Published Jun 17, 2020
How The Next Generation Came Close to Hitting One LGBTQ+ Milestone
In 'The Host,' TNG had the opportunity to recognize different sexualities. Did it hit the mark? ????
By Brooke Knisley
When I first saw Star Trek: The Next Generation's, "The Host," I was bothered, but I didn't have the vocabulary, then, to explain exactly why. At the start of the episode, instead of the usual captain’s log voice-over from Jean-Luc Picard, we hear Doctor Beverly Crusher discussing her day’s events for her own log before the scene abruptly changes from the exterior of the Enterprise to a closeup of Dr. Crusher making out with a diplomatic ambassador named Odan that the Enterprise is transporting. It’s unusual behavior for the typically chaste doctor, but I’m all for a woman embracing her sexuality, so it wasn’t that which bothered me.But after Odan is injured during an attack on a transportation shuttlecraft, the crew discovers Odan is a symbiote living inside of a host, unable to survive without a body to inhabit. And the real complications arise when Commander Riker volunteers to host Odan, who needs to finish facilitating the diplomatic talks.
Disturbed, Dr. Crusher shares her concern with empathic Counselor Troi, wondering if it was the body she loved or the being beneath it. In response, Counselor Troi tells Dr. Crusher, that even though she lost her father long ago, she “can still feel his warmth and his love as though he were here with me. If you can feel those things from the man we know as Will Riker, accept them. Accept the love.”Later, Dr. Crusher visits Odan to check the vitals of Riker’s body and sexual tension permeates the scene. Odan, using Riker’s mouth and voice, tells Dr. Crusher, “If you’re going to leave, you better go right now” and she cries out, “I’m not leaving!” and then dives in for a passionate kiss. Evidently, the container isn’t what Dr. Crusher loves — she can look past the body of someone she considers a brother for the sentience, literally, inside. I didn’t know it at the time, but this is a prime example of true pansexuality, since it literally deals with a genderless lifeform from another planet.
But that’s when things take a turn. Odan collapses after a long diplomatic discussion the next day and must be removed from Riker’s body. However, just in time, a new host body arrives — and it is female-coded. The sharp music and vaguely alarmed look that passes over Dr. Crusher’s face are enough evidence to signal this is a problem. After implanting Odan in the new body, Dr. Crusher ends the romance by explaining, “Perhaps it is a human failing, but we are not accustomed to these kinds of changes. I can’t keep up. How long will you have this host? What will the next one be? I can’t live with that kind of uncertainty.”
And that’s why I was disappointed: the episode had been building perfectly to Dr. Crusher realizing the body and gender didn’t matter — it was the entity inside that did. And at the last second, the episode completely contradicts the groundwork it had laid out. If the writers didn’t want Dr. Crusher partnered, they simply needed to say Dr. Crusher didn’t want to leave the Enterprise and Odan needed to stay behind to continue diplomacy efforts. Simple.Instead, Dr. Crusher was able to fall in love with a parasitic life-form and have a physical connection with the body of "someone she considered a brother" but ended things when the life form's new host body was female. Then, she blamed it on humanity’s shortcomings, without acknowledging bisexuality. On top of that, the episode reeks of transphobia which, while perhaps more accepted in the 90s when there was a lack of transgender representation across media, was no less offensive and harmful. Many people in relationships transition and stay partnered because their romantic partners love them not their gender. And those who don’t stay through their partner’s transition don’t blame it on humanity — they acknowledge they aren’t bisexual, or pansexual. Plus, the episode shows us Odan had the male body for decades, proved by one of the diplomacy party’s knowledge of Odan from the last time they needed an ambassador. Dr. Crusher blames Odan for switching bodies as if it happened on purpose and not because of a life or death situation.Despite Star Trek: The Next Generation taking place in the year 2364 and being written and filmed in 1991, Dr. Crusher claims humans couldn't keep up with the changing of bodies — that we weren't progressive enough to handle this reality, denying an entire sect of the population. Unfortunately, despite its overall progressiveness, in this case TNG was simply echoing the myopic vision of gender and sexuality that much of mainstream televised media had at the time. I wish Dr. Crusher had taken responsibility and said the many people can “handle” a partner’s transition, and that while different types of sexual preferences exist, her own orientation simply didn’t include that preference. There’s no shame to that, she could have explained, it’s just a fact of life. It would've been cool to see an acknowledgment of bisexuality (or pansexuality, considering Odan was a different species altogether) and bisexuality treated as a valid identity.
All in all, there’s a happy ending when you look further down the timeline — after all, Odan became free to find someone without Dr. Crusher’s responsibility-shifting tendencies. For a show inclusive of so many identities and viewpoints, that espouses communication and understanding, Dr. Crusher’s actions in “The Host” could have led to more for inclusiveness on The Next Generation.
Brooke Knisley (she/her) teaches writing at Emerson College and has written for Playboy, VICE, McSweeney's, The Boston Globe Magazine, and others. She has balance issues. Find her on Twitter @BrookeKnisley.