Why NOT with Captain Janeway?:
A Rejoinder to Jeri Ryan
by Tenderware (email@example.com)
At the recent Fedcon 7 in Bonn, Germany, on May 1, 1999, Jeri
Ryan responded to a question regarding homosexuality that touched
on the complex and sometimes sexually ambivalent relationship between her
character, Seven of Nine, and Kate Mulgrew's Kathryn Janeway.
These responses were transcribed ("from tape") by "Captain Clerk" and posted
May 19th at the following URL:
The transcript doesn't include the original question, but one can guess from Jeri's answer that it had something to do with whether Seven will become a lesbian or how Jeri would feel about it if Seven had a lesbian relationship or probably, more specifically, whether Seven and Captain Janeway will ever become romantically involved.
Well, I just read Jeri's reply and must say, it was a little disappointing.
Don't get me wrong, I love Jeri Ryan! She's terrifically
talented, clearly intelligent, seems very kind, and is especially considerate
to her fans. But maybe that's what's so irksome about her reply.
I mean when you get it "straight" from the filly's mouth (so to speak),
well it can really ruin a girl's fantasy life.
DISAPPOINTMENT #1: JERI RYAN SPOUTS THE USUAL STRAIGHT-DRONE LINE
According to Captain Clerk,
My reply: [Tenderware shudders and wails] Not you, too, Jeri! Not the old "I'm not gay but I have a lot of gay friends and don't have a problem with it" line? [sniff, sniff]
But seriously.....I understand that this is supposed to be the polite response. And it does show Jeri to be tolerant, open to diversity, not anti-gay, and all those good things that we reasonably intelligent, cosmopolitan individuals strive to be in this day and age.
On the other hand, there are at least a few of us in the gay community who get a little bothered at the subtle innuendos in these well-intentioned responses.
Like it or not, when you say these kinds of things, you reproduce the notion that homosexuality simply is "an issue that bothers." So much so, in fact, that even people who "think it's fine," like our Jeri, will occasionally feel compelled to explain (even when it's totally beside the point) that, "of course, I'm not gay myself."
That declaration has always seemed a bit too defensive to me; recently, however, I've begun to give it the more generous interpretation that maybe some liberal-minded straight people make a point of saying that because they don't want to mislead: they just want to be honest about who and what they are. And -- if it's true that "it's in to be out" (like, maybe in L.A.?) -- then perhaps saying "I'm not homosexual" is Jeri's way of saying, "Look, I have to be honest with you, I'm just not as cool as you think I am."
Well, fair enough. But let's face it: in Paducah, at least (and frankly any place where people haven't got a clue what lesbian chic is), "I'm not homosexual" still means "I'm not a pervert." I've been around the block a few times -- in both L.A. and Paducah (figuratively speaking) -- and what I've noticed is that, ultimately, homosexuality is "an issue" only for those folks who still can't help thinking that being gay is not quite normal (even if they personally "have no problem" with other people being gay).
For me, at least, my lesbianism is not "an issue"; it's a way of life. So the challenge in moving beyond the usual drone platitudes is to find a novel way of addressing questions regarding the responsible depiction of alternative ways of life on Star Trek.
Here's what Jeri could have said:
Novel answer #1.1 (The Thespian Retort): "Well, of course, my sexual orientation is completely irrelevant to your question since I'm an actor and can play anything, and really as an actor, I would welcome the opportunity to explore several facets of my character, provided always that Seven continues to be written intelligently and complexly."
Novel answer #1.2 (The Self-Assured/No-Apologies Retort): "Heck, yeah! I'd love it if Seven had a lesbian relationship! You know, as long as it's done tastefully."
Novel answer #1.3 (The Thoughtful-Misgivings Retort): "Well,
actually, I've discussed this with several of my lesbian friends [no need
to stipulate how close you are to them, Jeri], and they've convinced me
that while we have to start expanding people's attitudes by having more
positive portrayals of gay people on TV, that really there are a number
of reasons why this could backfire with Seven. First, since she's emotionally
immature, having her first significant relationship be a lesbian one could
play into the stereotype that lesbianism isn't a mature adult orientation
but rather more like a schoolgirl experimentation until the real thing
[read: penis] comes along. And since it's unlikely that Seven's lesbian
relationship would be a long-term one, the temporariness of it would further
add to the sense that it was just an immature experimentation. Second,
since Seven is partly Borg, there's always the likelihood that lesbianism
will seem yet again like this alien thing. Ultimately, the real
challenge for Star Trek in portraying a positive gay character would
be to make it seem like just this incredibly normal thing: obvious and
open, but subtle, in the way that Tuvok's being Black is never 'an issue'
or that B'Lanna Torres' being Latina is never 'an issue'." [Whew! OK, that's
a pretty complicated and long-winded answer, but Jeri is smart (National
Merit Scholar; Northwestern U. grad). I could definitely see her
coming up with a thoughtful response like this.]
