Minding One's P's and Q's

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Academic Commentary
Title: Minding One's P's and Q's
Commentator: Atara Stein
Date(s): 1998
Medium: Genders: Presenting Innovative Work in the Arts, Humanities and Social Theories
Fandom: Star Trek: TNG
External Links: Genders #27/WebCite
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Minding One's P's and Q's is a very long article about slash, fanfiction, and the homoeroticism in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Like much acafandom pieces of its time, it quotes much Constance Penley and Henry Jenkins.


Q's queerness, and the particular ways that queerness is manifested, take the series in some interesting directions. Q introduces the possibility of a radical destabilizing or "critique" of the traditional categories by which we constitute our identity.
Writers of fan fiction have found a particularly flexible venue for presenting their "readings" of the characters, and the dissemination of fan stories on the Internet gives them a wider audience than that afforded by fanzines alone. Fans feel free to present their own versions of their favorite characters, usually beginning their stories with sarcastic disclaimers that simultaneously acknowledge Paramount's ownership of the characters and assert the fans' right, in effect, to have their way with them. The world of contemporary Star Trek erotic fan fiction is radically bisexual.
...one of the most radical, for Star Trek, implications of the Q episodes: that a queerness that defines itself in terms of a playfully non-essentialist flexibility about gender is a more evolutionarily advanced state of being than the current condition of the human race. For a Q there is no such thing as a biologically-determined gender or sexual orientation. Q makes very clear that the appearance he assumes is as much a form of drag as the Starfleet uniform he wears. On the series, Picard never actually escapes those categories or evolves to a point where they are irrelevant, but he does show signs of moving in that direction. In slash fiction, however, Picard breaks boundaries right and left, with Q’s guidance, learning to explore his sexuality in a wide variety of forms and evolving into a higher state of self-awareness as a result. Thus, homosexuality in P/Q slash fiction is portrayed as a liberating practice which furthers the psychological growth of the individual. That a Star Trek series would lend itself to such a reading is remarkable. Star Trek is notorious for its tentative treatment of sexuality, most notably in two episodes, "The Host" and "The Outcast," which operate in a twilight realm in which sexuality can only be hinted at, and in an ambiguous fashion at that. In "The Outcast," a member of an androgynous society falls in love with the male first officer and declares her desire to adopt a female gender identity; ultimately she is brainwashed by her own people into an acceptance of their enforced androgyny.
Both the genderfuck and the bdsm stories also posit that Q furthers Picard’s personal evolution in another manner as well--by releasing his inhibitions and allowing a freer, more playful side to emerge. The stories suggest that Picard’s often inhuman self-control can be a flaw and that he benefits from Q’s ability to humanize him and to force him to loosen up. (Paradoxically, for all his contempt for human limitations, Q is in many ways more human than Picard.)