“I love her, Benjamin!” “I know you do.
” Ever since the original series, Star Trekhas been on the cutting edge of making out.
From one of the first interracial kisses ontelevision to one of the first same-sex kisses, Trek’s sci-fi setting lets the show predictwhere humanity is heading.
But there’s a downside to it as well: inthe future, queer people can kiss… they just can’t talk about what that means.
All aboard and welcome to another episodeof Matt Baume’s Culture Cruise, where we take a look at LGBTQ themes in shows, movies, books, games, and more.
On today’s voyage, we’re heading intospace — deep space, with the 1995 episode of DS9 entitled “Rejoined.
” The episode features television’s firstsame-sex space kiss, a clever indictment of the closet, and a magic egg.
[gasp] The cruise is made possible through the supportof folks like Gary Cannon who pledge a dollar or more a month on Patreon — click the linkin the description or visit Patreon.
com/mattbaume to help support the show.
When it aired in the mid-90s, Deep Space Ninewas the queerest installment in the Star Trek franchise to date.
But for most of its run, the show had onlyoccasional flashes of queer subtext, never actually addressing same-sex romance.
There was the time Garak cruised Bashir.
"I have a clothing shop nearby.
So if you should require any apparel or simplywish as I do for a bit of enjoyable company now and then, I’m at your disposal doctor.
" Garak’s flirtatiousness is pretty clearin this scene, and the actor Andrew Robinson said that he wanted to play Garak as pansexual, but the writers just wouldn’t go along with it.
So his relationship with the doctor remainedpermanently stuck in a sort of adorable high school flirtation.
“These are for you.
” “Delavian chocolates!” Then there’s the episode where a Ferengiwoman poses as a man and Dax momentarily thinks she’s gay.
And the time Mirror-universe Kira got to kissa girl.
These are only brief glimpses of anythingbeyond heterosexuality.
But then, smack dab in the middle of season4, we get the episode “Rejoined, ” focusing entirely on a same-sex romance that culminatesin a lesbian kiss, and also a very intense gaze by some very intense gays.
Here’s the setup: Jadzia Dax is an aliencalled a Trill, which means that when her body dies, her consciousness can pass to anew host body.
In this way, she’s able to live for multiplelifetimes and in multiple bodies, thanks to a giant slug that lives in her belly.
“Quite disgusting, actually.
” Most of the time, that’s no big deal.
“I’ve never let my past lives interferewith my job and I’m not going to start now.
” But that all changes when she has an awkwardencounter with an ex.
“You know her?” “She used to be my wife.
” Dax’s former wife, Lenara Kahn, is alsoa Trill.
Several lifetimes and several bodies ago, they were married to each other — back then, Kahn was in a woman’s body and Dax was ina man’s.
Dax was in a shuttle accident, the host bodydied, and they lost contact when Dax’s slug was moved into someone new.
So now that they’ve found each other again, they should be able to pick up from where they left off, right? Well, no, that’s against the rules.
“Well it’s more of a taboo.
” Trill society prohibits them from having romanticrelationships with partners from past lives.
“And the Trill feel very strongly that it’sunnatural.
” “Unnatural? How could it be unnatural about a marriedcouple to resume their marriage?” The punishment for re-associating with a formerspouse is steep.
If Dax and Kahn get back together, they’llbe exiled from Trill society, cut off from family and friends.
They’ll also be prevented from moving toa new host body, so the next time they die, they’re dead for good.
This is a pretty explicit reference to homosexuality– a social stigma centered on forbidden love.
Social taboos that force lovers to keep themselvessecret.
The threat of being ostracized and sentencedto death because of the person you love.
At first, Dax and Kahn tell each other thatthey can control their feelings, in a conversation that should be familiar to any queer personwho’s tried to not be queer.
“We’re both mature adults and we can handlethis.
” Ah, but can they? No force in the universe can stand againstan intense gaze as we cut to commercial.
Before long, they’re making dates, exchangingjewelry in tight close-ups, and holding hands while the patriarchy looks on in disapproval.
Things get even steamier out in space, whereKahn’s research into wormholes appears to produce a sort of intergalactic Georgia O’Keeffepainting.
While all this is going on, there are severalalmost-kiss teases between the two women.
And it’s important to note what was goingon in culture when this episode aired in October of 1995.
It was smack dab in the middle of a lesbianchic minute that occurred in the mid-90s.
