These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before. (Italics mine)
Speaking of Star Trek, actor George Takei (age 71), a member of the original Star Trek cast who is perhaps better known as Lieutenant Sulu was married yesterday at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, California. Most Americans would probably wish Takei best wishes in his marriage, but perhaps fewer would if they knew that he married another man.
His husband is Brad Altman, age 54. This might suggest that Takei has a tendency for younger men, except they have already been happily together for twenty-one years. Regardless of what you think about gays and the sanctity of marriage, it is likely that this marriage will survive, since it seems like it has been a marriage in all but the legal sense for a long time.
Well, maybe not. On November 4th, California voters get to weigh in on Proposition 8 that would declare marriage between gays and lesbians illegal. So perhaps this marriage will only survive in the legal sense for a few more months. Takei and Altman though need not worry too much. Current polls suggest Californians will defeat the proposition handily.
Takei may be a famous actor but that doesn’t mean Uncle Sam will cut he and Altman a tax break for their commitment of love. Gay marriage may be technically legal in California and Massachusetts, but that doesn’t mean they can expect any federal recognition for their union. When it is time to file their 1040s with the IRS next year, they darn well better check “Single” or the IRS may have to send its auditors to check their returns for the last thirty years.
Star Trek was of course a product of the 1960s when liberalism was surging. Star Trek let us envision a different world after we had transcended polarizing issues such as racism and sexism. The Enterprise was the model of diversity. Takei played the token Asian. Still, creator Gene Roddenberry was not quite bold enough to add an openly gay character. Back in the 1960s, if you were a homosexual you were deep, deep in the closet. Homosexuals were almost universally perceived to be perverts and deviants. Except for a handful of people, heterosexuals could not conceive of homosexuals being otherwise ordinary people.
So while Takei performed in the original series I doubt he informed Gene Roddenberry about his sexual preference. Back then I suspect Roddenberry probably would have recoiled had he known of his proclivities. Most likely Takei would also have been out of a job. Even if he were okay with it, NBC would not have allowed it. What if it got into the press? I mean, the show ran during prime time! Roddenberry was an extraordinary liberal of his age. I learned when I heard him speak at my university in 1975 that he embraced the radical notion of child liberation, i.e. children should have the right to make their own decisions rather than their parents. In the 1960s, accepting a known homosexual on his cast probably would have been a bridge too far.
Still, there were relationships among the Star Trek characters that raised some eyebrows. Fans noticed right away that the relationship between Kirk and Spock (and to a lesser extent, between Kirk and McCoy) seemed, well, unusually close. Spock was loyal to Kirk, but his feelings transcended mere loyalty and even friendship into something that sure looked like (for all his Vulcan logic) emotional dependency. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Spock’s last words before dying to save the crew were, “I am and always shall be your friend.” There wasn’t a Trekker in the theater, man or woman, who was not welling up. Female fans picked up the homosexual subtext early. Their interest spawned all sorts of erotic fanzines that detailed (and continue to detail to this day) the enormous emotional and sexual energy they figure must have been going on between the two characters. In fact, it started a whole movement known as slash. In his last interview, Gene Roddenberry spontaneously admitted that while he felt he was capable of sex with men, he never acted on the impulse. He said that he was intrigued by what he saw as the “many joys and pleasures and degrees of closeness in those relationships”. Whether these feelings manifested themselves overtly or unconsciously in the closeness portrayed between Kirk and Spock is unknown.
Over the years, the Star Trek cast has remained a fairly close bunch. This was due in part to its enormous fan popularity, but also because most of its actors became typecast and had few other choices for earning a living. Some, like the late James Doohan (Scotty), decided to revel in the fan experience. It was hard to attend any Star Trek convention without finding Jimmy. So perhaps it is not surprising that when Takei and Altman were married yesterday, two prominent roles in the wedding went to two members of the Star Trek cast. Walter Koenig (who played Ensign Chekov) was Takei’s Best Man. Nichelle Nichols (Lieutenant Uhura) also attended as his “Best Woman”. It does not appear that any other of the original Star Trek actors were in attendance.
Star Trek has indeed taken us, in the imagination, to brave new worlds but in 1966 when the show started this was a world no one dared show on television. It may be 2008 but I imagine it still took some bravery for Koenig and Nichols to stand up for their long time friend on his long delayed wedding day. It makes me wonder why Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner did not attend. Perhaps they were not invited. On the other hand, perhaps Takei’s sexual orientation made them uncomfortable. Takei is hardly the first man to get married in America, but he is perhaps the most prominent gay American to do so. In a sense, he is taking many Star Trek fans boldly into a new world. His sexual orientation was hardly a secret but not necessarily known among casual fans of the show. Takei also has a history of boldly standing up for injustice. He is a prominent figure in promoting attention to the injustice inflicted on Japanese Americans because of their involuntary internment during World War 2. This also explains his choice of a wedding location.
As an atheist, Roddenberry did not believe in an afterlife. Nonetheless, if he did find himself inadvertently in the afterlife after his death at age 70 in 1991, I bet yesterday his immortal spirit was observing Takei and Altman take their vows. If he could be seen, I bet he would be seen gently crying in joy. For so many years later, Star Trek is still taking us to brave new and enlightened worlds.
It’s trite, but live long and prosper, guys.