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 1998 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.

It was printed in the journal "Genders: Presenting Innovative Work in the Areas of Arts, Humanities and Social Theories."

Author's Comments Regarding... Comments: Two Years Later


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.)

Reactions and Reviews

OK, a bit of history here. Some of you may recall that in 1998, I published an academic article in an online journal, Genders (www.genders.org) with the title "Minding One's P's and Q's: Homoeroticism in Star Trek: The Next Generation." I basically argued that there's a homoerotic subtext in the way the relationship b/t Picard and Q was portrayed, and I also talked about slash fiction. Now, two years later (the article is still getting hits, I'm pleased to report), the journal got this absolutely hysterical letter from someone who found the whole idea of homoeroticism in Star Trek *hugely* threatening. I'm not going to reprint it or mention the guy's name, b/c aside from the fact that he's probably a repressed homosexual who needs some serious therapy about his self-hatred, I don't think it would be ethical. But I thought you might find some excerpts edifying and entertaining.

>Everything between Picard and Q could be seen in this same light, from the bedroom scenes to that infamous kiss on the forehead that was cut from "Tapestry." Parents often kiss their children -- especially the young ones -- out of a parental affection. It does not imply a sexual reltionship, and Picard's apparent comfort with Q in such close quarters in what would otherwise be an compromising position, can be seen like a father and son having a heart to heart, or, >at most, like two buddies chatting while they change clothes in a lockerroom. Nothing sexual about it whatsoever.

Oh, yes, we're dancing here. In one of these scenes Q says to Picard, "She's [Picard's female lover] found a vulnerability in you, a vulnerability I've been looking for for years. If I'd known sooner, I would have appeared as a female."

In the other bedroom scene, Picard discovers Q lying next to him in bed and stroking his ear, while saying "Morning Darling." Just like father and son or two buddies. Uh-huh.

>Putting aside Q and Picard for the moment, I can see where Ms. Stein is coming from in respect to the TNG episodes "The Host" and "The Outcast," and the DS9 episode "Rejoined." Those episodes, especially "The Outcast" are unquestionably about homosexuality and gender issues. However, to even suggest that the main characters involved in those episodes, or indeed any of the other characters from any of the other series, are anything other than heterosexual, is unfounded and ludicrous. The writers of the fanfic stories Ms. Stein alluded to in her article should be ashamed of themselves. Not for writing stories with gay characters, but for writing stories featuring main characters in such situations when it is not canon, but through their own perceptions of how the characters *should* be.

I hope all the slashers out there feel *deeply deeply* ashamed of themselves.

>The idea, for instance, that Picard and Data would be involved, is so out of character for both Picard and Data that the writer of that story should be flogged!

A little repressed sadism as well as repressed homosexuality, methinks. :-)

>Kirk and Spock having such a relationship is even more idiotic. Simply put, Kirk has had every woman from here to the Orion Nebula and back again, and the notion of a gay Vulcan is, well, illogical! Any fan of the series knows that every seven years of an adult vulcan's life, Vulcan males go through Pon Farr, a kind of blood-madness during which Vulcans see other members of the same sex as rivals. If there were any such thing as a homosexual Vulcan, the crime rate on that planet would soar because every single day there would be gay Vulcans going into Pon Farr and killing their lovers.

I'll leave this one to the K/S'ers. My objection to K/S stems not from the fact that I find it illogical but b/c I find the idea of *anyone* having sex with Kirk to be just so . . . eeeeewww.

>There are a few romantic relationships between characters on the series, but all of them are heterosexual relationships. There has never been any hint of a homoerotic subtext in any of these relationships.

Well, fuck *me*! Who knew? You know, if I had just *realized* this <smacking self on head> I wouldn't have wasted all those years writing slash! I feel so . . . foolish. I guess that Spike/Giles story I'm in the middle of will just have to be tossed . . .

>In conclusion, I would like to point out that Ms. Stein's research is questionable at best. The newsgroups are known to be the Internet equivalent of a city's Red Light District. Stories found there are not going to be of the type that fanfic writers are generally prone to write. In addition, the other sources she used for reasearch for her essay are very one-sided and leading. Some of them have to do with Star Trek, but the vast majority of the sources listed in her footnotes are focused solely on homosexual relationships and gender issues. There is not one source listed that explores the other side of the street, so to speak. If Ms. Stein's research had been more complete, she may well have come to the same conclusions that I have.

A Red Light District???? Woooo-eeee! And since when is slash *not* the type fanfic writers are prone to write? This doofus doesn't even know that K/S'ers practically *invented* fanfic.

Somehow I don't think I would have come to the same conclusions he had if I had researched the other side of the street, the *under*side of the street, the middle of the street, or the sky above the street. Sheesh.[1]

Well, it's time for *this* "hysterical stay-at-home" to weigh in on this subject. (Wait for it...) HELL, NO, slash writers shouldn't be flogged. I'm as anti-slash as the next gen/het/h/c fan-fic writer, but this guy is asking for trouble. I don't think anybody *forced* him to go to the site and read that article. Nobody *forces* him or anyone else to read slash if they don't want to. Writers of slash fan-fic, while I don't agree with their interpretation of the characters, are not profiting from their stories and aren't hurting anybody by their writings, plus they're entertaining a goodly segment of fan-fic-reading fandom with their work--so as long as Paramount and everybody else connected with ST and other shows don't mind, why should I? And why should the author of this letter?

One more thing: While it's true that a majority of the ST fan-fiction is and has been slash, I don't agree that slash writers virtually "created" ST fan-fiction. There are still quite a few of us who don't write, haven't written and don't plan to write slash, although I guess it's possible that some people got into it *because of* the slash (whether they ever wrote any themselves or not). Gamin, signing off...[2]


  1. ^ Atara, commenting on an email she received, Should slash writers be flogged?, August 17, 2000
  2. ^ Gamin Davis: Should slash writers be flogged?, August 17, 2000