I have to admit that I am something of a Star Trek fan. Not so much the old episodes with the 1960’s acting, politics and scenery (though I admit they are sometimes good for a laugh), but instead The Next Generation, Deep Space 9 and Voyager.
I watched a couple of episodes of Voyager yesterday evening and though at first watch I enjoyed them as much as always, they got me thinking none-too charitable thoughts about the modern-day politics that the show inevitably portrays.
The episodes were from season 7, first aired in 2001 – ‘workforce’ and ‘workforce part II’. The story, for any trekkies out there who are trying to place it, involves Janeway et al being abducted and forced to work in a huge power plant. (See http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Workforce_(episode) for more details.
The key to the story is a memory tampering which makes them all believe they are happy workers and not abducted star ship personnel, and to aid this tampering a bogus doctor makes multiple diagnoses of what he calls Dysphoria Syndrome, a condition which apparently manifests itself as false memories and ideas and which is treated by manipulating the patient’s brain.
All well and good, I guess – except there is a recognised medical condition here on Earth of a condition called Gender Dysphoria, which is, for those people not in the know, the medical diagnosis that leads to treatment for transsexual people – a condition which in a nutshell is as a firm belief and personal knowledge that your body does not fit your mind or thoughts.
The way in which dysphoria is described in the episode – a condition of false memories and disturbing thoughts – seemed to me to bear remarkable similarity to the way that people who are against trans people’s rights and who are transphobic, sometimes describe gender dysphoria. If the doctor in the episode were talking directly of gender dysphoria in a 21st century setting, I would brand him transphobic in the extreme but since it was dressed up with plastic and silicone facial masks, fancy sets and lots of beeping, buzzing, flashing advanced technological treatments, it was passed by and is still aired today with not even a raised eyebrow.
People claim, quite rightly so, that the original star trek was pioneering in it’s use of the first interracial kiss on television when Capt. Kirk and Lt. Uhura locked lips in 1968. I’m not knocking the show for its pushing of boundaries. And of course for any sci fi fan out there it is blasted good entertainment (although I guess a few Star Wars fans may disagree with me there!)
But this just seemed to be an unnecessarily ugly moment that could been written in a much better light. They could have used a different name for the illness – that would have solved all the problems – it is a fictional show after all so any vaguely technical sounding description would have done. Or they could have had a side-story with a real doctor treating real Dysphoria Syndrome with counselling and patience and time rather than an effective lobotomy that turned the patients into what the bogus doctor wanted them to be rather than who they were.
But as it stands – it left something of a sour taste.