I'm on vacation! This week, I'm taking a much-needed break to recharge the batteries and get a change of scenery. To keep things going around here, I've enlisted the help of several friends of the blog to submit guest posts on various topics of their choosing. Here's Sarah Kuhn on her favorite Star Trek hero.
The announcement came down earlier this month: there's a new Star Trek series in the works. Geek Twitter lit up with an avalanche of conflicting thoughts and feelings, "Hooray!" mingling with "How dare they?!" and "Also, what the fuck is CBS All Access?"
I only had one thought and it was immediate, specific, and all-consuming: How can we get Demora Sulu to be captain of the Enterprise?
The daughter of the Original Series' Hikaru Sulu (George Takei), Demora Sulu (played by Jacqueline Kim, who also tore it up as Lao Ma on Xena) was introduced in 1994's Star Trek: Generations as an ensign serving on the Enterprise-B. She had very little screen time and mostly seemed to exist so Kirk could reflect on his aged state and wonder when Sulu found time to have a kid. (Sulu clearly had better time management than anyone else in the OG crew since he was also the only person who figured out a way to look good in sickly mustard yellow.)
But to me, Demora Sulu was much more. She was an Asian woman flying the damn ship. Thanks to Kim's charisma, she came across as brave, grounded, determined. And she had the potential to become captain one day.
My brain attached itself to Demora Sulu like one of those Alien facehuggers. What happened to her after her brief scene in Generations? Did she go on to become captain? Did she have adventure and romance and access to the same high-powered space age skin products that kept her dad looking so fresh and youthful? I spent hours imagining what her story's continuation looked like.
Of course, Demora Sulu wasn't the only Asian lady side character I obsessed over and speculated about, always wondering what her story would be if we only got to see more of it. Main Gilmore Girls, I adore you, but can we break away more often to follow my homie Lane Kim (Keiko Agena) for vignettes on overprotective moms and stealth dating? Primary Harry Potter triumvirate, your antics are a delight, but can you tell me how Cho Chang developed her passion for Quidditch? Other X-Men, I have nothing but love in my heart, but can we maybe go deep into the psychology of Jubilee finding solace in the local mall?
And that's not even getting into all the other Asian lady side characters in Trek, the Keiko Ishikawa O'Briens, the Hoshi Satos, the Alyssa Ogawas. Damn, girls, I want to know more about all of you.
For a while, imagining bigger stories for these characters -- stories where they got to be the center, the protagonist, the undisputed star -- was like an exciting little secret. Whenever I re-watched that short scene with Demora Sulu, it gave me an extra thrill, because I felt like maybe I was the only one who knew what really happened to her after that moment. Her mere presence was a gift because it gave me something to fantasize about: it presented the possibility of an Asian lady starship captain. And I didn't think I could expect or ask for more, because going beyond that to show the reality of an Asian lady starship captain who was the star of the whole thing wasn't something I saw happening in any of the other media I consumed. We were almost always the Demoras -- sidekicking awesomely, but sidekicking nonetheless.
So whenever new Star Trek anything has come up in the past, I've thought about my Captain Demora Sulu fantasy -- then immediately brushed it off, dismissed it, or made a joke about it. It just didn't seem like something that could be real.
But things have changed, in both my internal and external landscapes, since the days of Generations. After getting sick of seeing sidekicks and finally deciding to move beyond mere fantasizing and write my own Asian lady superheroine protagonists, I've learned not to self-reject* -- that I have the power to make someone like me the hero of the story. That there's value in finally learning to see yourself as a protagonist. Or to put it in more Trekkian terms: that I can be the Demora Sulu I want to see in the world.
And on the other side of it, looking at stories I enjoy as a reader/viewer/consumer of entertainment, the fact that we finally, finally live in the Era of Jessica Huang Throwing Retaliatory Tic-Tacs (that's what I'm dubbing this era anyway, and I'm happy to Tic-Tac fight anyone who wants to call it something else) seems pretty damn monumental. And apparently, I wasn't the only one who had big dreams for Demora: in looking her up for this piece, I learned that she grew beyond that one scene in the (licensed but non-canon) world of Star Trek novelizations, even going on to attain the rank of Captain.
So when the most recent Trek news came down and I had my usual Captain Demora Sulu fantasy, this time, that thought didn't just immediately fly out of my brain. It lodged there, just as Demora herself did all those years ago. It stayed in my head and threaded itself through all my thoughts and whispered to me:
It's possible now. It could be real.
And look: I know there are a million reasons why it probably won't be, why this new show will likely be about exploring new characters and new Enterprises and new final frontiers. But the fact that I could finally see Captain Demora Sulu as a real possibility beyond the secret stories I made up in my head -- for a show, for a franchise, for a story I might write down on actual paper one day about a badass Asian lady starship captain -- made me feel like the shift in landscapes both internal and external had reached a point beyond what I'd thought I could ever hope for.
Beyond a single scene at the beginning of a movie from 20 years ago.
Captain Demora Sulu, I've always been ready for you. I can't help but hope maybe the rest of the world finally is, too.
*The fabulous author Malinda Lo wrote this piece on self-rejection that everyone should read. I refer to it often: malindalo.com/2015/01/on-self-rejection-and-writing-from-a-marginalized-perspective
Sarah Kuhn is the author of the forthcoming Heroine Complex trilogy, starring Asian American superheroines, for DAW Books. She also wrote the geek rom-com novella One Con Glory and The Ruby Equation for the comics anthology Fresh Romance. Her articles and essays on such topics as Sailor Moon cosplay, comic book continuity, and Vulcan mating rituals have appeared in Uncanny Magazine, Apex Magazine, IGN.com, The Hollywood Reporter, Back Stage, StarTrek.com, and the Hugo-nominated anthology Chicks Dig Comics. Visit her at heroinecomplex.com or find her on Twitter @sarahkuhn.