In “Cogenitor” the Enterprise NX-01 crew encounters a species that requires a “third gender” to procreate. We discuss our impressions of this episode as an allegory for trans issues and to what extent it holds up today. Content note: Discussion of transphobic violence and suicide.
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Hosts: Sue, Jarrah
- Jonathan Alexandratos – @jalexan
- Callie Wright – @calliegetsit
Download Transcript: PDF or Word
Notes and References:
- Star Trek: The Human Frontier, 2nd ed. by Michele Barrett and Duncan Barrett (2017)
- “Lt. Malcolm Reed: International Man of Confusion” by Michelle Zamanian on our blog
- “Julia Serano, Transfeminist Thinker, Talks Trans-Misogyny” by Jeanne Carstensen at NY Times.
Abit like how Adam’s and Eve’s eyes were opened after eating the forbidden apple given to them by the serpent.
This episode is like a precursor to the future of how Starfleet will provide asylum for alien guests. Captain Archer differs e.g. to how Captain Janeway would have at least reacted. She would be much more compassionate and upset that practical slavery was part of the Visians culture, and struggle to have to follow Starfleet’s rules and regulations.
The episode became anti-climatic when Captain Archer quote “I’d feel it was wrong if this were Florida or Singapore” -something to that effect, as if just because the Cogenitor was another species, meant it lacked the basic needs, nor basic rights of any other intelligent sentient being.
It was disturbing that only Tripp seemed to see the Cogenitor was suffering, and even after the Cogenitor’s suicide Tripp still got blamed for it was too much. With Captain Archer blaming Tripp for it, without showing any ounce of sympathy or understanding. He might as well put Tripp in the brig and tell him he’d have a court marshal once they got back to Starfleet.
If the script-writer’s intention for this episode was to portray Captain Archer as cruel and unsympathetic, and to make the audience disgusted with him, they have succeeded very well.
If it were to portray the tragedy of the cogenitor’s death, and shock that a species despite being so technologically advanced, could be so selfish and ungrateful despite the importance of cogenitor’s role in their society, they have been ineffective. It was as if the entire crew on the Enterprise suddenly ceased being human.
If this were in another StarTrek series, it probably would have AT LEAST had Archer say to Tripp after the suicide, “I know how you feel. But there’s nothing we could have done. It goes to show how she/he/it just couldn’t bear to live anymore. Maybe someday, like how on earth slavery was abolished… the Visians will learn and cogenitors will have freedom over their lives.” etc something like that.
I agree with rocketdave about the message of the episode, which should have been “it’s complicated.” Archer comes across as a jerk when yelling at Trip, which undercut what the writers were trying to say. It also bothered me that T’Pol was 100% behind Archer. Yes she has more experience with alien species but as an outcast, Charles’ situation should have given her a little pause.
Having Trip do nerd shaming is very weird. Archer at least has the excuse of not having a science background but Trip is an engineer. That’s one of the nerdiest occupations ever. Then again, this episode comes from the same writers who think someone can be the chief engineer of a flagship without a college degree.
I hate “Cogenitor,” but not nearly on as many levels. My chief complaint with the episode is that I don’t like the message that Trip should have left well enough alone. Admittedly, Tucker went about things in a ham-handed fashion. Under different circumstances, I might not even necessarily disagree with Archer about not imposing one’s values on different cultures, but when the other culture in question is keeping a certain section of its population as sex slaves, that seems like an awfully funny time to turn a blind eye. I suppose I thought that this discussion might be more about that than the fact that the writers mistakenly used “sex” and “gender” as synonyms, which I honestly feel was an easy mistake for a layperson to make until very recently in our history.
I kind of roll my eyes at fans who try to excuse sexism in TOS by arguing “it was a different time,” and yet, even though this episode is far more current, it seems to me like it’s only within the past few years that the general public has become aware of the notion that gender is a more complicated subject than many of us were raised to believe. Frankly, I’ve had some difficulty getting my head around the nonbinary thing myself and I’m speaking as someone who is more than a little ambivalent about my own gender. I’ve never been much into traditionally masculine activities, I think most gender stereotypes are b.s. and I can’t stand intolerant conservatives who get so worked up over pronouns and such. However, when I had gone close to four decades decades without the slightest inkling that nonbinary people are a thing, I wonder if it’s not somewhat forgivable if perhaps I initially perceived it as something of a “fad.” Then again, what do I know? I’ve lived a relatively sheltered life. I didn’t even have a clue that gay people existed until I was in my teens.
I don’t know if this is fair, but pretty much everyone involved in this conversation came across as rather judgmental of anyone not as knowledgeable about these matters or as enlightened as they are. When, rather than merely being pleased that more male fans are attending conventions in skants, Jarrah had to leerily question their motivations, I was reminded of a piece of fanart I drew of a male TNG castmember in a skant. I do think that skants were a genuinely interesting attempt to show how far equality had come by the 24th century, but I guess if I also thought there was anything the remotest bit amusing about the image, that makes me a bad person /s. Listening to this discussion made me feel even more old and exhausted and out of touch than I already did to begin with.
Maybe the Enterprise crew shouldn’t be shocked by a species having more than two genders, but a species that requires three people to perform three distinct biological functions in order to procreate is more out of the ordinary, I would imagine.