DISAPPOINTMENT #2: JERI RYAN THINKS A JANEWAY/SEVEN ROMANCE IS A JOKE
According to Captain Clerk,
My reply: Well, it's kind of hard to comment on the scene she mentions because UPN affiliates cut it from the first-run airing! Only some syndicated stations in Canada aired the entire episode! (For a synopsis of the missing scene, see Jim Wright's summary of Someone to Watch Over Me; FYI: see also Vidiot's UPN's Voyager Hack Job.)
Still, if the writers have (even unintentionally) started adding a little J/7 subtext to the show, it is the quality of the writing and of the acting that will avoid making it laughable. Ultimately, a Janeway/Seven romance is going to come off as "a joke" only if Jeri Ryan and Kate Mulgrew actually play it that way! Is it that I have more faith in Jeri's acting abilities (and Kate's) than Jeri herself has?
Here's what Jeri could have said:
Serious Answer #2.1 (The Mature-Handling Response): "There does seem to be a little Janeway/Seven subtext, although I don't think the writers or any of us knows exactly what we want to do with it yet. But anything we do will be handled delicately so we can avoid the usual stereotypes and mishandling of gay characters on TV. And if we do go that route, I'm hopeful Kate and I would be able to portray such a relationship with enough honesty and sincerity to make it believable."
Serious Answer #2.2 (The Premature-Subject Response): "I know
there has been speculation that there's something going on between Janeway
and Seven, but really, I don't think it's intentional. I admit I have
been playing Seven as having complex feelings for Janeway -- which frankly
makes sense given everything Janeway has done for Seven -- but I think
Seven is still too emotionally underdeveloped for those feelings to be
considered romantic love."
DISAPPOINTMENT #3: JERI RYAN ABRUPTLY DENIES THAT A J/7 ROMANCE COULD EVER HAPPEN (AND NEARLY RUINS MY FANTASY LIFE IN THE PROCESS)
According to Captain Clerk,
My reply: Why the hell NOT with Captain Janeway?!
Why does Jeri close the door so categorically on a J/7 romance? Without more of an explanation here, she makes it sound as though such a relationship would be totally ridiculous. I grant that it is unlikely, but I bristle at the suggestion that this is so far-fetched that it could never happen.
If the producers of Voyager seriously are considering "touching on" the subject of homosexuality through Seven's evolving humanity, having Seven fall for Janeway would make Seven's lesbian exploration less ridiculous, more believable, and more poignant.
To offer a counterpoint, in the first-date episode (Someone to Watch Over Me), Seven arbitrarily chooses one "Lieutenant Chapman" for her date, selecting him from the crew manifest on the basis of "compatible interests" -- interests she didn't even know she had until the Doctor pointed them out! As a result, all the dating episode really accomplishes from the standpoint of Seven's character is a little superficial experimentation with social norms; the bulk of the character development in this episode is really the Doctor's.
By contrast, a relationship with someone Seven clearly already cares for, like Janeway, would contribute to developing the character emotionally. Seven would be shown developing feelings of love and as a logical outgrowth of the personal interactions she already has with someone she knows, trusts, and respects. So if the producers really were considering a lesbian relationship for Seven, having her fall for Janeway would be the least contrived, most serious, most effective, and most logical way to handle it.
As I've said, the problem here is that Jeri just doesn't bother explaining why not Janeway, and as a result she seems to dismiss a J/7 pairing as simply preposterous. So here's what more Jeri could have said about the prospects of a J/7 relationship, picking it up after "So it wouldn't surprise me if we had an episode or two."
Explanation #3.1 (The Profit-Marginalizes-Other-Considerations Reason) : "And I suppose it could happen with Janeway, but ultimately I doubt whether the producers would want to go in that direction with either of those characters, really. They may simply consider it too radical a departure for such central characters."
[This is the likeliest reason we will never see a J/7 romance on the screen: producers are notoriously worried about how topics that some audiences find objectionable might, in turn, affect profit margins. This is the main reason gay concerns are so often marginalized in the mainstream media.]
Explanation #3.2 (The All-Strong-Women-Are-Not-Dykes Reason): "And I suppose it could happen with Janeway, but that's a more complicated character to develop in that direction because, among other things, we run the risk of reproducing stereotypes about tough women in command all being lesbians."
[This is certainly an objection worth considering: although, again, avoiding this stereotype boils down to how well the writers develop this theme and how honestly Kate and Jeri execute it.]
Explanation #3.3 (The Janeway-Can't-Have-Sex Reason): "And I suppose it could happen with Janeway, but I don't think anyone's figured out yet what Janeway's motivation would be for getting involved with Seven, especially given that Janeway has been willing for five long years to follow protocols against fraternizing with members of her crew."
