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Mr. Sulu comes out

“The world has changed from when I was a young teen feeling ashamed for being gay. The issue of gay marriage is now a political issue. That would have been unthinkable when I was young.”

— George Takei, in Frontiers magazine

I thought that he was “family”, but it’s gratifying to see a Hollywood figure fling open the closet door as a statement of activism. As he notes below, he’s been out to those that know him, but it’s another matter to be out to fans and the general public.

Actor George Takei, best known for his role as Mr. Hikaru Sulu in “Star Trek,” came out as homosexual in the current issue of Frontiers, a biweekly Los Angeles magazine covering the gay and lesbian community.

Takei told The Associated Press on Thursday that his new onstage role as psychologist Martin Dysart in “Equus,” helped inspire him to publicly discuss his sexuality.

…The current social and political climate also motivated Takei’s disclosure, he said…The 68-year-old actor said he considers himself as “having been out for quite some time.” Takei and his partner, Brad Altman, have been together for 18 years.

Takei, a Japanese-American who lived in a U.S. internment camp from age 4 to 8, said he grew up feeling shameful about his ethnicity and sexuality. He likened prejudice against gays to racial segregation. “It’s against basic decency and what American values stand for,” he said.

I was a big fan of Star Trek:The Next Generation, and always wondered at that time why there were no gay characters on the program. In fact, I can think of only a handful of episodes that dealt with same-sex relationships at all, which is kind of sad. (The series ran from 1987-1994).

A good site on gay characters (or lack thereof) on the entire Trek series: Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Characters on Star Trek – a 12-year saga of deceit, lies, excuses and broken promises. A snippet on TNG:

Star Trek is notorious for its tentative treatment of sexuality, most notably in two episodes, “The Host” and “The Outcast,” which operate in a twilight realm in which sexuality can only be hinted at, and in an ambiguous fashion at that. In “The Outcast,” a member of an androgynous society falls in love with the male first officer and declares her desire to adopt a female gender identity; ultimately she is brainwashed by her own people into an acceptance of their enforced androgyny. This episode could be read, of course, as a reverse allegory of discrimination against gays and lesbians, but the fact that it is reversed (the character’s rebellion consists of affirming heterosexuality) testifies to how careful Star Trek’s creators are to maintain a level of deniability.

In addition, the androgynous species, presumably representative of gays and lesbians, turn out to be the bad guys, enforcing their “deviant” sexuality by means of brainwashing. In “The Host,” the female chief medical officer falls in love with an apparent male, a member of a species known as the Trill, who is the host of a symbiont, a parasitical creature that coexists with willing humanoid hosts. When the symbiont is implanted into a female body, Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) is unable to accept her lover. Again, this episode disappointed gay and lesbian fans in its suggestion that Crusher (frequently featured in lesbian slash stories) would be so restricted by her heterosexuality. As Henry Jenkins notes, these episodes “can be seen as similar plays with connotation, often threatened with being swamped by some larger, more ‘universal’ concern” than gender and sexuality.

Hat tip to Blender Donica for the pointer.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding