Something that made big news this weekend was George Tekei’s comments regarding Star Trek’s character, Helsman Hiraku Sulu, being homosexual in the next film. As a fangirl, I am very quick to rally behind same-sex couples. I wish they occupied more leading roles and held an appropriate amount of existence in these fictional universes to which we so tightly cling. I was intrigued when I saw a slew of headlines on Facebook demonizing George Tekei’s lackluster support of the decision to take a character whose sexuality was not clearly stated in no uncertain terms at any point in time.
The article from that appears to have originally published these statements made by Tekei can be found here. The episode referenced in this article, Mirror Mirror (1967), supposedly portrays the exact opposite of the characters seen in the Star Trek series. A synopsis of the episode can be found on Wikipedia here. This doesn’t reference Sulu directly as far as the “aggressively heterosexual pass” he makes at Uhura during the episode but does establish that this is an alternative reality.
Here comes my first comment – which is that an alternate reality doesn’t necessary mean every tiny detail is in exact opposition of the reality from which is differs. “Aggressively Heterosexual” is one of a few interpretations. His aggressive pass at Uhura could be an opposite simply in his demeanor. After all, he is intensely passive. It could have nothing to do with his personality, per se, because “intense” can also mean “aggressive.” Perhaps it was only a statement on his sexuality. After all, many people proclaim that Star Trek is the most inclusive fandom from it’s era. George Takei, and even Simon Pegg (here), both agree that Star Trek has always been kind and welcoming towards the LGBT+ community. Regardless, this presentation is fairly ambiguous. It suggests a couple of strong things but doesn’t clearly state beyond that what Sulu’s sexuality is … perhaps suggestion that this “aggressive heterosexual” statement in Mirror Mirror was a statement of Sulu’s absence of aggressive sexuality? I think this is potentially a strong contender in the possibilities in this debate. However, there’s more to consider too.
I like to look at Wikias for different fandoms as a way to quickly reference key points about a character. I decided to look up Hiraku Sulu’s ‘profile’ to learn more about him in depth. In the panel mid-right of the screen it usually lists relationships and family members. Here is where I found out that Hiraku Sulu has a daughter, Demora Sulu. Since there was so much text I just did a quick search, but after reading the entire section about Demora – much is not truly known about her – it would seem that in the very least that Hiraku Sulu did have a relationship with a woman at some point in time. To my knowledge there is no “test tube baby” process in Star Trek – though I’m not nearly as well-versed in this particular fandom as the thousands of fans that would actual fight Star Wars fans. Regardless, it appears that sexual and asexual reproduction are the primary birthing processes in this universe – cloning also being utilized (though this is not exactly a birth).
Only interview excepts are used as reference, each of which reference George Takei and his knowledge about the character he portrayed. It would seem that there’s a confirmed wife with an unknown past and fate beyond the birth of Demora Sulu. At some point it was clear that Hiraku Sulu was at least sexually involved with women meaning that three sexualities existed for him: heterosexual, bisexual, and pansexual. People argue whether or not video games qualify as cannon, and sometimes the information is considered “fanfiction” in essence. That being said, there is a published book (The Captain’s Daughter) states that Demora was the result of a brief sexual encounter with a woman Hiraku barely knew – and hadn’t even known he was a father initially. Either way, regardless of the question of canonical relevance, it would seem that Sulu was sexually attracted to women.
As inclusive and welcoming as everyone says the Star Trek fandom is – I can’t help but ask why there was such evasiveness about such a cherished character. Simon Pegg – in the article I referenced earlier – states that Sulu was chosen because there would be less judgment towards an existing and beloved character (versus creating a brand new character to be judged solely on his sexuality). It is with this in mind that we must carry on with this conversation…
It is known that even still today there are hate crimes committed against homosexual people. This is evidenced in the Pulse Nightclub Shooting. If it is this bad in 2016, an era that is supposed to represent another age of progression. Unfortunately, that is not totally true. For me, it is ridiculous for introducing homosexual to “progressive,” “dramatic,” or “scandalous.” The number of non-heterosexual individuals in the world is unimaginably vast compared to the representation that they receive in the entertainment business. Generally speaking, we don’t see many lead characters that are homosexual and that is a huge problem for me. So, I think that Hiraku Sulu being homosexual is kind of a small win. He’s certainly more at the forefront than most homosexual characters but still is not a main character. JJ Abrahms is leading a new era of Star Wars material and has very actively and promoted the inclusivity of homosexual characters to be revealed/introduced in the next installment of the new Star Wars trilogy. You can read more about it here. While many consider there fandoms to be enemies of one another, I see so much in common between them – and I adore each of them for the differences they hold in opposite of the other. Between these two though, I feel that Star Wars is upping their game. Let me explain that, though.
