To boldly go: an open letter to JJ Abrams

Dear JJ, I’m writing to you as a frustrated fan. No, it’s not to complain about the finale of Lost but about your recent thoughts on Star Trek. Your reboot in 2009 was a deft, exciting, funny film that made me a Trekkie again, years after giving up on the clumsy Voyager and Enterprise series and checking my watch through a film series of diminishing returns. You made Star Trek fun again and got us all looking forward to a sequel in 2012.

But then Michael Jensen asked you about possibly including a gay character in your next film, something Star Trek has failed at for decades now, and you got all flustered:

The question how do you get into literally these are personal sexual lives of these characters? Like what is that going to be about. I don’t know who’s assuming characters aren’t gay or are gay. You know what I’m saying?

Umm, no, not really. Your movie seemed to find the time, even in a very busy plot, for Kirk and Spock to romance the ladies:


Fans hoping for a gay character, you see, are asking for even less, just for Ensign Newguy to be noticed standing around on the bridge. You’re being very kind, JJ, when you answer,

You know, why not? There is no reason not to but it’s not the same thing as saying there’s a character who is black, there’s a character who’s Latina. You know what I’m saying?

Umm, no, not really. For a decades-old series that had stood for being progressive and inclusive, it is the same thing. I once interviewed Lyla Miklos, a longtime Star Trek fan, about the long and occasionally bitter fight to get a gay character in the franchise. She called the absence, “disgusting…They’re basically saying that, in the future, we don’t exist.”

If there’s one thing queer people can’t stand, it’s being left out. Marginalized. Invisible. Even in sci-fi popcorn movies, but especially ones that are currently our only optimistic view of the future. We want to see ourselves reflected in that but unfortunately, you’re saying that’s just too darn hard:

I’m interested in finding a way to do that but it’s almost like, it’s a tricky thing, because it’s the right thing to do and sometimes so is a story about something that also has some kind of meaning but do it and if it in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re doing it in order to make that point because then it’s almost a disservice. Because then it feels like “oh that stupid distracting subplot about you know, you know, that minority. Or those people…”

Abrams asks how we know they're NOT gay? Umm, because you keep telling us?

Oh, JJ–no one’s asking you to make a point. Why should any mention of queer people and our lives become a “stupid, distracting subplot” or political issue or Very Special Episode? It’s this kind of homophobia that’s almost worse than the rantings of Christian fundamentalists–that gay and lesbian people can’t talk about our lives without it being “in your face” or a distraction to disinterested straight people. It’s insulting.

But getting back to Star Trek, I’ll assume you’re being genuine and I would love to help you out. If you’re starting your movie off lightly with the Enterprise gang being chummy on the bridge, here’s a cute and simple way to add in a gay character:

Interior. Bridge.

KIRK: Seriously, Uhura…you and Spock…?
UHURA: I told you, it’s none of your business.
KIRK: Yes, but c’mon, it’s just….he’s so…. Spock.
NURSE CHAPEL: With respect, Captain, I find him quite attractive.
ENSIGN NEWGIRL: Oh yes, certainly.
ENSIGN NEWGUY: Me too. I think it’s the ears.
KIRK: (heavy sigh) Mister Sulu! Plot a course or…something.

Too silly? Sure, I get that. Maybe your sequel will have a harder tone than the first one. Okay, let’s go with the classic Away-Team-in-Peril angle:

Exterior. Alien planetside. Wind and lightning as rain lashes down on Away Team.

MCCOY: I’ve done what I can but if we can’t beam back, moving him is not a good idea!
SPOCK: Remaining here is not an option, Doctor McCoy.
LT. REDSHIRT: Sir, just leave me. It’s the only way. But when you see my husband, can you tell him I’m sorry?
SPOCK: You will tell him yourself, Lieutenant. Mr. Sulu, help me lift him. We must keep moving.

Well okay, it’s just a start. The dialogue from your writers would be much better, of course–as it stands here, no one will be crying out for action figures of Officers Newguy and Redshirt–but my point is that introducing a gay character is easy. It’s not the complex, labour-intensive task you seem to think it is. Two lines of dialogue and presto, the film carries on, with fans pleased and ready to fill in all the backstory for that character in their fan-fiction (they’ve done more with less in the past).

And of course, you don’t even have to go so far as having to write dialogue. Brannon Braga was a writer/producer on all four of the modern Star Trek series and he later revealed the arguments in the Next Generation writing room over adding queer characters:

There were people who felt very strongly that we should be showing casually, you know, just two guys together in the background…At the time the decision was made not to do that and I think those same people would make a different decision now because I think, you know, that was 1989, well yeah about 89, 90, 91. I have no doubt that those same creative players wouldn’t feel so hesitant to have, you know, have been squeamish about a decision like that.

Voyager's Seven of Nine. Because a gay character would be too distracting.

Consider that a challenge, JJ. Even having a same-sex couple standing around in the background would beat Braga’s record. Can you do that? I’m willing to bet you can and I’m hoping that you will. After all, Star Trek did some bold things with race in the sixties but, for queer visibility in the nineties, was beaten out by Melrose Place and Party of Five. That’s just sad and I refuse to believe that the minds who created the byzantine time-travel plot of your movie can’t find a way to include a single gay man on the Enterprise somewhere.

But if you still need help, far more talented than mine, call up Steven Moffat, the very busy executive producer of Doctor Who and writer of the excellent Sherlock update and the upcoming Adventures of Tintin. Moffat may have created the heterosexual farce Coupling but he and his fellow Who authors don’t seem to have your writer’s block with queer characters.

The revival of Doctor Who in 2005 was as terrific as your Trek reboot but on that series, we’ve seen a gay FBI agent, a lesbian lizard, married Marines, lovers at Agatha Christie’s garden party, WWII closet cases, a twink starship pilot and of course, the bisexual Captain Jack Harkness, flirting with men, women and every alien and robot in between.

And this is a show for families, JJ. At this point, the lack of a queer Enterprise crewmember seems like nothing but laziness, cowardice or outright bigotry. Moffat was interviewed by Jensen right around the time you were and, as he explains, writing queer characters is not a duty but a pleasure:

I just think you should be open to it. [In the case of Moffat’s gay FBI agent,] It makes Canton more fun. The moment you hear that, a whole other life just unfolds in your head.

I’m hoping you’ll follow Moffat’s lead on this, JJ.
Don’t put a gay character in your Star Trek movie because the fans are begging for one.
Don’t do it because it would continue what Star Trek is supposed to be about.
Don’t do it because it would actually help make the world a slightly more tolerant place.

Do it because it’s fun. Invent someone new. Stretch your worldview. Boldly go!

PS: And while this isn’t a threat, if you don’t give queer Trekkies someone to adopt for their own, they’ll keep claiming Kirk and Spock in DIY projects like this masterpiece of editing or this fun-with-Photoshop:

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About Scott Dagostino

An arts & culture journalist who's the bastard love child of Van Morrison and Jessica Mitford
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