Wednesday, July 13, 2016

"Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations": Sulu's Sexuality and Why I Respectfully Disagree With George Takei (Only This Once!)

Before I begin this rant, I just want to say one thing; I dislike Star Trek 2009. It’s not that it’s a bad movie to be sure – it and its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness were rollicking good times at the movies during which I thoroughly enjoyed myself. That being said, however, in my opinion they didn’t feel like Star Trek. For a series which has always been so focused on exploration, pushing boundaries, seeking new life and new civilizations, and understanding the human condition, the new movies felt so very action-y. Because of this, I was overjoyed to see that, just in time for Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, the team behind the upcoming Star Trek Beyond had chosen to embrace the true spirit of Star Trek in a very important way. The writers of the new movie, in a move meant to honour both Gene Roddenberry’s vision of equality for all and actor/LGBT activist George Takei, made U.S.S. Enterprise helmsman Hikaru Sulu gay. And I for one couldn’t be happier!

Strangely, the loudest opposition to this has come not from the homophobes and their apologists, but from an unlikely source; George Takei himself! In a press release, he said that, while he is totally in favour of an LGBT character being introduced on Star Trek, he felt that making it one of the main cast threatens to undermine the thought Roddenberry put into each of his characters. Indeed, the debate got so intense that Simon Pegg, who both wrote the new movie and stars in it as Scotty, wrote his own rebuttal, in which he states that, for one, this is an alternate universe, and for two, it had to be an existing character so as not to embrace tokenism and reduce a new character to their sexuality. In essence, Pegg wanted to mirror on the big screen what is a common occurance for many in the real world; finding out a close friend or family member is gay, and not having it change one’s opinion of another in any way.

Frankly, I’m a big fan of Simon Pegg’s justification for choosing Sulu since it serves as an example of just how important it is to not reduce any human down to a label. In fact, this is an important message not just for the LGBT community but also for the Neurodiversity community as well. Mental health and neurological difference are both still so stigmatized in our world that, for every person who is evidently and obviously different, there are so many others of us who manage to fly beneath the radar. For those of us able to pass as neurotypical and, as Elsa says in Disney’s Frozen, “conceal, don’t feel,” there can be just as much of a feeling of living in the closet as for anyone who is gay. People come to know us a certain way, accept us a certain way, and may not be aware that there is anything different about us. This all, of course, comes crashing to a halt in many cases when the truth is revealed. All of a sudden, the label becomes all that many people can see, and they neglect any of the other strengths of character that may define us far more than a single diagnostic word. For this reason, I have to disagree with George Takei; Sulu is absolutely the perfect choice for an LGBT crew member, and Simon Pegg’s portrayal of it in script – that it’s no big deal and no one bats an eye or cares – is so critically important. It does what Star Trek does best; it shows us the best of humanity and what is possible when we embrace love and reject hate. This is why it is so important that this not simply be an aspect of the Kelvin Timeline Sulu and not also his prime originator; after all, it’s much more poignant for the audience to have gotten to know this character for 50 years before finding out about his sexual orientation, since it allows people to judge him on his merits as a character, not strictly on his sexuality. It does a great deal to enhance the character and convey an important point about labels not defining us as humans. While I’ve been lucky to have many accepting friends and family, I dream of the day when this is true for those of us who are neurodivergent as well.

Mr. Takei, don’t take this the wrong way; I have been, and always shall be, a big fan of yours. You defined the character of Hikaru Sulu and bravely stood against racism in the process at a time when the Japanese were still freshly coming off of being one of the United States’ biggest enemies. Your presence on the bridge of the starship Enterprise normalized people of all different races and ethnicities working together. With your hard work, Hikaru Sulu was able to boldly go where no one had gone before, and this is work you have continued in your real life struggle for LGBT equality. In many ways, sexual orientation is the new racism (even though the old racism has hardly gone away), and your former character is the perfect ambassador for not just those who are gay, but for all of us striving for greater acceptance and equality for who we truly are. Let Star Trek continue the work that you began all those years ago, and let Hikaru Sulu continue to point the way ahead both in terms of human rights and from the navigation console of the Enterprise’ bridge.

After all, to quote an ancient Vulcan proverb; infinite diversity in infinite combinations.  

As always, yours in said infinite diversity,

Adam Michael

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