That’s when Ellen was preparing to comeout, when Subaru was aggressively marketing to lesbians, Cindy Crawford gave k.
langa shave, Xena premiered… culturally, Americans were intrigued by lesbians — not enough toactually give them equal rights, but enough to tolerate them on the cover of magazines.
And then there was the TV trope known as the“lesbian kiss episode.
” Lesbian kiss episodes were a ploy to inflateratings by having one-off makeout sessions between female characters.
Sometimes it was a huge success, like on Roseanne, on LA Law.
and sometimes it wasn’t enough to save a show, like on Relativity.
The lesbian kisses on those episodes usuallyinvolved at least one character who wasn’t actually into it.
And invariably, nothing ever came of the kisses, with the characters never again expressing any same-sex interest after that one ratings-grabbyepisode.
They were just a controversial trick to getviewers to tune in during sweeps week, when ratings determined ad rates for the rest ofthe year.
So on one hand, these tropes are super-exploitative.
But on the other, they DID provide an opportunityto provide SOME visibility for same-sex couples.
And they laid the groundwork for more substantialrepresentation that would come a decade later, like Willow and Tara on Buffy.
But in 1995, the maximum lesbianism that TVcould tolerate was a little awkward fumbling: [kissing] Congratulations to the happy couple! Except, oh right, the whole taboo thing.
“I want you to think about what will happenif you pursue this.
” Because it’s the 90s, DS9 can’t talk abouthomosexuality.
So it does the next best thing: creates ametaphor, in the form of their weird slug-based social taboo.
They’re talking about Trill rules aboutre-association, but behind their words is a conversation about two women in love.
“I love her Benjamin.
” “If I were in your position I would probablybe just as ready to throw away everything for the person I love.
” Dax knows how she feels.
She knows what she wants.
She’s ready to back her space U-Haul upto Kahn’s place.
“The two of us together, you know what thatwould mean.
” “I know exactly what it means.
I think it’s worth the price.
” And remember, that price is pretty high.
On the space station, Dax’s friends aresupportive.
But in Trill society, hooking up means exile.
Giving up her career, leaving her family.
And eventually, giving up quasi-immortalityand confronting death together.
That’s too much for Kahn.
“I want to be with you more than anything, but I don’t think I can do this.
” This is the inevitable conclusion to lesbiankiss episodes — a reset at the end of the episode, with everyone going back to heterosexualitythe next week.
To DS9’s credit, it didn’t go as far asother shows that tended to kill gay characters in the last act.
There’s no conclusion that the relationshipis deadly or even immoral.
Just that it’s forbidden, and the socialcost is so high it forces the two lovers apart.
DS9 had an opportunity to do an episode aboutsame-sex relationships, and they went for it.
And because it’s a sci-fi show, they wereable to go further than LA Law or Roseanne, and actually talk about the social stigmaaround homosexuality.
By setting up an analogy with the Trill taboo, they could devote a whole episode to homophobia, and how irrational it is, and the harm thatit causes.
But there’s also a downside to that approach.
Once you opt for a metaphor, you’re committed.
The metaphor breaks if you say what it’sreally about.
So everyone on DS9 can talk about Trill taboos, and past lives, and belly-slugs.
But they can’t say anything about how thisis a relationship between two women.
Making the characters space-lesbians letsthe show approach the cutting edge of queer television, referencing homosexuality beforeother shows could.
But it also ties the show’s hands, preventingthem from acknowledging what they’re actually talking about.
For over 50 years, Star Trek’s been usingsci-fi to tackle racism, war, slavery — all manner of social issues, through the lensof the future.
That DS9 could tackle a same-sex couple isparticularly groundbreaking, given the time it was made.
It’s disappointing that Dax didn’t getthe romance she wanted.
But at the time, Trill society just wasn’tready.
And neither was broadcast television.
Land ho! We're pulling into port — thanks for joiningme, and thanks to everyone who makes the Culture Cruise possible with your pledge of a dollaror more a month on Patreon — folks like Cameron Brown.
You can visit Patreon.
com/mattbaume or clickthe link in the description to help make the show possible.
Let me know in the YouTube comments what cultureyou'd like to visit on future episodes.
Or tweet at me @mattbaume — I read all thecomments and I love hearing your thoughts.
Now if you'll excuse me, I just got a wooffrom Worf.