I had the great pleasure of attending a few of the Sunday blocks of Otherworld Theatre’s Paragon – a Science Fiction and Fantasy Play Festival this past weekend, November 12th.
The day opened with a reminder that break up conventions and rejection transcend all relationship types, and species. In “The Day the Earth Stood By,” Writer Joe Janes and director Logan Toftness use a monologue to explain that Earth needs to stop dialing out- intergalactically. Another highlight was the eco-feminist dystopic future depicted in “Construction Time Again” by writer Aaron Adair and director Shellie DiSalvo.
The one that hit me hard was “Speaking of Mars” by Jonathan Cook and Iris Sowlat. In this constantly nearing future, potential colonists are tested for a planned one way trip to Mars. They are also being paired up for repopulation once there. Scientist Adam meets his future mate, Evelyn, for the first time, and has his new found hopes for love and companionship dashed when she explains that she is a lesbian.
If this were to come to light, she will be kicked out of the program. After some explorations of what their loving, but aromantic relationship might look like (We can still be sexual, she says at one point), Adam agrees to travel to Mars with Evelyn as a couple.
While Evelyn’s willingness to do what is expected of her (procreate with a man) initially sounds like so much of heterosexual history and forced child bearing by otherwise unwilling wives, she continuously asserts her agency. As a scientist, she will not miss this leap forward for humanity. Unfortunately to do this, she must hide her identity.
It is a valid question: Where do LGBTQ+ identities fit into our view of the future and space travel? Up to this point, while we’ve seen far less LGBTQ+ folk than we ought to in NASA, space agency work does not require any specific orientation or identity.
Does gender and heterosexuality only exist in the first place because of our limited view of repopulation? Generally speaking, stories of space exploration are framed within the same colonizing lens as pilgrims to what is now the United States. In order to survive and thrive, the population must duplicate and expand itself by heterosexual means.
This got me thinking about other depictions of sexuality in recent Science Fiction media:
Meanwhile, in a new era of space explorations, the Star Trek: Discovery Starfleet has apparently not put into effect the ship fraternization laws removed by Janeway in Voyager after being stranded 60+ years from home, as the ship’s doctor, Hugh Culber, and astromycologist Paul Stamets are married and live in shared quarters. While we have not yet reached the procreation question in that series, and the ship is generally within or adjacent to Federation space, we have yet to see what family units and life is like in this human future.
The film Alien: Covenant sidesteps the reproduction question by providing a ship full of embryos. Instead the traditional pairings can be read as a means of supporting traditional values about relationships and providing for the crew’s emotional needs. It is interesting that a series about the fears of procreative necessities sidesteps the natural biological processes required for it in humans, but ultimately it is unsatisfyingly without further exploration.
On the other end of extreme space faring, Thor: Ragnarok introduces two bisexual characters without mentioning their bisexuality. An earlier cut of the film referenced Valkyrie’s sexuality directly, and Loki’s entanglements with the Grandmaster are hinted at, we never truly explore what romance or family making is like at this far corner of the universe.
While our heteronormative present limits representation in contemporary media, I am hoping that these small dips into a more expansive outerspace leads to better depictions. I want us to imagine a gayer future together.