Where Enterprise Fell Short in Representations of Sexuality

Hoshi, Reed and T'Pol in the decontamination chamber

When Enterprise debuted in 2001 it was meant to take the franchise in a “more modern” direction, yet it was oddly regressive in terms of sexuality. Not only were characters put into sexualized positions or outfits for fan service, but many themes fans had hoped to see explored with more nuance—including LGBTQIAP+ representation—were not explored or handled with the respect that they deserved. While many other series in the franchise have also been criticized for their own representations of sexuality and LGBTQIAP+ storylines,  Enterprise also gets criticism for injecting sexual themes in places it did not belong, making some moments very uncomfortable.

T'Pol in her orange/pink catsuit next to Trip in his uniform

T’Pol may not have been the first woman to don a tight catsuit in Trek, but her outfits often added a level of “othering” to her character. Whereas Seven of Nine from Voyager  wore her tight outfits alongside her fellow crewmembers’ standard uniforms, the visual difference between T’Pol’s brightly colored outfits alongside the less sexualized Starfleet crew jumpsuits looks more extreme. Seven of Nine was a Human who had been separated from the Borg collective and looked very similar to her crewmates. T’Pol was the lone Vulcan liaison on the crew and, in later seasons dressed in bright pink or blue outfits, compared to almost neutral crew uniforms. The visual difference recalls Deanna Troi’s outfits for most of The Next Generation, which emphasized her feminine difference. Even T’Pol’s off duty outfits play up her body by emphasizing her looks over comfort.

T'Pol pretending to be unconscious again as a Ferengi hand reaches to caress her face, from "Acquisition"

T’Pol also suffered from being objectified several times throughout the show. Particularly disconcerting was in “Acquisition,” when the  Ferengi knocked the crew unconscious. One of the Ferengi strokes her face while she’s unconscious, and later talks about how he might not sell her right away, clearly attracted to her.

Her relationships with her male crew members bothered me even more. While originally the antagonistic relationship she had with Tucker was very similar to that of Spock and McCoy in The Original Series, T’Pol and Tucker end up in a romantic relationship that even culminates in the two of them having a child via a scientist stealing and combining their DNA. This felt very off to me, as most of their earlier interactions display clear dislike and distrust of each other, him often goading her over his misperceptions of Vulcan culture.

Trip meets T'Pol in "Broken Bow"

Nor was her relationship with Tucker the only one where the dynamics seemed to discourage the relationship. In an alternative timeline T’Pol ends up resigning command of the Enterprise to care for Archer, who is now terminally ill. Even as the parasites in his brain continue to ruin his memories and overall quality of life, T’Pol falls for him. There is a disconnect between this and his overt anti-Vulcan attitudes at the beginning of the series, and his treatment of her opinions as his First Officer. Archer did defend her when another Vulcan mentally assaulted and abused her, but Archer never seems to respect other Vulcans to the same extent he respects T’Pol.

Reed in Broken Bow

Representation of non-heterosexual relationships was very minimal for Star Trek pre-Enterprise, yet Enterprise may have the most blatant example of “hetero-ify the main cast” in the entire franchise. Rumors about Reed being gay or realizing they were not straight kept popping up, yet the show never made it canon. A plotline of a character like Reed having to reevaluate their sexuality as an adult may have been interesting, but this did not happen for anyone. If any protagonist had been explicitly shown to be gay, that character would have filled a very important role as Trek canon’s first queer protagonist, breaking with previous Treks’ tradition of stopping at queer coding characters, usually aliens or villains.

Dr. Phlox and Feezal Phlox make eyes at each other, with Trip nearby

Nor was LGBTQIAP+ the only area where Trek failed to respect relationships. There was a sexual double standard when it came to how relationships and sexuality are perceived. Dr. Phlox has multiple wives and they in turn have multiple husbands besides him. Yet when one of these wives flirts with Tucker, his discomfort is treated as a joke, even though he is clearly uncomfortable with it. Phlox and his wife laugh at the end of the episode, clearly amused by Tucker’s reaction, even though it is clear the attention is unwanted and could be considered harassment. In the episode “Dear Doctor,” Phlox flirts with a visiting scientist, the relationship is treated as sweet and respectful and when she says she would rather be friends, Phlox accepts it with respect; at no time does he laugh at or pressure her. If the dynamics had been switched—Phlox laughing at a woman who is uncomfortable with his flirting and his wife respecting her male crush’s wishes—he would be criticized for Phlox for being a creep, yet his wife does the same thing and the tone of the episode is very joking, as though men being uncomfortable with flirting was unheard of. The Phlox family’s poly relationship also did not get the nuance it deserved. They never discuss with Tucker their expectations for how he might fit in their polycule as a human, and whether he would be expected to be intimate with the others, leaving it unclear what his relationship with the other spouses would look like.

While it is not the only series within the franchise to do a less than stellar job of depicting more diverse and inclusive relationships and sexuality, this particular series had far too many misses. Characters were objectified, romantic/sexual relationships came out of nowhere, representation of LGBTQIAP+ characters was repressed, double standards about characters pursuing relationships occurred, and more. Originally meant to be more cutting edge than from its predecessors,  Enterprise ended up taking a step backwards in regards to its representation of sexuality and its depiction of relationships and sexuality.

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