Star Trek and the Future of Sex: Stigma and the AIDS Epidemic
Treatment of STIs in Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future.
In our previous installments, we looked at how Star Trek addressed sexual orientation in episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and then in Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: Enterprise on how it looked at birth control.
Now we’ll be looking at how Star Trek has handled a critically important subject: sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
[quote type=”center”]”We got rid of bigotry nearly a century ago. We're not afraid of diversity. We don't persecute it, we embrace it. If you call yourselves enlightened, you have to accept people who are different than you are.”[/quote] Created as part of a mandate from Viacom—whose UPN network carried Star Trek: Enterprise —to have each of its shows deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in some way, “Stigma” is a moving depiction of having irrational and hateful bias toward. sexuality. Even more telling as that those with the irrationality and hatred are the usually logical Vulcans.
“Stigma”—written by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, and directed by David Livingston—does take place in an era before logic became such an integral part of Vulcan society. Still, the juxtaposition is an effective story device, especially as it shows that Vulcans, and thus humanity, can change for the better.
In the episode, the Enterprise’s Vulcan Science Officer, T'Pol (Jolene Blalock) is diagnosed with Pa'nar Syndrome. The ship’s doctor, Phlox (John Billingsley) sets out to cure her but encounters outright bigotry on the part of the Vulcan medical establishment as Pa'nar, which is spread by mind-melding, is considered shameful.
Matters deteriorate when T’Pol’s illness is revealed to the Vulcan High Command, which could mean the loss of her position on the ship—as well as further ostracization.
Having quite enough of the way that his friend and officer is being treated, the Enterprise’s Captain Archer (Scott Bakula) confronts the High Command in an impassioned speech that eloquently sums up the entire philosophy of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, and all those who look to Star Trek to show that there is hope for the eventual evolution of mankind:
“You Humans are too… volatile, too irrational, too narrow-minded.” That's what I heard for years—from every Vulcan I met. But we don't hold a candle to you when it comes to narrow-minded. We got rid of bigotry nearly a century ago. We're not afraid of diversity. We don't persecute it, we embrace it. If you call yourselves enlightened, you have to accept people who are different than you are.”
The episode concludes on a bittersweet note, though, when Archer wins on a technicality to keep her on the ship—though T’Pol stands proud at the end, determined to be a positive example to others like herself.
These are the voyages
In conclusion, Star Trek is not just entertainment; it’s inarguably a cultural phenomenon. A gift from its creator, Gene Roddenberry, and those who have helped carry the torch, it has become something to strive toward.
In Star Trek, there is a brightly gleaming universe of imagination, intelligence and, most of all, respect for all aspects of sexuality—human or otherwise.[quote type=”center”] “The human race is a remarkable creature, one with great potential, and I hope that Star Trek has helped to show us what we can be if we believe in ourselves and our abilities”—Gene Roddenberry[/quote] Read part one: “Star Trek and the Future of Sex: Gay Characters and LGBT Love”
Read part two: “Star Trek and the Future of Sex: Birth Control and Alien Pregnancy”
Image source: TrekCore