This week, William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk in Star Trek: The Original Series, got into a spirited debate with some Trek fans on Twitter. He responded to a tweet he was tagged in about his position on whether or not his Star Trek character could be bisexual, a popular fan theory that’s been circulating for quite some time.
The fan theory was revived over the summer when a Star Trek insider tweeted that producers were considering making Kirk bisexual in Strange New Worlds, the Captain Pike-centered Star Trek: Discovery spinoff. Though the rumor has not been confirmed by anyone associated with the show, it’s been a frequent topic of discussion in the Star Trek fandom.
Shortly after the rumor broke, Shatner chimed in on Twitter. He said if the showrunners of Strange New Worlds decided to make Kirk gay, it was “OK by me.” However, he also added that if they did so it would be to “align with cancel culture presentism.”
When the debate arose again this week, Shatner had quite a bit to say.
Shatner Clarifies his Real Feelings
On Tuesday, a fan tagged Shatner in a tweet about Mark Hamill suggesting that Luke Skywalker could be gay. They added a comment about how Shatner had been unwilling to acknowledge that Kirk might be bisexual, and praised Hamill’s “compassionate” comments.
Shatner quote tweeted the tweet, adding a caption about how given the political climate of the 1960s, the time period when Star Trek: The Original Series aired, making Kirk bisexual wasn’t feasible or realistic. He argued that the show never would have made it on the air if Kirk had been portrayed as queer. Shatner then followed up with a tweet calling people who believe that Kirk is bisexual “moronic.”
Shatner continued the debate with several follow-up tweets. He asserted that a character from the 60s couldn’t be gay, pointing out that Rock Hudson, one of the most popular actors of the time, couldn’t be open about his sexuality because of the prejudices of the day. Hudson never publically came out, but according to Biography.com, his announcement that he was dying of AIDS in 1985 was his coming out. At the time, AIDS was considered a disease that only queer people got, so Hudson knew that admitting he had AIDS would confirm the rumors about his sexuality that had been circulating in Hollywood for years.
In another tweet, Shatner reiterated that if the showrunners for Strange New Worlds want to make their version of Kirk bisexual he was okay with that. However, he said that he refused to go along with the idea just to please people who wanted the current standards of the world to apply to his character. He made it clear in multiple tweets that the character he played in TOS was not bisexual regardless of how the character may be portrayed in the future.
One fan tried to explain to Shatner that people were suggesting that as a man in the 23rd century, Kirk might not be bound by the old ideas of sexuality that Gene Roddenberry was bound by when the character was created. They suggested that though the character couldn’t have been written as queer in the 60s, Kirk might be queer anyway. In response, Shatner included a quote from Roddenberry’s book about Star Trek: The Motion Picture in which Roddenberry had Kirk clarify that he was straight. In the tweet, Shatner insisted that this proved Kirk was not gay.
Presentism in ‘Star Trek’
Shatner frequently references the concept of “presentism” when discussing pop culture topics, including new additions and changes to the Star Trek canon. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, presentism is defined as “an attitude toward the past dominated by present-day attitudes and experiences.”
According to Shatner, the desire to change the Star Trek canon to align with current conceptions of what is acceptable and mainstream is an unacceptable form of presentism. He has argued on several occasions that the old shows should be appreciated for what they were and that the new shows should respect the canon that was established.
The debate about whether Kirk should be bisexual in the new series is the encapsulation of Shatner’s presentism argument. Kirk is a character that has existed for over 55 years and in all that time, Shatner argues, there has never been any indication that he was bisexual. According to Shatner, making Kirk bisexual in the new shows would be a representation of the showrunners giving into presentism to please fans.
Many fans agree with Shatner’s presentism argument. They believe that applying current politics, especially “identity politics” into the new Star Trek shows goes against the core of the franchise.
However, many other fans disagree with Shatner’s assertion that presentism is a bad thing for the Star Trek universe. On the topic of Kirk being bisexual, several fans tweeted that updating the interpretation of the character would be a positive move. They asserted that representation in media, especially science fiction, is really important and that making Kirk bisexual would make their favorite franchise more realistic and inclusive. Many fans stated that though Kirk couldn’t have been written bisexual in the 60s, that didn’t mean he wasn’t bisexual or couldn’t be today.
Shatner Continues the Discourse
Over the next few days, Shatner continued the heated debate with Star Trek fans on his Twitter page. He continued to point out that Kirk couldn’t possibly have been portrayed as bisexual on TOS because of the climate of the time. As fans continued to push back that they weren’t talking about the portrayal of Kirk in the 60s, but the sexuality of the character himself, Shatner continued to point to examples from Star Trek canon that supposedly proved Kirk wasn’t bisexual.
As the discourse on the topic progressed, some fans accused Shatner of being homophobic. Shatner pushed back hard on the accusations.
Eventually, Shatner tried to shut down the discussion by basically asserting that he didn’t care enough about what the fans thought about Kirk to deal with harassment about it.
Fans are still talking about whether or not Kirk is bisexual all over Twitter, so the debate isn’t likely to die down anytime soon.