I have no idea who this character is but I asked a friend who likes Star Trek a lot, and when they were done talking the sun had come up, so, I figured I’d go check that out and see what was what. And oh boy, howdy, did I learn a lot.
Particularly, I learned that there’s basically nothing about Star Trek that hasn’t been written down.
Star Trek is a great franchise because it’s so bloody big and the vast majority of it doesn’t matter. Oh, sure, it kinda matters, because if you tune in to three episodes chosen at random across all the franchise’s history, you’re going to be a bit confused but there are a bunch of fundamental ideas that explain themselves whenever they come up. The fact the Federation is nice and takes care of people and doesn’t use currency all only comes up when the episode is going to be about those things or pointedly decide to be about not being about those things. When the question of ‘why were things that way in that point in time,’ the answer can easily be sorted out by ‘the writers messed up.’
Oh, sorry, should I not be doing that?
Should I instead be pretending that there’s some timestream or continuity, or greater explanatory power of a thousand little inconsistencies in the culture, production values, or even ethical frameworks of a series that’s been being made constantly for sixty years? Or maybe just maybe, Star Trek is, like all other long-form serialised franchises, an entirely moving target that brings useful genre handles to bear that we can then use to reflect on our now, not prove some sort of social purity by always having been right? That it’s better and stronger to be able to look at old work in its honest truth and see the ways that what it was was worse than what it can be, and remember that even the things we love from our past are things we get to rebuild, to re-invent, every day, because the future doesn’t belong to the past?
Oh right anyway, yeah, Nurse Chapel!
In the original Star Trek which we now call Star Trek: The Original Series, Nurse Chapel was introduced as… well, a nurse. She was in a lot of episodes, as a minor and a major part. This was, in part because she was a good actress capable of carrying a scene (I assume) and probably in part because she was also married to Gene Rodenberry (eventually). The character has been central to a number of stories, with an involved backstory that weaves in a long-term work relationship with the doctor of the Enterprise (the infamous McCoy, who is Not A Thing, He’s A Doctor). This continued on into the Star Trek Animated Series, which I have been assured exists.
Since Star Trek: The Original Series is kind of the bedrock of this franchise, and the first seed from which many sprawling roots and awful thorny bushes have grown, then, anything that exists in that original position is going to wind up being important somewhere else, everywhere else, eventually, and I have no doubt, based on the pages and pages of information on the wiki I found, that she is a Very Important Character. She’s so important, that when we got a prequel series, Strange New Worlds, which is set on the Enterprise just before the Original Series kicked off, we get to see Nurse Chapel, again, played by a different, younger actress. Jess Bush, who is an actress.
And now, in this new series, in time for Pride Month, we have Nurse Chapel mention, off-handedly, in the context of sexual relationships she’d had that she tried to avoid making too serious, that one of them was with a ‘her.’
Anyway, that’s it.
You can imagine therefore how this microscopic detail in a single line in an episode where this character goes through an entire story arc that both sets up her long-term crush on Spock, and her own relationship to how this extremely cool and competent nurse who we’ve seen crash-tackle an alien to inject them with stuff, handles comparatively minor challenges like ‘dumping someone,’ was handled — as a minor background detail to a character that made it evident that even though this character has been extant in the story space for a long time, they have some detail about themselves that adds depth and represents values that we can extol and talk about now that we couldn’t all the way back then.
People got immediately shitty.
It’s really interesting to me that this detail, which the story does not particularly emphasise, was such a contentious one. Honestly, I had to check to see if I was misremembering what the line was, in case I was mistaken that they’d made this longstanding character with decades of history bisexual and maybe I’d just misunderstood a wording of a line. But no, there’s a collection of complete turds ready to complain about Nutrek defiling a character, and they are so mad that there’s nothing interesting about characters any more except their sexualities.
I wish to bring this then, to your attention, for two important reasons:
- You can just mention a character’s sexuality in these offhanded ways and they won’t intrude on the story at all, and
- No matter what you do, the worst people will be immense fucking pissbabies about it, so you might as well not care about upsetting them.