Firstly, the most common theory is that Star Wars‘ main male leads, Poe and Finn, will be the homosexual couple that Abrahms has been discussing with the media. Even the actors have toyed and added fuel to the fire. You can read about the confirmation here and the teasing here (Oscar Isaac) and here (John Boyega). Of course, there are other articles that shoot down this possibility of the Finn-Poe relationship entirely – like this one (which is not nearly as reliable as other sources, and also dated prior to John Boyega’s most recent unofficial affirms that it is still a possibility). Regardless, this is a much bigger statement that Star Trek is making with Sulu’s newfound status a homosexual character.
You might be wondering why I even brought up Star Wars. Of all the comparisons to make, why this one? Why even compare them – I am basically asking for an all out war in the comment section! See, the thing is that it’s totally relevant.
I have a lot of strong opinions about this new era of Star Wars, mostly boiling down to that this new era made the publications under George Lucas essentially fanfiction. To me, having been immersed in those extended universe stories with and through my husband, Abrahms version of the Star Wars is fanfiction. All of the characters taking the forefront are original characters, productions of his own mind (with his team, of course). As such, making any of his characters – lead or not – means that there’s no canon dictating the sexuality of these characters. Something that was referenced by Takei – this article elaborates more on what he was hoping for instead of changing Sulu’s sexuality from what he understood was pretty clear as heterosexual.
Now, here’s my second comment on the matter…
I understand what Takei was suggesting, what he was asking of them, because for me this is important. My husband and I both found it a wee bit insulting to homosexual characters to just pick characters that exist – characters that were oftentimes portrayed as heterosexual in many instances – and suddenly tell the world that they are homosexual. A) Any heterosexual encounter automatically denunciates any status as a homosexual, thereby making the character BISEXUAL instead; B) It is essentially saying that the inclusion of homosexual individuals is an afterthought not important enough to justify the creation and incorporation of an original homosexual character; and C) Negates the existence of any other sexualities beyond hetero and homo. With that being said, I have decided that an even half of me totally agrees with Takei. It is disappointing that a brand new character wasn’t introduced – especially with Zachary Quinto saying that this is a brand new universe that differs from Raddenybury’s original creation. To me, that just affirms what Takei was asking of the products and writers. They intended to honor Takei but then completely ignored his wishes for such a character’s existence within the universe.
HOWEVER – HOWEVER – HOWEVER!!!
I do not disagree with the decision to make a character that already exists within the fandom homosexual. Now, as I just said, Sulu would technically be bisexual since the original cannon has more heterosexual evidence than homosexual evidence. That could be a sign of the times during which it was created, though. Still, the cannon is the word – and really not arguable. I am a writer of fanfiction, though, and I see the value in reading subtext. In fact, I live for reading subtext and making brand new stories about the details that mean so much to me – the ones that stand out and define how I read the subtext from every second that exists after it.
I rally behind the idea of characters who are presumed heterosexual, even portrayed as extremely heterosexual, and revealing that their sexuality is more complex or entirely different. Allow me to list just a few of them for your: Sherlock Holmes (BBC Sherlock), John Watson (BBC Sherlock), Arthur Pendragon (BBC Merlin), Merlin (BBC Merlin), Dean Winchester (CW Supernatural), Castiel (CW Supernatural), Riley Matthews (Disney Girl Meets World), Maya Hart (Disney Girl Meets World), Marceline (Cartoon Network Adventure Time), Princess Bubblegum (Cartoon Network Adventure Time), The Doctor (BBC Doctor Who), and Clara Oswald (BBC Doctor Who). These are just to name a few. There are plenty of other characters that I feel would be greater with the depth of a complex sexuality, but these are the ones that I most frequently speak about within the respective fandoms. By no means am I wholly opposed to “changing” the sexuality of a character because sexuality is genuinely fluid. That is why the other half of me – as Simon Pegg put it – “respectfully disagree” – with George Takei on this matter.
George Takei is a huge influence in the LGBT+ community, something of which he is very aware. I do not believe he meant to speak ill about LGBT+ characters – and most certainly had no intentions of insulting anyone. As someone who works in the business and knows the intricate process of creating a piece of work from scratch, of course he’s going to see things from a different angle than some people. There are writers out there whom would never want to read the fanfiction written about there work because it isn’t the way they envisioned it – some that have actually deemed it illegal to even write fanfiction! George Takei knows Raddenbury on a personal level, more so than the majority of the cast and crew presently working on the new Star Trek movies. As such, I am at least glad to see everyone respecting him rather than belittling and attacking him for his opinion. It is a fair opinion to have, after all, and reflective of his experience with the creation and lifelong involvement with the existence of Star Trek.
What I want everyone to take from this is that the representation of homosexual characters is no laughing matter – nor a matter of choice. Homosexual people deserve to be on the screen. For as ignored as bisexuals are in the world today – often being lumped into the sexuality most fitting of their present relationship – there are so many characters that are technically being made canonically bisexual, even if they are not titled as such. I would like to see a mix of old characters given layers to their sexualities as well as new characters for us to love.
To me – it’s as simple as that – and one day (soon I hope) I won’t have to wrap my mind around the fact that to many others it is not.