Sci-Fi and Superheroes: Asexuality in ‘Star Trek’

Screenshot of Brent Spiner as Data from ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’. Copyright goes to Paramount Pictures and Roddenberry Entertainment.

Hey! Hallie here!

Unsurprisingly, I love ‘Star Trek’. It’s been a major comfort franchise for me for a while now, and I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog praising its progressive ideals and important themes. But as an asexual, I also want to spend some time talking about the possible asexual representation in this show. Not everything I’ll say here is going to be positive. Despite how much I appreciate ‘Star Trek’, it isn’t always amazing at representation. And though none of the characters I will discuss here are canonically asexual, there are definitely problematic aspects of these characters that perpetuate harmful stereotypes. That said, the fact that we’ve even seen asexuality hinted at at all makes aspects of the characters I’m going to discuss worth praising. Let’s go through the pros and cons of asexuality in ‘Star Trek’!

Spock:

Here we have our first character who has been considered an asexual icon by many fans. Though there was really no way for ‘The Original Series’ to explore sexuality or gender identity without getting taken off the air, Spock’s apparent disinterest in romantic or sexual relationships led many to believe that he may not feel much sexual or romantic attraction at all. Which would make him both asexual and aromantic. Even some fans who thought a relationship between Spock and Kirk made more sense than an aromantic Spock, felt that Spock could very easily be asexual. But there’s a few problems with asexual Spock. First is the canonical problem, pon farr. Pon farr is a frustrating concept to most asexual fans because it turns Vulcan’s ability to experience sexual attraction into a biological necessity. At some point, once a Vulcan becomes an adult, they experience an uncontrollable desire to mate that must be either acted upon or medically treated. And though asexuality describes experiencing little to no sexual attraction rather than none at all, it still doesn’t make sense for an asexual character to be biologically forced to sometimes experience sexual attraction. In other words, pon farr might imply that an asexual Vulcan is impossible. There’s also the other issue of Spock being Vulcan and therefore hiding his emotions. This is a problem because asexual people are already accused of being emotionless, and perceiving Spock’s deliberate attempts at repressing his emotions as asexuality doesn’t result in the healthiest asexual representation. All that said, it is worth noting that Spock’s disinterest in sexual relationships rang true to many asexuals who hadn’t seen themselves reflected in media before. That, at least, is important.

Data:

There are a lot of similar problems with Data being asexual as there are with Spock being asexual. Data displays a lack of interest in romantic and sexual relationships, which implies he could be another aro/ace character. But his lack of interest in these things is also tied to his lack of emotions, and as Data is an android, we’re talking a complete lack of emotions. Considering that asexuals are commonly referred to as “robots” by anti-ace people, that makes Data the worst possible character to represent asexual people. And the situation with Tasha Yar makes the whole thing worse. On the one hand, the fact that Data sleeps with Tasha doesn’t make him bad representation. Some asexual people do participate in that form of intimacy, whether that be because they enjoy it or because they don’t mind it so long as their partner enjoys it. After all, asexuality describes feeling little to no sexual attraction and has nothing to do with each asexual persons opinion on intimacy, even if they don’t have any particular desire to engage in it. But on the other hand, one of the main things Picard uses to prove Data’s sentient when Data’s on trial is the fact that he slept with Tasha that one time. Which implies that the desire for intimacy is essential to sentient life in general. I don’t know about you, but that feels more harmful to the asexual community than helpful. But there’s also something to be said about the fact that later in the series, when Data does start feeling emotions, he still doesn’t express a desire for romantic or sexual relationships. Though Data may not be the best asexual representation, he still could very well have been aro/ace by the time the series ended.

Odo:

This one is perhaps the most important asexual-coded character in ‘Star Trek’ because he was, fully and intentionally, asexual-coded. That’s all thanks to the actor, Rene Auberjonois, who felt Odo was asexual so strongly that he decided to play him that way. That doesn’t mean the writers backed him up on that, though. Odo, in the initial seasons of ‘Deep Space Nine’, could be viewed as aro/ace. He frequently observes characters participate in romantic activities and expresses a complete lack of understanding about why someone would want to do those things. Which is an experience many aromantic and asexual people have had. Eventually Odo was confirmed as a non-aromantic character when his clear desire to be in a romantic relationship with Kira became a major part of his storyline. But his asexuality remained in tact. Even in the occasional situations where Odo did wind up sleeping with someone, he expressed that it was never an important part of the relationship to him. And his relationship with Kira very clearly showed the two seeking out other forms of intimacy that felt more natural to Odo. But there’s a problem. Odo has a strong and constant desire to link with other Changelings. In ‘Deep Space Nine’ it’s shown that Changelings, in their most natural state, exist together as one fluid being known as the Great Link. As such, Changelings like Odo are shown to link with each other as a way of recreating the intimacy that exists while being part of the Great Link. But what linking is like for Odo depends on the writer. In some episodes, he compares it to shaking hands or communicating. In others, it’s compared to much less family-friendly activities. Regardless of how it’s portrayed, Odo very strongly desires to link with other Changelings. So if linking is as X rated as some storylines lead you to believe, Odo isn’t asexual. Odo is definitely the best asexual representation in ‘Star Trek’, but it feels like he’s asexual only part of the time.

There aren’t really any other characters I can discuss here. At least not yet. Tendi is the next ‘Star Trek’ character who many asexuals feel could be representation for the community, but ‘Lower Decks’ is ongoing and could very easily shut down that theory in the future. As of now, nothing’s been confirmed. Now that there are so many openly LGBTQ+ characters in ‘Star Trek’ I’m very much hoping we get an openly asexual character in the future. One who doesn’t have any of the problems I listed above. But for now, we have three characters who both gave a voice to many asexuals and also cause some harm to the asexual community. All of these characters are also portrayed as otherworldly and their lack of sexual attraction is often used to emphasize that instead of being portrayed as normal. But I’m convinced that if any major franchise can give me the representation I’m dying for, it’s ‘Star Trek’.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

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