A starship can boldly go where no man has gone before, but it seems some TV shows have a bit more trouble with that. Sci-fi may examine a wide variety of potential human scenarios, but queer representation hasn’t generally made the cut in plot construction over the years. Even if Han and Chewie got lonely on one of those Kessel spice runs after all, we never saw any touchy-feely to balance the bicker.
It’s a more complex subject than the sci-fi genre avoiding this particular facet of life. Mainstream science fiction on screen almost exclusively made out as if LGBTQI people won’t exist at all in the future. As standards relaxed in media in general, token deference was paid to the lifestyles, though zero screen time for actual affectionate behaviors was set aside.
Even now LGBTQI characters can count on their sexuality being ignored. Finally Star Trek decided to depict LGBTQI characters in Star Trek: Discovery, which had the distinction of portraying the first male-on-male kiss in the canon, between life partners Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Dr. Culver (Wilson Cruz). Culver was killed off in a surprise twist, though Cruz has implied the character will return because he shares “an epic love story” with Stamets which evidently transcends death.
In 2016, Star Trek fans found out Sulu (John Cho) would be depicted as a canon gay character in Star Trek: Beyond. But little more than a brief scene between Sulu and his partner proved this exciting reveal was more whimper than bang. Cho even revealed to Vulture that some gay romance was actually cut from ST:B. “There was a kiss that I think is not there anymore. It wasn’t like a make-out session. We’re at the airport with our daughter. It was a welcome-home kiss. I’m actually proud of that scene, because it was pretty tough.”
The gay couple in Independence Day: Resurgence phoned in another instance of sci-fi sexual boundary stretching, confining the on-screen romance to hand-holding between Dr. Brackish Okun (Brent Spiner) and his lover Dr. Isaacs (John Storey). Leads Liam Hemsworth and Maika Monroe’s straight characters engage in quite the slurp-fest when they’re reunited and save the world, while Okun and Isaacs’ separation in death is greeted with a typically tasteless joke about knitting.
Alien: Covenant has been praised for the gay couple in its ensemble cast of doomed characters, although very little in the movie indicated their queerness. It’s not that every queer depiction requires a character to get some action or show affection – it can be that much more fresh when they’re not solely defined by their sexuality.
Anya (Gina Rodriguez) in Alex Garland’s Annihilation made that much more impact because her queerness is barely touched upon within the story – but is overt in how the character was portrayed by Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin). Anya’s vibe gave the world one of the finest butch queer sci-fi characters since Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) in Aliens – not because of diversity, but because it was the verisimilitudinous choice for the story.
In her interview with Vice Magazine, coordinator for New York queer non-profit Geeks Out Jono Jarrett opined that science fiction is the best place for queer identity to be given more emphasis. “It’s not a place to stifle expression of any kind, especially something so human as queerness.” If producers agree, we might start to see more effective representations.
James Gunn obviously squirmed under the contentious climate of intersectional sensitivity in mentioning that Guardians of the Galaxy 2 features a queer character: “. . . there are a lot of gay people in the world”, and in the Marvel Comic Universe “we don’t really know who’s gay and who’s not. It could be any of them.” Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) is no exception; the character’s queerness revolves exclusively around occasional punchlines and sight gags.
Given the taboos broken in the last few years, the future looks bright for LGBTQI depiction in sci-fi – if writers and directors can win the fight to show human emotion as it is, under the auspices of their imagination of what the world could be.