Star Trek: Pride Ahead of its Time

20 June 2021

TW: conversion therapy, anti-trans legislation, genital inspection

CW: Spoilers for Star Trek: TNG, Season 5, episodes 13 & 17

My husband and I have been watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. One of the things I’ve found most interesting about this show is how well many of the episodes have aged. We’re now in season 5, which was originally aired in early 1992. Season 5, episode 13, titled “The Masterpiece Society,” is about a genetically engineered “utopia” whose planet is about to be destroyed by some significant space phenomenon. The Enterprise crew goes to assist them. We learn that they practice genetic selection so that each individual member of the society is specifically chosen for a specific task — a musician, a scientist, a leader, etc. We also learn that this means specifically excluding disability. But what ends up saving the day? The technology used in Geordi’s VISOR! The lesson here is that — just as Haben Girma demonstrated in her 2020 visit to Sacramento State — “disability drives innovation.” If Geordi weren’t blind, the Enterprise would not have been able to save this planet (which wouldn’t have allowed him to be born).

Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge in a black and tan uniform wearing a visor across his eyes.

I’ve been wanting to create a post to celebrate Pride month but I’ve struggled to find inspiration until last night’s episode. In “The Outcast” (Season 5, episode 17), the Enterprise crew works with members of an androgynous race called the J’naii. One of the J’naii, Soren, is quite taken with the humans and their concepts of gender. Soren explains to Commander Riker that having gender in their world is forbidden and that those who express a gender are shunned and have to undergo extensive therapy in order to make them agender.

Perhaps most especially during Pride month, this felt a little too close to home. Soren’s monologue about how J’naii with gender feel and how they’re therapized sounds very much like modern queer narratives. At her sentencing hearing, Soren shares that she’s “female. I was born this way. I have had those feelings…all my life.” Despite speaking up for herself, Soren is taken into custody to undergo treatment for her “perversion” of being female. When Riker tries to rescue her a short time later, she’s already been brainwashed to believe that she’s “sick.”

Soren. Member of the J'naii.

I can’t help but wonder how such an episode could have been created in 1992. It seems that show writers and creators understood the nuances of gender and that we should not have to undergo gaslighting treatment to quash those feelings. Just as Geordi was given the opportunity to thrive, despite his blindness (when the Masterpiece Society wouldn’t have allowed it), those with gender among the J’naii should be allowed to flourish, free from persecution.

While the queer revolution has enjoyed much progress, there are still significant barriers on the road to true liberation. Recently, states have passed legislation banning trans girls from sports in the interest of fairness. Florida even went so far as to require genital inspection if someone even suspects a girl athlete might be transgender (though that portion of the proposed law has since been removed).

I like to think that if “The Outcast” were written today, Soren would have a different ending. But I do find it fascinating that such topics were broached on a popular television show so long ago.

🌈 🏳️‍⚧️Happy Pride!🏳️‍⚧️ 🌈

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