Monday, October 10, 2016

Cult-TV Theme Watch: LGBT Characters

“LGBT” is a catch-all designation that refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual individuals.

Cult-TV programming has been slow -- sometimes agonizingly so -- incorporating LGBT characters and situations into their episodes. 

And yet, the tide is turning. The arc of history is, at this point, leaning towards inclusion rather than exclusion.

In 1992, during its fifth season, Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) featured an episode titled “The Outcast” which featured Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) falling in love with Soren (Melinda Culea), a member of the J’naii; a race with no gender whatsoever.  

When it was learned by her people that Soren had transgressed from society’s norms, she is given a “cure” -- “psychotectic therapy” -- to “fix” her proclivities. In other words, society forces conforming behavior upon her, and considers her orientation/desires to be a sickness or illness.

At the time, some championed “The Outcast” for its commentary on love as an emotion that transcends gender, while others saw the casting of a woman as the gender-less being as a kind of hedge to assure audiences wouldn’t be pushed too far from their comfort zone.

The TV series Northern Exposure -- a quirky series set in Cicely, Alaska -- had more earthbound concerns. It featured the wedding of gay innkeepers Ron and Erick in an episode that aired on May 2nd, 1994. That series is not strictly science fiction, horror, or fantasy, of course, but it was nonetheless a notable occasion in cult-tv history.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999) featured a story called “Rejoined” in October of 1995 that saw Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell) re-connecting with a lover from a former life, Lenara Kahn (Susanna Thompson). 

The two characters shared a kiss, which was, technically, between two women and therefore indicative of a lesbian relationship. However, as was the case with “The Outcast,” there was a hedge involved. Jadzia had once existed in the body of a man, so the love relationship was established in a hetero-normative fashion before taking on the form seen here.

In the later seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), genius, geek and witch Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) came out as a lesbian, and had a sustained relationship with another young woman, Tara (Amber Benson). The relationship ended tragically.

On The X-Files (1993 – 2002), the episode “X-Cops” in the seventh season featured gay African-American couple, Steve (Curtis C.) and Edy (J.W. Smith). 

The characters were treated comically, though not because they were gay. They were comical because the whole episode had a comical veneer.  Indeed, Steve and Edy demonstrated love and commitment to one another while Scully and Mulder investigated a monster that could feed on fear.

By the late 2000s, LGBT characters began to appear with more regularity. In True Blood (2008 – 2014), Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis) is the short order cook at Merlotte’s Diner, and he is also gay.  He is depicted throughout the series in serial gay relationships. His long-time partner, Jesus Velasquez, a witch, is killed, alas, during the run of the series.

On Orphan Black (2013 – 2017), one of the series’ clones played by Tatiana Maslany is Cosima, a scientist, geek, and lesbian. She develops a romantic relationship with scientist Delphine (Evelyn Brochu), during the run of the series.  Also, Sarah's foster brother is a gay man.

Lost Girl (2010 – 2016), meanwhile, follows the adventures of a bisexual succubus, Bo (Anna Silk). She vacillates between an attraction for a male werewolf detective, Dyson (Kris Holden-Reid) and a female scientist, Lauren (Zoie Palmer).

Producer Bryan Fuller reported at Comic Con in 2016 that the new Star Trek series, Discovery (2017 - ) will feature an LGBT character in a regular capacity. 

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