Trip Tucker and the Sissy-Saint Complex

Trip Tucker holds a special place in the hearts of many ENT fans. To date, he is the only character killed in the show to be resurrected by the novels. Like other fans, I felt that his complexity made him a realistic everyman. It was also refreshing to see an openly emotional man on TV. For the first time, I didn’t see other characters make an issue of it, unless it was about his humanity. How beautiful it is to see such a future. Surely Trip was a progressive example of what a sensitive man looks like.

Or so I thought until I saw this review of “Horizon.” As a Trip/T’Pol shipper who watched this knowing they would get together, I was only thinking of how cool it was for them to go on a date, albeit platonic. Despite being an introvert, I somehow missed that Trip and Archer were pressuring T’Pol to go do a social activity. I wondered if anyone else saw a problem with what Archer and Trip did to her. Using keywords like “horizon” and “movie night,” I searched some Trek forums. It so was tough to find criticism, I had to combine my keywords in order to find one person who said T’Pol was bullied on TrekBBS. On one hand, I was relieved not to be the only one who didn’t notice such a thing. But if forums represent the population, that’s a very troubling trend.

The biggest reason I didn’t see Trip as problematic for all these years is because he’s not a macho stereotype. I still feel weird saying that a man who cries at movies more than me can be a bro. He is also not a typical ladies’ man because he rarely does the chasing (a woman always kisses him first). Although it is now more acceptable for a woman to ask a man out or propose, being pursued is still stereotypically feminine. And whose heart wouldn’t melt when Trip cries while mourning for his sister and daughter? Ideally, we would all think grief is grief no matter who is affected. But the uncomfortable truth is I wouldn’t feel the same if he was a woman. Since many studies show that people generally view crying more positively when done by men, I’m sure there are a lot of fans who feel the same way I do about Trip. Ironically, when some of the ones surveyed said that tears “humanized” men, it can sometimes lead us to idealize them enough to excuse them when they engage in bad behavior.

Fans however, give T’Pol no such pass, especially for her infamous morning-after talk in “Harbinger”. Some feel so strongly that they criticize Trip for being too easy on her. Let’s take a look at some comments.

“It wasn’t until he left for Columbia that he started acting like something resembling a man. Prior to that, he showed all the dignity, pride, and self-respect of an altered poodle.”

“Personally I’ve never known whether Trip should be praised for his really quite saintly patience with the on/off thing, or kicked in the bum to wake him up to the fact that he’s letting himself be used as a floor cloth. That ‘experiment’ line was really quite unforgivable (in my view at least); and to take him back to Vulcan and make him watch her get married to someone else when she KNOWS he cares about her – Heavens above, how callous do you get? I’m sure she had her reasons, most of which probably centred [sic] around her inability to cope with her own emotions, but surely she could have been just a bit more careful about his!”

“I have to admit that T’Pol seriously rubbed me the wrong way from “Broken Bow” on, and this on again/off again thing with Trip made it worse. Now, I like Trip, but I won’t give him a pass. I wish he had shown more self-respect and stood up to her, not run off to “Columbia” and certainly not that whole “dead man walking” thing from the reboot profic.”

“I’ve never met a guy that would put up with that much drama.”

A few words came up over and over again to describe Trip. Doormat. Lacking backbone. No man (emphasis mine) would ever put up with what T’Pol did to him. Unexpectedly, gender made little difference on how outraged a fan was over Trip’s “emasculation” and conversely, T’Pol’s behavior (though women are more likely to use coded words than men like the one who compared him to a poodle). But I shouldn’t be surprised when women get harsher punishments for workplace violations than men. This study and how fans react differently to these characters show that we still hold women to higher ethical standards. Despite quibbles that “no one says boys will be boys anymore” (a common criticism of a certain Gillette commercial), that phrase is very much on people’s minds whether they realize it or not. Yes, leaving your partner high and dry is worse than pressuring someone to go to a movie. But the criticism of T’Pol is still way out of proportion. The experiment line is so unforgivable she can never make up for it? And what was she supposed to do when she got married, not invite him?

Trip is both idealized and criticized for his emotional nature; an example of what I call the sissy-saint complex. The halo effect of crying causes many fans (including myself) to overlook when he may be problematic. But he also gets bashed for being too “soft” on T’Pol. While there were times when I wished he was more assertive with her, I don’t think he would have got nearly as much backlash for being a “doormat” if he was a woman. It’s ironic that fans reduce Trip to these extremes when he probably turned out more complex than the writers intended. That shows just how much power unconscious biases have to shape our perceptions of people. While managing them is difficult, a good first step would be remembering that personality is not as binary as we think. As Soval said about humans, “Of all the species we’ve made contact with, yours is the only one we can’t define.” We all have the potential to be “sensitive” or “bro” depending on the circumstances. Strange as it seems, both of these things coexist in Trip. It’s time that we stop using personality traits as boxes to pigeonhole people into.

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