’t know that they are any more or less wonderful based on their sexuality, guys, but I see your point. Data, for one, being an android, has no context for sexuality at all, save for the design of his hardware. Giving him an impression of it so early in the series, when he was Pinocchio an episode earlier…its a bit odd.

The authors of the book “Deep Space and Sacred Time: Star Trek in the American Mythos,” also thought that having Data and Yar consummate sexually was a means to state early on in the series the heterosexuality of the two most androgynous characters in the show. That’s a much more fair point, I think, and less loaded.

The fact is…there is a large fan base, and scholarly analysis, that suggests this short lived character was a lesbian or bisexual.

Now…almost none of my students watch Star Trek at all. Still, I have to wonder that if there were more success in introducing these ideas into pop culture, earlier, my small handful of students wouldn’t be struggling so much right now. By the time Next Generation aired, Gene Roddenberry’s “utopian vision of an egalitarian future” as the tag line for Star Trek was well known. Was that supposed to be an egalitarian future for all races, even Klingons, but not all lifestyles? Later episodes suggest not.

Still…I get it. You had to sell a TV show to the marketplace of the time period. That marketplace was not willing to be nearly as receptive as a modern audience might be.

Or maybe not. The time period might not be a factor. I know a whole lot of my students watch the “Walking Dead” for better or for worse. This week, fans of the zombie drama, which routinely features graphic violence and gore, are up in arms after the show included a gay kiss.

In the latest episode of the AMC drama, newly-introduced gay characters Aaron and Eric shared a kiss after reuniting following a zombie attack. The pair are the first openly gay male characters to appear on the drama – though the show features lesbian character Tara, and previously hinted at a lesbian subtext between traveling companions Michonne and Andrea.

Twitter was full of homophobic abuse after the incident – despite the show featuring such charming elements as the murder of young children, cannibalism, brutal disembowelment and torture in the past.

So maybe a modern audience wouldn’t be that much more receptive. Maybe a modern audience would accept Tasha Yar as a lesbian, but not Mr. Data as more androgynous or “gender flexible.” I don’t know, and when I look at the impact that perception have on my questioning students, it’s tough.

I mean…the most that I can do is listen, and make buttons for the “Rainbow Alliance” club. Maybe to say that it will get better, when I get to go home in my car at the end of the day to an affluent liberal area. Yep…I’ve got it REAL tough.

This is a pretty important topic, that I haven’t wrestled with as much as I should have. Obviously, it’s time to do a better job on that.

The art above was in part derived from a Star Trek writing group that I used to interact with a great deal. Not so much anymore, but one of the writers had an idea for a space creature, and I needed one. As watcher of the show know, Tasha was killed off in episode No. 24, “Skin of Evil,” by an alien oil slick made of negative emotions. No joke, that’s the straight text on the matter. In fact, Tasha usually had it rough when beaming down to a planet….having to duel with poisoned talons in a jungle gym, or being frozen by Q. For twenty four episodes, she took a whole lot of licks.

So…that’s the joke above. On the planetside, she’s probably going to get beat up, and maybe killed off. So…maybe she can use a bit of protection, like my students who are questioning.

This of course, led to a commentary and/or punchline. It bugs me to some extent that there is all of this theory, with little supporting evidence. I mean, in the episode where she hooks up with Data, she kisses a random guy. Further, in the horrible episode “Code of Honor,” she likes that Lutan is into her, and is attracted to him. I’m thinking it might be excessive to suggest that she’s a lesbian, even closeted.

Still…she seems to be pretty liberal. Pretty aggressive.

This led to me wanting to draw three panels with the protagonist questioning that whole thesis. Because I was drawing likenesses, at least of Yar, I decided to draw each panel separately, and larger, to gain detail….and then paste them together digitally for a final page. That product is here…you’ll want to click on it to make the image bigger.

Our hero discovers that there are also space cougars on the ship.

Our hero discovers that there are also space cougars on the ship.

Fact…I had a crush on her too.

Next Issue: Black History Month Concludes, with a team up and the Dwayne McDuffie Awards!

One thought on “Star Trek: Not Quite Going to the Final Frontier of Equity.

  1. First of all, of course you had a crush on her. So did I. All Star Trek fan-nerds of a certain age did. Partly that was because she really didn’t have much competition. Deanna Troi and Beverly Crusher were not serious contenders.

    Second, until I read this post, Tasha Yar’s sexual orientation had never even occurred to me. I find it of interest that so much has been read into her character, who after all was not really on the show long enough to be fully developed. Maybe she was a lesbian; on the other hand, maybe in the utopian Star Trek universe, strong, buff, confident women are free to wear their hair short and be in charge of security without having their sexual orientation questioned one way or the other. I subscribe to this second vision.

    Third, I am surprised that your post failed to mention how Denise Crosby (the actress who played Tasha Yar) was retconned back into the show as Yar’s half-Romulan daughter, Commander Sela. Finally, just to bring this whole comment full circle, since your students watch the Walking Dead, I must observe that just last year Denise Crosby played a minor but significant role on that show as Mary, a cannibal from Terminus.

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