[Pardon my shameless self-promotion, but on this issue of Janeway's motivation, I think I've come up with a couple of good suggestions in my story "Sensations," (see Part 9, but only if you're an adult and can handle lesbian content). Also, Julia Houston, the Star Trek Guide at About.com, has written a terrific piece criticizing Janeway's celebacy and Trek's "long-standing problem" adequately portraying strong women as sexual beings: see Why Can't Janeway Have Sex?.]
Explanation #3.4 (The Blame-it-on-Kate Reason): "And I suppose it could happen with Janeway, but, you know? I don't get the impression that Kate would be interested in going there <wink, wink>."
[This is the cheeky response, leaving it vague so that fans conclude
that it's actually Kate Mulgrew's fault that Janeway and Seven will never
become romantically involved. One could think of this hypothetical response
as Jeri's payback for all those "I'm thinking of leaving the show"
interviews that Kate gave earlier in the year, in which she kept talking
about her "loyalty" to her "original crew" and at least once implied that
Jeri was "a bad apple." (I really like Kate Mulgrew -- honest
-- but I sure could understand it if Jeri wanted to get a poke or two in
herself for Kate's little jabs.) Plus it isn't exactly a lie that
Kate would resist a J/7 relationship, for the same reasons she would resist
romantic relationships for Janeway: Kate has said that keeping Janeway
single keeps her "noble." (Hmmm: meaning aloof, distant, not-human,
Virginal? Doesn't Kate know that portraying women as asexual
is a tired old stereotype? So much for "boldly going...")]
THE FINAL WORD ON A J/7 ROMANCE?
What I've tried to show is how, with only a little extra effort, Jeri Ryan might have responded to questions about a J/7 romance in ways that would have made that prospect (1) less implicitly objectionable, (2) less of a joke, and (3) more open to possibility (even if still unlikely). All of this matters to me both as a lesbian and as a reader and writer of J/7 fanfic.
The process of writing fan fiction is a kind of happy anarchy, in which fans textually "poach" popular characters, mostly from TV shows, and remake them a little by putting them in different kinds of stories: in order to deliver on a theme that hasn't been satisfactorily developed in a series (such as the Picard/Crusher romance in TNG) or else to develop totally new themes that explore different relationships, romances, and social norms (like J/7). And with so few positive gay portrayals in the mass media, the possibility of remaking characters I love into something I can also relate to is especially important to me as a lesbian (which is why I get a little rankled when folks dismiss all this as a joke). But fan fiction is, at best, a limited anarchy; following canon is important to the success of developing a plausible yet different kind of story for the characters we love.
This means, in effect, that if the producers of Voyager did allow the show to address the J/7 theme but only, ultimately, to have Janeway and Seven decide that they don't want to pursue a romantic relationship, that could be devastating for J/7 fanfic. So this is definitely one of those instances where we should heed the warning: "be careful what you ask for; you might get it."
Ultimately, all I ask for is a little plausible open-endedness: hope springs eternal in the business of fan fiction.
And really, the bottom line is that even though Paramount, Kate, and Jeri have created these characters and may have a few (even considerable) rights regarding whether and how those characters are used by others to generate profits, they don't actually own the characters in the stronger since of getting to determine everything those characters are or can become. Characters can begin to develop a "life of their own" (so to speak) beyond what their original creators intended, and fan fiction is one of the venues for that.
As long as a J/7 theme keeps seeming plausible (and more than that: deeply moving) to some of us, no one really can say categorically it'll never happen. It may not happen in the series and books that the franchise produces (and ultimately I'm sure that's what Jeri means), but that's not the only place these characters "live."
So why this rejoinder? It's for all those J/7 readers and writers out there who get a little depressed when "The Powers That Be" make these sorts of categorical pronouncements. Picard/Crusher fans got a taste of this when Picard was given a new love interest in Insurrection, and also when Patrick Stewart noted recently that a P/C relationship just wouldn't be an interesting story to tell. My suggestion is that we pay a little less attention to "canon" and "canonical figures" and that we just have fun with it. This is, after all, more about our own exploration and development: regarding ideas about love, friendship, sacrifice, sex, life, the universe, and everything. That's the spirit of Star Trek in the tradition of its creator, Gene Roddenberry: to explore the human condition by boldly going where no one has gone before.
I don't mean to suggest that the enterprise (if you'll pardon the pun) of reading and writing fan fiction is always profound and redeeming. In fact, oftentimes it's just puerile. But frankly, I like my fantasies better than I like most other people's realities. I like the community of people -- mostly women -- who write these stories. And I like Janeway and Seven.
And for what it's worth, I still love Jeri Ryan, good intentions and all; I just couldn't let her have the last word on this.
Tenderware (May 22, 1999)
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This page is from the Delta Quadrant of Venus website. The site was originally hosted on AOL's hometown pages, which AOL shut down on October 31, 2008. The DQV site was resurrected and moved to this new home on November 30, 2008 because fans asked to have it back. Thank you for your continued interest in my stories. I'm truly touched. --T'ware
Posted May 22, 1999. Updated January 2, 2002, to delete table and add logo graphic.