Hey Hollywood: Beam Me Up for Bi Sulu!
Bisexuals: the final frontier…
Hey, wait a minute now. Bi people have existed as long as sexuality has. But if you’ve been tuned in to the latest Star Trek controversy you would think bisexual people were a not-yet-discovered new civilization. The crux of the quarrel seems innocuous enough–the reintroduction of a beloved character, freshly minted as a member of the LGBT community. So how did this become a debate?
Star Trek has a progressive reputation but continues to lag with queer representation. For the most recent addition to the franchise reboot, Star Trek Beyond director Justin Lin along with writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung decided to bring the 23rd century into the present with an LGBT character. In a statement to The Guardian, Pegg, also an actor in the new films, shared they “loved the idea of it being someone we already knew because the audience have a pre-existing opinion of that character as a human being, unaffected by any prejudice.” The official news came from the Australian premiere: Enterprise helmsman Hikaru Sulu has a same sex partner in the new movie! According to Star Trek Beyond actor John Cho, the decision to make Sulu a queer character was a personal one. It was meant, in part, to honor the original actor who brought Sulu to our screens.
LGBT activist George Takei came out as gay in 2005. Since then Takei has become well known as “a believer in, and a fighter for, the equality & dignity of all human beings.” So it came to a surprise to many when he responded by calling the queer revelation “really unfortunate.” Though he later clarified he is “[thrilled] to know that future generations will not see LGBTs go wholly unrepresented in the Trek universe,” his apprehensions about the representation being assigned to Sulu seem to remain. His expressed reasoning is two-fold. One, that creator Gene Roddenberry wrote the character as straight and changing his sexuality is “a twisting of Gene’s creation, to which he put in so much thought.” He points directly to Sulu’s rendezvous with a woman (more specifically, a “glamazon”) which resulted in a daughter. Takei’s second assertion is based on the label attributed to the character by those speaking on behalf of Beyond. Sulu is meant to not just be in a same sex relationship, but to be gay. Takei expresses concern about retroactively labeling a character who has been shown to be attracted to more than one gender as gay. For the original actor behind Mr. Sulu, a closeted starfleet officer is the antithesis of the boundary-breaking, utopian-like, be-free-to-be-you-and-me universe Roddenberry created.
Takei expressed his opposition to Beyond director Lin, encouraging the creation of a new character to fill the queer void. Still, here we are: Star Trek has an LGBT character in the helmsman. Pegg continues to vocally defend the choice. In his recent statement “A Word About Canon”, Pegg delves into the multiple timelines and restarting points that make both straight and gay Sulu possible. He points to creator Roddenberry’s credo “Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.” Pegg contends gay Sulu and straight Sulu are able to be, regardless of when an alternate reality was created, as time is not linear anyway. Does it all make sense, in the story being told? Yes. As Takei’s concerns are reasonable. It’s just that none of this is necessary. Occam’s Razor tells us that this isn’t about character inconsistencies and it doesn’t call for quantum mechanics. There’s no need to talk about how time isn’t linear because the simple truth is that sexuality isn’t binary. Gay and straight are not the only ways to be.
So let’s do this. Let’s boldly go where no one in the Star Trek universe has gone before.
Let’s say bisexual.
Bisexuality is as educator, speaker, and award-winning activist Robyn Ochs defines “the potential to be attracted–romantically and/or sexually–to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.” This sounds exactly like a man who has shown to be attracted to another man as well as women. Plain old sexuality, no physics required.
So I present to you Hikaru Sulu, bisexual. Just as much a representation of the LGBT community as gay Sulu, now with less queer continuity issues! Let’s take a look at how viewing Sulu through a bisexual lens addresses a few of the problems that have arisen:
Problem: Gene Roddenberry, thoughtful creator of the Star Trek universe, wrote Sulu as straight.
Solved? As close as we’ll get without Roddenberry. According to Takei, Roddenberry “was a strong supporter of LGBT equality.” Ratings plummeted following a kiss between a Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura, one of the first interracial kisses on television. The resulting concern that the show would be cancelled by pushing further boundaries was his only known hold out for sending an LGBT character to screen.
So who are we to say that Sulu hasn’t been bisexual the whole time? Roddenberry did not, to public knowledge, state Sulu was straight. Just that he had attractions to women. And according to Takei, he did want to “include LGBT characters.” In the end, this does not directly and completely address George Takei’s concern regarding Roddenberry’s vision. But it does place some doubt that straight Sulu doesn’t fit his vision either.
Problem: Closeted Sulu is not congruent with the 23rd century.
Solved? Absolutely. With the possibility of being attracted to both the same and other genders, Sulu could have enjoyed night of passion with “a very athletic, powerful and stunningly gorgeous woman” and a partnership with a man. And he can do so within any timeline.
Problem: At no point during this debate has anyone seemed to consider bisexuality as a valid option.
Solved? Not yet. Bierasure is a pervasive issue. The team behind Star Trek Beyond must stop regarding “gay and lesbian” as interchangeable with LGBT, which includes not only lesbian and gay people, but also bisexual, transgender, asexual, intersex, and queer folks. Considering bi people are the largest community within the greater LGBT community, the likelihood an LGBT character is bisexual isn’t just highly likely, it is highly logical. In 2015, just 9% of major studio releases with LGBT characters had a bisexual character. There were only three Asian LGBT characters in the 126 movies. Bisexual Asian men exist but are hardly ever seen onscreen. This is a stellar opportunity to portray a rarely reflected contingent of our community in line with the original desire to bring LGBT representation to Star Trek. It should not be buried by binary thinking.
Long before Star Trek introduced an LGBT character it was helping bi kids learn to accept ourselves as we were. When I myself think of my first hints of queerness, I zero in on the moment I was totally transfixed by Deanna Troi and her fudge sundae. And now, Mr. Sulu is giving others the courage to come out as bi. (Good to see you, Jacob!) The Starship Enterprise looks to be continuing a course towards LGBT visibility. The showrunner for the new television series slated for 2017 has publicly stated he wants women of color in captain and first chairs and “strongly implied” LGBT inclusion. The debate over this strange new LGBT inclusive Star Trek universe continues on, boldly going where so many have gone before–forgetting the existence of bisexuality. But bi people are real, our sexuality is valid. It’s just visibility that is low. What is clear? No matter the timeline, there’s no universe like the present to set phasers to purple, pink, and blue. Hey Hollywood: beam me up for Bi Sulu.