From Memory Alpha:
Riker falls in love with Soren, a member of an androgynous race known as the J’naii, who dares to be female.
I’ve been recently re-watching the entirety of Star Trek: The Next Generation, thanks to Netflix and their streaming (they’ve got all the eps of all five series streaming, in case you’re interested). Occasionally, I come across one that really resonates with me for whatever reason.
I just recently made it to my favorite of all ST:TNG episodes, “Darmok.” Not only did that episode include the most excellent and truly influential Paul Winfield, and the first acting appearance of the talented (and hot) Ashley Judd, but it managed to bring up an idea that was truly unique: that of a race that spoke only in metaphor. The Children of Tama (the alien race) were called incomprehensible by those that had contacted them before. Imagine trying to explain something to someone by using experiences from your past, using only proper names. They might understand the words, but the meaning is completely foreign. Truly an amazing episode that probably deserves its own post.
On to “The Outcast.” Normally, this sort of story would bore me. Oh great, Riker’s on the prowl again, and he’s after some truly alien strange this time. Guess those Enterprise chicks just don’t do it for him anymore. But this episode was acted so well by its prinicipals (Jonathan Frakes and Melinda Culea) that it grabbed me and drew me in for the whole ride.
In short, Riker and Soren (Culea) work closely together to find and rescue two members of her race who are trapped in an area of “null space,” with their life support almost gone. Over the course of the few days, they develop feelings for each other, which is a problem for Soren, who comes from a planet where gender is considered “primitive,” and those who come to identify with a gender are “fixed” through therapy.
Though they weren’t quite gutsy enough with the episode (to quote Frakes), it did go a lot farther than most other Star Trek episodes that dealt with anyone from the LGBT community. And it had one of the most poignant speeches about civil rights – for anyone – that I’ve ever heard:
“I am female. I was born that way. I have had those feelings, those longings, all of my life. It is not unnatural. I am not sick because I feel this way. I do not need to be helped. I do not need to be cured. What I need, and what all of those who are like me need, is your understanding. And your compassion. We have not injured you in any way. And yet we are scorned and attacked. And all because we are different.
What we do is no different from what you do. We talk and laugh. We complain about work. And we wonder about growing old. We talk about our families and we worry about the future. And we cry with each other when things seem hopeless. All of the loving things that you do with each other – that is what we do.
And for that we are called misfits, and deviants and criminals. What right do you have to punish us? What right do you have to change us? What makes you think you can dictate how people love each other?”
Such an impassioned plea is all the more relevant now, when lines are drawn darker and darker day by day between those who believe in freedom and those who believe they have the right to control others. I’m one of the former, in case you couldn’t tell.
I urge you to go back and watch this episode again, with this viewpoint in mind. And then ask yourself if you can, truly, believe that you know best for someone else. I somehow doubt you will be able to, honestly.