If you told me just 24 hours ago I would be writing a commentary right now disagreeing with George Takei, I would probably laugh you out of the room.
Because I love George. Love him to death. Whenever I asked him to come on my old podcast “Alpha Waves Radio,” he was there. Every single time. And he’s a wonderful man, married to an equally wonderful man, Brad Altman.
This morning, however, two communities I’m a part of finally merged. And I was ecstatic. “Star Trek: Beyond” was finally going to have a gay character, and it wasn’t going to be some throw-away new person. Instead, “Beyond” writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung decided to take a different approach: Out one of the main characters.
And Hikaru Sulu, to them, was a perfect choice. And there’s two big reasons why. First, it pays homage to Takei himself, who became an equality advocate after coming out himself in 2005. Second, we really know very little about Sulu’s personal life, outside of the fact he had a daughter who showed up in “Star Trek: Generations” 22 years ago.
Simon Pegg was excited about it. “Beyond” director Justin Lin was excited about it. John Cho, who plays Sulu in the new movies, was excited about it. But the one person who I thought would be dancing in celebration, was instead letting all the air out of the party balloons. Yes, George Takei is against the character he originated a half-century ago being gay.
“I’m delighted that there’s a gay character,” Takei told The Hollywood Reporter. “Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of Gene’s creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate.”
Takei didn’t stop there, however. And this is where I really have an issue. The actor said by making Sulu gay, “who has been straight all this time,” he was “suddenly being revealed as being closeted.”
No, George. You’re wrong. There is a difference between Sulu being closeted, and Sulu’s sexuality not being the key defining characteristic of him. That’s what really pisses me off sometimes in how the heterosexual community looks at the LGBT community (no offense to my straight friends).
I didn’t really start publicly coming out until maybe 12 years ago, although I started coming out to select family and friends before that. But even today, I don’t want to be defined by my sexuality any more than a heterosexual person does. I’m a writer. I’m a journalist. I hope to be a novelist someday. I want to be known as those things well before I’m known as a gay man.
Because I am “straight-acting,” many times, people can work with me or even know me for months or years without knowing that I am gay. It’s not because I am hiding it, but it’s because it’s really no one’s business unless the topic comes up somehow. I don’t have to broadcast it, I don’t have to make sure everyone knows. But if you ask me about my wife, I’m definitely going to correct you and make it clear there will never be a wife.
To many in the community, that is how sexuality should be portrayed. When Capt. Kirk first walked onto the bridge of the USS Enterprise in the original “Star Trek,” he didn’t stop and say, “Holy shit! There’s an African-American woman at communications, and an Asian guy at the helm!” No, because neither Uhura nor Sulu are defined by their ethnicity. Does that influence them? Of course. But they are people before they are anything else. And seeing their ethnicity, or in this case their sexuality, before you see them as a person is where so many fall down in these situations.
Even if Sulu reveals he is indeed gay in “Beyond,” why would I think he was closeted all this time? It’s as if Sulu had an obligation to inform me of his sexuality in advance, or if he didn’t throw a gay pride celebration in Ten Forward, then he must be ashamed of being gay.
Maybe people didn’t ask Sulu if he was gay because, in the future, it doesn’t matter. They saw Sulu first, and anything else, they can learn when they learn, if they learn.
When some people learn I’m gay, they feel offended because I didn’t “trust” them with that information before. But I have to look at them weird, because it’s not about trust. It wasn’t relevant to our conversations in the past. Should I shake your hand, and right after telling you my name, also tell you I’m gay?
I’m not sure if you’ve seen that great USA network series “Mr. Robot,” but there’s a scene in an early episode where Elliot (Rami Malek) is flying home with his boss Gideon (Michel Gill) blurts out that he’s gay. It’s like right out of the blue. And it’s an awkward conversation between the two.
And yeah, it should be. This expectation that we have to have a huge coming out moment is just absurd. But society has placed this expectation on people. And if you don’t come out, then you must be closeted. Few consider that it’s really no one’s business, unless that person decides that it can be your business.
No one asked Sulu about his sexuality before, because it doesn’t matter if he’s gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, or any of the other labels you want to put on him. I hate the labels personally, and if Takei had come out against labels, I’d support him.
But I’m tired of people speaking for Gene Roddenberry. Yes, the man was great for giving us Star Trek, but he didn’t own it. His family doesn’t own it. And he’s been dead 25 years.
Roddenberry stood in front of people at a convention in the mid-1980s when being gay was very taboo and made it clear that he would work to put a gay character into Star Trek. How do we know that 30 years later, if he had continued to live, that he might evolve even further, and have outed one of the characters probably 10 years before it finally happened.
We don’t know. But Hikaru Sulu is a fictional character. He’s made-up. And if we can believe that Capt. Kirk and Cmdr. Riker can sleep with every female alien they can find without contracting some sort of STD, then I’m sure we can believe that this tidbit about Sulu’s life is not a rewriting of history, but simply a writing of history.