Published Mar 15, 2022
Discovery's Promise: It'll Get Better
How Star Trek's first canonical gay couple impacted the private lives of LGBT+ people.
By Kit McGuire
This article was first published on June 3rd, 2020.
I’m watching Star Trek: Discovery with my dad and Hugh Culber appears on screen. I’m sitting at the far end of the sofa, heart in my mouth, because we started the series a little late and I’ve got Twitter: I already know exactly what’s going to happen. My breath catches in my throat as Hugh crosses Engineering and kisses Paul Stamets right on the mouth. Dad says nothing. The moment passes. The dramatic tensions remain through the roof, but that has little to do with two gay men being gay, and more to do with the war.
When the first season of Discovery aired, I was wedged in the closet. Unfortunately, there’s no flat-pack Narnia in Ikea so it’s just restrictive, uncomfortable, and a pain in the neck. You take the small joys where you can get them. Mine were found watching Trek, this time with a more generous dash of representation. I’m sure many who have been in my shoes will know it’s not about having a sudden event change homophobic minds, it’s about a slow trickle of reassurance. It’s about seeing intelligent, funny, universe-saving characters who are gay. Even better, who are in healthy, long-term relationships that even straight folks can relate to. These characters provide a sense of safety, and with safety comes courage.
My mum knew I was queer before I came out to her. This had nothing to do with me being obviously gay. I’m lucky that I have a great relationship with my ma, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been turbulent. Most strenuous have been the times when my right to privacy was apparently not so inalienable.
Regardless, in 2018 I hadn’t acknowledged my gayness to my mother, and she still thought I liked men (I don’t), so I was cramped and boxed and had also blocked her on Twitter because I was definitely Out online. She didn’t notice. Not for a while. But then she did, and I was faced with my ma on the verge of tears because this was a stinging reminder: I don’t trust her. Moreover, when she asked for an explanation, I had none to give. My brain made a noise like an overheating laptop. My mother was upset – I had upset my mother – and the only way I could make it better was to come out.
When Paul Stamets said “Never hide who you are”, that hit right in the chest. It’s also a lot easier said than done when we don’t live in a far-future utopia. In our world, hiding who you are is often done to ensure basic security. Even the most supported LGBTQ kids grow up afraid that they have discovered the condition to their parents’ love. One thing that can help ease this fear, however, is watching how your parents watch LGBTQ folks on TV. For example, my dad will not acknowledge Hugh and Paul’s relationship. Sure, it’d be better if he did, but he doesn’t disparage it either. It’s a step in the right direction. We take small joys, and small victories.
Not only that: seeing yourself represented can take some of the sting out of losing this security. With the advent of Trek admitting that gay people exist, they’re also suggesting that we can climb out of that closet into a world which will make room for us. Our revolutionary past and this visible present, pioneered by the elders and leaders of the queer community, will take us to the future Discovery shows us: a future of equality. Plus, Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz are actual gay actors who are doing pretty well, showing LGBTQ people that the fight for equality, though ongoing, is working and worth continuing.
When I tweeted at both actors around two in the morning mid-anxiety attack asking for advice, because I thought I’d have to come out to my mother first thing in the morning, I was just screaming into the void. How was I supposed to know Wilson Cruz would respond?
Much like those episodes of Discovery I re-watch like a comfort blanket, Wilson Cruz was a light in the dark. I was collapsing in on myself, and then there was this wonderful man who’d been there and back again, and maybe tomorrow was manageable.
Things weren’t all rosy with my ma straight off. I didn’t even tell her until a week later, after I’d gone all the way to Scotland for an audition that I didn’t land. I re-read Wilson’s messages on the train back, and I cried a bit, and I wrote my ma a letter. When I sat with her, and I did as Wilson told me: I stood in my truth.
I’m not out to my dad yet. On Trek, danger is found in hostile aliens, and mirror universes, and time-traveling angels. But in 2018, on Earth, the first thing Wilson asked me was whether coming out would be safe. Honestly, I can’t be sure. I will tell my dad; I just want to get out of this house first. Then he can come to terms with it in his own space, and when Discovery airs again, Hugh and Paul can show him a universe where his kid can and will be seen. I will be seen. I will be happy. I will save the universe and explore the stars. I will be safe.
My parents introduced me to Trek. The first series they showed me was Voyager, and they watched me fall in love with it. I got to show my ma Discovery, and I watched her fall in love with it, and she didn’t say anything about there being a gay storyline in her sci-fi.
We’ve had hiccups. There are some truths of how she feels that I’ve had to learn to live with. It’s okay: these things take time. And when we were two-thirds of the way through series one of Discovery, I asked her who her favorite character was, and she said Hugh Culber.
We each move forward at our own pace, but we can help each other along the way. Maybe one day we’ll all catch up, and tread between the stars together.
Happy Pride Month folks.
Kit McGuire (they/them) is a writer and actor based in London. Their work includes fiction, poetry, theatre, freelance journalism, and nonsense on Twitter, which you can keep up with at @kit_mcg
Star Trek: Discovery currently streams exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S. Internationally, the series is available on Paramount+ in Australia, Latin America and the Nordics, and on Pluto TV in Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom on the Pluto TV Sci-Fi channel. In Canada, it airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave. Star Trek: Discovery is distributed by ViacomCBS Global Distribution Group.