Yesterday on the HH4E social media pages, I shared the fantastic news that the new Star Trek film will present the character of Sulu as LGBT. This is an amazing step forward for us as a community in a time when there are still far few LGBT characters in mainstream cinema, save the few token comedic gay best friends or stereotypical bitchy bar queens (said with love people!)
What’s more significant about this move is in the way Sulu’s sexuality is introduced in the film. Not having seen the film yet, I can only go on reports, but I understand there is no major coming out plot line or overt reference to Sulu being gay. More brilliantly than that, he simply just happens to have a same sex partner and a child who live with him on the Enterprise.
This reminds me of the episode of The Flash where we find out the fiancé of David Singh, the Police Captain, is male. Singh wasn’t a new character, although not in every episode, but we had seen him a couple of times previously – a strong, dominant character respected and admired by his loyal police colleagues. I remember watching the episode where one of the main characters is talking to Singh about his fiancé and one of them uses the ‘he’ pronoun. I had a double take moment – did he just say what I thought he said? Is his fiancé male? Oh my god – he’s a gay character! I remember thinking how fantastic it was that there was no fanfare, no gay rainbow parade or glitter canons. No sideward glances or different treatment. It was just accepted as complete normality. Well of course it was! Because it is completely normal. We just aren’t used to seeing it on our screens and unconscious bias causes assumptions.
These days we are seeing more LGBT characters, but usually their sexuality or gender is part of a major plot line – especially in soap operas or comedy. In the former, it seems to be used as an educational piece. Thank goodness for all the Eastenders stories which have introduced LGBT characters to our drama and helped put LGBT issues out there. Without Colin and Barry and the groundbreaking Eastenders kiss all those years ago, would we ever have moved on as far as we have done? For the latter, the comedic plot lines, I have less fondness. A gay character will often be used just as a plot device where the female protagonist falls ‘head over heels’ for the dashingly handsome and talented work colleague, only to find out he’s ‘batting for the other team – what a waste’. It usually turns out well though as she realises she has a new fashion guru and agony uncle… give me strength. (Does that film actually exist except in my mind?)
So having Sulu, one of the iconic sci-fi characters of our time, now portrayed as gay in such a normalised fashion is more cool than I can possibly say. And as a complete and utter Trekker (no not Trekkie! Look up the difference) I have to say I adore Simon Pegg right now for writing the script in this way.
Apparently George, now openly gay himself, believes this is a ‘twisting’ of Gene Roddenberry’s vision. He welcomes a gay character but thinks the writers should have created a new character rather than turning Sulu gay.
Sorry George, I have so many problems with this.
For a start, let’s get some geeky Star Trek stuff out of the way. Sulu never had a relationship in the TV series. We never saw him romantically linked with a woman. Apparently there was a mention of a woman on a planet somewhere but there was never any character development in the same way Kirk was originally portrayed as a complete and utter womaniser, and then developed into a man who loved women deeply – Edith Keeler, played by Joan Collins (told you, Trekker!) in TOS episode ‘City of the edge of Forever’ and Carol Marcus in both the early films and the new regeneration of films.
Add to this, the re-booted films are set in an alternate time calendar and who knows what effects that has had on all the characters’ back stories. It’s part of the genius of the new films. Basically nothing is as it was before.
But more than all this, George please! Anyone watching your portrayal of Sulu had doubts about his sexuality. Sorry! The topless fencing in ‘The Naked time’, the leather cape in ‘The Voyage Home’ – just two examples where his/your demeanour gave clues. And there’s nothing wrong with this. You were being you and you happen to be gay. That’s all there is to it. In the same way when someone comes out after years of being in the closet, there were always clues. You gave us the clues without even realising it.
Takei also says that Gene was ‘exhaustive’ in creating the Star Trek characters and envisioned him as heterosexual. So the metaphorical ‘father’ of Star Trek (and therefore Sulu) didn’t envision Sulu as gay?! Well I’m pretty sure my dad didn’t imagine I’d be gay either, but sh#t happens!
Takei also states it’s a shame that Sulu is now portrayed as having been in the closet all this time. I disagree. For a start, the time line reboot mentioned earlier – nothing is the same as it was before. But also, in a future world we would hope that there is no homophobia and that being LGBT is fully accepted but that doesn’t mean we might not still have some reticence about being completely out and perhaps it still takes some time for us to realise who we are.
Maybe, though, there is more fluidity in the future. Perhaps Sulu is bisexual. We don’t know. And why does it matter? What we do know is that Sulu has a loving relationship, and a child, with a partner who just happens to be a man. The normalisation of that is just beautiful and Simon Pegg and the other writers should be applauded for how they’ve handled the story.
George – you’ve done amazing things for LGBT equality, but this time you are completely wrong.